Skip to content
The UK's only independent think tank devoted to higher education.

Learning from other sectors: using the right end of the telescope!

  • 1 March 2016

Our latest guest blog has been kindly contributed by Fiona Ross, Director of Research at the Leadership Foundation, who has a part-time Chair at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, where she was formerly Dean of the Joint Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education.

I was excited to see the new Hepi paper Designing a Teaching Excellence Framework: Lessons from other sectors. It is a well-written piece on inspections of organisational performance in compulsory education and health care settings. As the author, Louisa Darian, lucidly explains, these inspections provide a root-and-branch review of board effectiveness, leadership of front line delivery and organisational performance.

As a member of the board of an NHS Community Health Trust, which is expecting 43 Care Quality Commission inspectors to descend imminently, I am seeing at close hand the huge data industry and emotional labour involved for the leadership and the workforce! And of course, those of us who have, or have had, children at a school going through an Ofsted inspection know the stress this causes for teachers. I would not wish this on higher education!

However, in my view the Hepi paper does not go far enough. We need to focus the telescope not just on organisational reviews, but on the inspection and monitoring of educational outcomes for trainee teachers, nurses and health professions too. These systems are the responsibility of universities, take place on their own turf and are critical for sustainable funding.  All of which is very relevant to the policy debate on the TEF!

For Initial Teacher Training, Ofsted assesses all education providers on a scale of: inadequate; requires improvement; good; and outstanding. The overall rating is calculated on performance measures such as:

  • recruitment;
  • student attainment ‘given ability and starting point’;
  • partnership relationships with schools;
  • equality; diversity and inclusion;
  • the capacity to improve; and
  • leadership.

The ratings then determine the allocation of trainee places to universities and other education providers, although unlike the TEF proposals, there is no link to fee levels. If provision repeatedly requires improvement, it will lead to closure.

In health, the quality contract performance management system was introduced in 2007 for all commissioned programmes. Initially locally managed, it is now aligned to the Health Education England national education outcomes framework. The system measures outcomes or contract performance indicators (CPIs) for:

  • the student life cycle (widening participation, recruitment, progression, attainment and employability);
  • academic education (such as the quality of feedback, innovative practice, course content and the quality of placement learning); and
  • applied pedagogic research of educational innovations.

Traffic light red / amber / green ratings are applied to the CPIs  and annual reports produced for each profession, which are published externally as league tables. Financial penalties are imposed for attrition and, as in the inspection of teacher training, the overall rating determines commissioning intentions about numbers, which may result in growth or disinvestment. Again like the Ofsted system for teacher training, there have been cases of provider exit.

How relevant is all this to the TEF?  Extending the metaphor, the view of the TEF down the telescope is not in focus. Its exact form is subject to guess work and policy tip offs. My guess, based on the green paper’s proposals, is that it will be largely metrics based, probably with some narrative elements thrown in to appease the sector.

From my experience of managing a Faculty of teacher training, social work and all the health professions, I would do three things if I was planning for the TEF.

  1. First, I would invest in a data analytics capacity to ensure accountability of data quality, to double and triple checking the data returns from commissioners, who frequently get it wrong.
  2. Secondly, I would use the data from student performance as a tool for conversations with module leaders, Heads of Schools, Associate Deans and Heads of Professional Services to create a culture of improvement for student success.
  3. Thirdly, I would seek to recognise the TEF is not just about metrics and counting, as education is fundamentally about people and universities are places that enable students to thrive, to test new knowledge and to grow through understanding and reflection.

Good leadership is vital to ensuring the response to the TEF is meaningful, proportionate and avoids taking higher education down the road of the overly bureaucratic CQC-style inspection of health care.

Finally, a plea to policy makers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department of Health and the Department for Education to talk together and share useful lessons from teaching quality assessments in health and education. We must avoid getting sucked into the inspection jungle that besets schools and healthcare organisations and use this policy moment to harmonise and join up the disparate assessment systems of teaching quality that universities have to manage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *