Subject-level TEF comes into sharper focus

A series of reports and guidance, published today, sets out a clear direction of travel for subject-level TEF. Yvonne Hawkins reflects on the journey so far.

The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) recognises and rewards excellence in teaching, and inform students’ choices about what and where to study. It assesses the things that higher education students care about: teaching quality, the learning environment that supports them; and employment and further study outcomes.

TEF ratings are currently given at provider level only, but we have been exploring in detail with the sector and students options for producing ratings at subject level as well. Last year we tested and evaluated two different assessment models. This year, we’re consolidating our efforts, piloting an approach that draws on feedback from the best elements from the previous models.

Alongside this, we will be delivering the final provider-level TEF assessment exercise. These 'Year Four' ratings will be published in summer 2019. The TEF will then shift to become a larger exercise that produces both provider and subject ratings. The anticipated application window for this is early 2020, with the first set of ratings announced in spring 2021.

Key reflections: a snapshot

As subject-level TEF comes into sharper focus, here are my high-level reflections:

We need to make TEF even more meaningful for students

We must never lose sight of the aim of making sure TEF is useful and meaningful for students. Among other things, this means that and we must continue to ask them how their engagement in TEF can be strengthened. I’m delighted that, as a result of student feedback gathered through the first year of the subject pilot, we are, in this second pilot year:

  • introducing ways to strengthen students’ involvement in the provider submissions
  • refining the assessment process to focus on what matters most to students. Assessments will consider more carefully both how students are engaged with their learning and also students’ wider partnerships with their provider. We have also included additional metrics on learning resources and student voice
  • increasing the role of student members across the pilot assessment panels
  • testing TEF outcomes information with applicants to ensure it can inform their choice about what and where to study.

The sector has engaged creatively and constructively

The government consultation and the first subject pilot have generated huge amounts of constructive and creative ideas from across the sector on how to develop subject-level TEF. We concluded the first pilot year July; you can see the fruits of these labours in our findings report. Drawing on this and on the government’s response to its consultation, we have worked with the Department for Education to develop a revised model and assessment approach. We are now looking forward to working collaboratively with our dedicated panellists and a new set of providers to road test this approach.

TEF will continue to be an important feature of the higher education landscape

The evidence suggests that the TEF is helping to raise the profile of teaching across the sector and shining a light on where excellent student outcomes are being achieved. This is hugely positive.

Much of the success to date comes, I believe, from a set of core principles that we are carrying forward into subject-level TEF. These principles include:

  • independent peer review involving academics, students and other experts
  • holistic judgements against a broad set of criteria, using a combination of quantitative and qualitative evidence, set within the context of the provider and its students
  • meaningful and embedded student engagement throughout the process.

We need to bust the myth that TEF is overly metrics focused

The debate around the TEF often centres on metrics, and single metrics at that. But this does not mean that the TEF is too metrics focused. Its strength relies not on any single source of evidence, but in the way it draws together multiple sources of evidence, including the provider’s written submissions. By making holistic judgements across a range of evidence, no one issue is over-weighted. The changes we will be piloting are designed to strengthen this approach, so that ratings are awarded on an increasingly rounded set of information.

Transitional arrangements

Finally, I want to set out transitional arrangements for the duration of TEF awards. 

The first year of full subject-level assessment will be new for all higher education providers. Implementing this in a rush will not help anyone. So the first full subject-level TEF will be launched in the winter of 2019 and run for a year and a half: to recap, the application window is likely to be in early 2020, with ratings announced in spring 2021. The plan is that awards will last at least four years, and assessments will take place on a two-year cycle.

The fact that no awards will be announced in 2020 has implications for all providers who hold a TEF award, or those who are considering applying for the final year of the provider-level ‘Year Four’ TEF. We have made adjustments to the duration of awards to manage the transition to subject-level TEF. Existing awards due to expire in 2020 will be extended until 2021. If you choose to come in for ‘Year Four’, your award will last for two years, until 2021. The full range of scenarios is covered in our guidance on TEF Year Four.


Andrew Hirst

Sally, I think the TEF has a duty of Care to ensure that career management and planning is embedded within all course, and that the standard of provision enables global mobility.

24 Oct 2018 - 8:42AM

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