TEF ‘must learn lessons from school and hospital ratings’

Hepi report says teaching assessment should be delayed to allow for lessons from Ofsted and Care Quality Commission to be incorporated

February 25, 2016
Patients and medics in a hospital

Lessons must be learned from the use of ratings in the schools and healthcare sectors if the teaching excellence framework is to be a success, according to a thinktank.

A report from the Higher Education Policy Institute says that the government should consider delaying the TEF to allow for a more meaningful measure of university teaching standards to be developed, drawing on the experience of Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.

Author Louisa Darian, deputy director of WonkHE, says that Ofsted and CQC ratings have developed over time to draw on a wide range of sources, including site visits and outcomes data.

In contrast, reviews conducted by the Quality Assurance Agency – the initial measure proposed for the TEF – are of limited interest to students, Ms Darian says. For later stages of the TEF, site visits are not currently proposed and existing outcomes data for higher education, such as graduate employment records, are of limited quality, she adds.

Ms Darian says that, while both Ofsted and the CQC have provider-level ratings, they also assess specific services delivered by institutions, allowing parents and patients to make informed choices.

In the first instance, the TEF will be an institution-level award, and the government has said that subject-level ratings will only be considered over time. However, Ms Darian writes that such detail will be “very important for students who often choose institutions based on their preferred subject”.

She adds that the stability of Ofsted has probably been key to its impact in the schools sector, whereas the numerous changes to the organisations monitoring the healthcare sector prior to 2009 most likely diluted their impact.

Given the current instability in higher education, with the Higher Education Funding Council for England consulting on new quality assessment arrangements and Hefce itself facing possible replacement by an Office for Students, Ms Darian recommends that the government should consider delaying the start of the TEF.

This, she says, would allow it to be fitted into the new regulatory environment and quality assurance framework. And this would allow external examiners, which face increased professionalisation under Hefce’s reforms, to contribute to a richer dataset for the TEF.

Ms Darian acknowledges that delaying the TEF would mean that universities would not be able to access an inflationary increase in tuition fees in 2017-18. But she adds that there is nothing to “prohibit a small fee increase in recognition of rising cost pressures, if the government were minded to do so”.

Nick Hillman, the director of Hepi, said that ministers should look to learn from a range of sectors for the TEF, since there was “no off-the-shelf solution available”.

“Ratings have existed for many years for nurseries, schools and hospitals,” Mr Hillman said. “These provide positive and negative lessons for the new TEF.

“If we consider them closely, we can find out how to ensure the TEF does not become too big, too bossy or too bureaucratic – and that it hits the right target.”


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Reader's comments (2)

As a teacher of many years standing I was appalled at the level of teaching as I recently took courses at a local university. There were lecturers who could barely speak English, work was never marked and given back to the student, one lecturer admitted she knew nothing about SPSS but was there teaching it. I am someone who has been examined by OFSTED on more than one occasion and I knew that little of what I experienced would pass an OFSTED inspection. Given the level of private fees and taxpayers money involved in the university sector; teaching and learning must be brought to the fore in any assessment of that university's value to both that taxpayer and private fee payer. How absurd that I have had to state the obvious.
Perhaps the principal problem with this discussion is that the initial premise seems to be that introduction of such metrics has been beneficial to both the school and health sectors. That is somewhat presumptuous. Inspection also does not guarantee any standard of quality, as teacher friends of mine have commented upon in the past. Advance warning, shifting curricula and the politicisation of OFSTED are all things that might affect supposedly objective measurement. In many cases, universities are in an even worse position. Teaching, especially later in programmes relies on shifting curricula and integrating research and contemporary work into teaching. That certainly does not excuse staff without the correct skills teaching