TEF – Boon or bust for educational developers?

The TEF (Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework) has rapidly become part of the lexicon of higher education and a familiar part of the landscape for educational developers. But is it the boon that it might be for those of us invested in teaching enhancement activities? Or could it lead to a downward spiral in traditional ED activities where these are not reflected in TEF metrics? How can educational developers contribute to Subject level TEF and use it to cement their position as pedagogic experts in an institution? 

As an educational developer and a member of two TEF subject pilot panels over the last couple of years I have lived and breathed TEF, and found it a surprisingly interesting project to be involved in. In fact I’d become so immersed in the language of metrics and benchmarks that I didn’t realise the craft knowledge I’d developed – or indeed appreciate quite how complicated the whole endeavour had become – until I saw a colleague try and put down in writing what was required to interpret the metrics. Huge spreadsheets with 10 plus pages about each subject in the university needed to be transformed into something that academic colleagues could make sense of, and hopefully use to enhance their teaching.

So are educational developers well placed to help with this? And how could TEF assist us with our work? Like many people I have mixed views – on the one hand TEF has certainly focused attention on teaching in HE. And subject level TEF has caught the attention of academics who might have viewed institutional TEF as ‘somebody else’s problem’. On the other hand the translation of some very sensible criteria on teaching excellence into a set of rather simplistic metrics plus a narrative submission seems to undermine many potential development opportunities.

And the omission of data on teaching qualifications should concern all educational developers, given the evidence in Gibbs (2010) that who does the teaching and whether they are qualified to teach makes a real difference to educational quality. Although TEF submissions can include data on teaching qualifications, numbers of National Teaching Fellows and other core ED concerns, the fact that they don’t need to runs the risk that the focus is solely on the metrics, particularly student satisfaction and employment outcomes. David Kernohan’s claim on WONKHE that ‘providers are laying off educational developers to hire data analysts to massage their way to a better TEF’ echoes this fear, and recent events in the sector have done little to assuage this concern. The ongoing independent review of TEF by Shirley Pierce offers an opportunity to tweak the system towards a more developmental model which I for one hope emerges. Ultimately, the TEF is intended to be about improving teaching, not about improving metrics!

In terms of whether educational developers are well placed to support TEF, I think there is ample evidence that we are. Recent projects exploring impact and evaluation of teaching development in HE such as Kneale et al.  (2016) show strong engagement by the ED community with issues which are core to the TEF. Of the fourfold aims of the TEF (informing students’ choices about what and where to study; raising the esteem of teaching; recognising and rewarding excellent teaching; and ensuring that HE better meets the needs of employers, business, industry and the professions) the middle two are clearly core interests of educational developers. Arguably, the subject TEF offers new opportunities for educational developers to be taken more seriously and to increase their impact.

So to summarise, the TEF could be a boon for educational developers and educational developers could contribute strongly in the TEF world. But we do need to make this case as loudly and as clearly as we can – or risk being side-lined in the tough TEF world.


Gibbs, G. (2010) Dimensions of Quality.  York: Higher Education Academy. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/dimensions_of_quality.pdf

Kneale, P., Winter, J., Spowart, L., Turner, R. and Muneer, R. (2016) Evaluating teaching development activities in higher education. Higher Education Academy, York.

Professor Debby Cotton is Member of the University of Plymouth’s Senior Leadership Team responsible for the strategic development, co-ordination and implementation of University-wide policies and initiatives in educational development underpinned by pedagogic research. Line management and budgetary responsibility for Teaching and Learning Support team (TLS). National TEF assessor and member of the subject panel for social sciences, coordinating institution-wide preparations at the for subject-level TEF.

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