The HEA’s proposed ‘case for excellence’ approach for TEF

In a recent blog post focusing on Graham Gibbs’ influential work on measurements for teaching quality in higher education (HE) and how they might relate to the teaching excellence framework (TEF), we asked the following:

  • Why are we collecting and generating data about teaching excellence in the first place?
  • What are the intended outcomes?
  • What do we really want to change?

Once you start unpicking these questions, you realise that Gibbs’ warning that data drives institutional behaviour is fundamental to establishing a solid foundation for the TEF (and any future iterations); careful consideration of the likely intentional and unintentional consequences of any TEF model is essential at this stage. This is why we have taken time to consult with and listen to our network of pro-vice chancellors for learning and teaching, as these are the people who will be responding to the TEF at an institutional level.

The messages that have emerged from these conversations around the key principles that must underpin the TEF have consistently pointed towards the appropriateness of adopting a ‘case for excellence’ approach that uses peer review. Such an approach would learn from and build on other similar models in the sector that have been successful in catalysing and directing positive change without detracting from institutional autonomy and diversity.

How would a case for teaching excellence work in practice?

In submitting a case for teaching excellence, in the first year, institutions would be required to provide the following as prerequisites for a ‘bronze level’ teaching excellence kitemark: 





Going for gold (or at least silver)

Once an institutional bronze kitemark is achieved, individual subjects can put forward for awards beyond bronze. For example, in addition to the above, a ‘silver level’ kitemark would require the demonstration of achievement and progression in line with the action plan and area of innovation, plus the identification of future aspirations. A ‘gold level’ kitemark would move beyond the silver level by requiring evidence of creativity and innovation, and regarding the tangible impact of interventions on student outcomes as well as the capability to inform and enhance practice across the sector.

Our top ten benefits of a case for excellence approach to the TEF


Provides an opportunity to create a culture in which all students have access to excellent teaching.


Stimulates a meaningful and sustainable shift toward teaching becoming recognised and rewarded as equal to research. 


Obviates the need to agree on a set of (possibly) restrictive decontextualised metrics.


Allows for the future development and evolution of the model, based on shared learning from each submission, working towards an agreed basket of metrics.


Allows for the protection of the reputation of UK HE internationally through the use of bronze, silver and gold kitemarks.


Encourages greater market differentiation and embeds the idea that teaching excellence is something that institutions should always be striving for (not something that is ‘achieved’ and done with) through the gradation of awards. 


Promotes the dissemination and sustained adoption of excellent practice across the sector for the benefit of students and the UK HE system as a whole, whilst rewarding and respecting sector diversity. 


Recognises that teaching – and what is meant by ‘excellence’ – is contextually defined, including in relation to institutional missions and discipline specific pedagogies. 


Acknowledges that the metrics that are currently available are, at best, proxies for the phenomenon we are trying to measure, and, at worst, are heavily gamed or skewed and should therefore be used with caution.


Allows the bar to be continuously raised, enabling a focus on creativity, diversity and innovation as essential aspects of excellence.