We continue our series ‘TEF: Voices from the sector’, with Professor Stephen May, Deputy Principal, Royal Veterinary College, and Chair of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme Advisory Panel.
At the heart of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) are three laudable foci - teaching quality, the learning environment and student outcomes/learning gain - for a set of well-chosen criteria related to teaching excellence. Unfortunately, in the first iteration at least, the metrics against which these criteria are to be judged leaves much to be desired. We all know that “what the student does” is a key to their learning, and ultimately their whole university experience, but we also know that educational leadership and teacher quality are major correlates of student engagement and high quality learning. So crucial to the credibility of any TEF will be more direct measures of teacher quality.
One flagship initiative aimed at reorganising and rewarding teacher excellence has been the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) of the Higher Education Academy that has been running for 15 years. Like schemes developed elsewhere (e.g. University of Sydney Index for Scholarship in Teaching), its criteria embrace individual excellence in enhancement and transformation of the student learning experience, supported by a strong evidence-base, regularly updated through relevant professional development, and a passion for spreading best practice within and beyond the Fellow’s place of work.
Importantly for the sector, as in the REF, the ultimate arbiters of excellence for the NTFS are experts; in this case expert educators making informed judgements on the documentary evidence submitted. If metrics by themselves are insufficient for judging research excellence, it is never likely that they will ever be sufficient for the most challenging of all academic endeavours – meaningful teaching that engages students as producers and creators of their own futures. As a model, the NTFS has stood the test of time. As the new Chairman of the NTFS Advisory Board, I hope that the award of National Teaching Fellowships to staff in universities will be one measure of teacher quality, and that the NTFS model can be further developed to create relevant measures of teacher capability for the broader base of teachers across the sector. This includes all Fellows of the Higher Education Academy, and all those undertaking short course professional development on an “as needed” basis.
Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Higher Education Academy.