Who’s afraid of the big bad TEF?

Published: 31 Oct 2017 By Chris Dows

Who's afraid of the big bad TEF?

In June 2017, the first Teaching Excellence Framework awards were announced to much fanfare. To say the TEF panel’s conclusions were controversial is an understatement. Headline-grabbing comparisons between Russell Group universities and CBHE providers did little to calm the storm, but now things have settled, what could explain why, out of 106 FE colleges with HE provision, 14 achieved gold, 46 silver, 31 bronze and 15 provisional awards.

TEF applications were judged on a set of metrics for the previous full HE year and a supporting statement. Following the QAA’s mantra of ‘you tell us what you do then provide the evidence of how well you are doing it’, any FEC with strong metrics - in relation to what Year 2 TEF was looking for - already had a strong submission. Arguably, the relatively high tutor-student ratio in CBHE should favour any analysis that investigates student satisfaction and, indeed, the great majority of the FE gold awarded colleges had very strong NSS-related scores, particularly around ‘the teaching on my course’ and ‘academic support’. The solid and proactive employer and industry links developed by many FECs also proved to be influential in the gold and silver categories, which will hopefully bode well for future Higher Apprenticeship results.

However, smaller providers, who may barely be able to reach the minimum numbers in a cohort for discrete NSS course scores, clearly struggled to do well - a conclusion supported by inspection of bronze and provisional award colleges. It’s not the whole story and there are many factors why many colleges - and HEIs - did not perform quite as well as other, and themselves, may have expected. It’s worth taking a look at the ‘contextual data’ provided in the metrics - it  makes for illuminating reading, particularly around cohort numbers and demographics.

The metrics are only half the story (or two thirds, or one third - you need to read the TEF panel’s statement of findings for a specific provider to judge that yourself). Some critics have pointed to a seeming lack of consistency in weighing up the evidence laid out in the metrics and, particularly, presented in the TEF contextual submission - but, again, wider reading begins to show some patterns. The best FEC submissions had a narrative woven through them of strong teaching and learning cultures. They avoided negativity and focussed on positives. Of course, a provider had to meet all the criteria set for that banding, and it is also clear the gold - and a good swathe of the silver awards - managed to explicitly show a culture of scholarship for HE staff and students embedded within their institutions.

If you’re not convinced about the importance of scholarly activity and ‘HE-ness’ as a deciding factor, correlate the gold award institutions against successful FDAP/TDAP applications and how well they did in their APRs. Scholarly activity and a HE ethos is at the heart of success for all of them - and has proved to be equally important for the TEF.

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