Why I...

October 15, 1999

Lecturer in psychology, University of Newcastle, and visiting professor at St Bartholomew's

Hospital, London The Teaching Quality Assessment is not what it seems. It has nothing to do with improving education. It is a managerial technique for controlling academics and can operate only if we comply. We should not.

The government's inspector, The Office of Standards in Education, has its own ideas about how to teach lessons in schools. Teachers who have their own styles can find themselves scapegoated by colleagues who fear the consequences of a failed inspection.

This could happen in the university sector. We have constructed a prison for ourselves and are about to hand over the keys. The prison is of a dictated teaching regime where everything is planned in advance, leaving no room for creativity or spontaneity. This destroys the possibility of inspired teaching.

People believe they have been coerced, but they have simply collaborated. Politicians seeking to control our teaching via university management structures have outwitted academics. We have handed the power to evaluate universities to a government bureaucracy that uses arbitrary scoring systems. The internal bureaucracy for compliance is the only growth industry in many institutions.

The TQA does not audit how well you teach. It simply audits whether you teach according to its recommended system, resulting in the need for massive documentation and time-wasting paper trails. Inspection should be for inadequate performance. If used to improve teaching performance, it will lead to a Soviet-style economy of corruption where people try to hit inspectorial targets rather than doing their jobs.

People who care about teaching should not want to impose such a cumbersome and inefficient bureaucracy but use the resources now squandered to provide smaller classes. This is the only thing that definitely improves the quality of teaching.

I feel ashamed that academics have collaborated in introducing the TQA. Once the system is running, it can easily be cranked up. Institutions that refuse to comply can then be threatened with loss of their ability to award degrees. Dissent will be punished by removing people from their jobs and livelihoods.

As part of its pay campaign, the Association of University Teachers has instructed members not to cooperate with the QAA. This gives us a window. Whatever happens on pay, the ban should continue. The system makes it difficult for individuals to dissent. We should sabotage it at this point by mass non-compliance. If prestigious institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge take the lead, QAA sanctions will not be effective; students will still want to go to Oxbridge. The QAA has wasted vast amounts of money, time and resources on a method that inflicts damage on real teaching. It must be stopped.

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