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Since the publication of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) results in June 2017, we have seen much hoopla across university campuses. There has been the inevitable marketing overdrive among gold-winning institutions and hand-wringing in other parts of the sector where the result fell short of aspirations. At this juncture, given the government-led policy emphasis on ‘teaching excellence’, it is timely to consider what is being gained and lost through this particular form of measurement. In order to develop a shared and sustainable understanding of ‘teaching excellence’, we need to genuinely and continually engage voices of the various stakeholders - the academics, the students, the parents, the industry and the wider community groups. It is with this intention we recently organised a symposium supported by CEPA and funded by REF-Research Impact Development Fund (HEIF) at Liverpool Hope University on 11th July 2017. The event brought together a panel of stakeholders to develop a more representative understanding of the notion of teaching excellence. The event was attended by over 30 people. As Symposium contributors, Professor Paul Blackmore (King’s College London), author of ‘Prestige in Academic Life: Excellence and Exclusion’, provided a research and practitioner perspective. Professor Christina Hughes (Pro VC Student Experience, Sheffield Hallam University) expressed an organisational leadership perspective but also a sectoral one as a member of the TEF panel. Dr Ben Brabon (Higher Education Academy) represented the professional body view on how excellence can be recognised, rewarded and evaluated at sectoral level. Miss Ella Houston shared a view of ‘teaching excellence’ from a student perspective. Ms Andrea Pasquier articulated a parent’s perspective, a stakeholder group that is gaining increasing prominence given the financial and practical support that is being provided by parents in the present context. The measurement metrics are not going to go way but we need to think about less risk averse ways of working together with the view to facilitate real learning. Maintaining the debate at organizational and sectoral level on how to reward teaching excellence meaningfully on the ground needs to be considered. This full report on the Symposium captures the discussion and contributions of the panelists and attendees.
Centre for Education and Policy Analysis
Liverpool Hope University
‘Teaching Excellence’ Symposium Report
What does ‘teaching excellence’ in
higher education mean? Towards a
multi-stakeholders perspective
Dr Feng Su, Dr Namrata Rao and Dr Catherine O’Connell
Symposium contributors and panellists: Professor Paul Blackmore (Kings College London),
Professor Christina Hughes (Sheffield Hallam University), Dr Ben Brabon
(Higher Education Academy), Miss Ella Houston (student representative), Ms Andrea
Pasquier (parent representative)
Tuesday 11th July 2017, Liverpool Hope University, UK
Centre for Education and Policy Analysis
Liverpool Hope University
‘Teaching Excellence’ Symposium Report
I.  Overview
II.  The Stakeholders Perspectives
2.1  Christina Hughes, Academic and Senior Management
2.2  Paul Blackmore, Academic
2.3  Dr Ben Brabon, HEA representative
2.4  Andrea Pasquier, Parent
2.5  Ella Houston, Student
III.  Excerpts from the Symposium Panel Discussion
IV.  Closing Reflections Implications for a Multi-Stakeholder Perspective
V.   References
VI.  Appendix - Questions and comments addressed to the panel
I. Overview
This briefing paper provides a critical exploration of the concept of ‘teaching excellence’, a notion which is
currently positioned at the centre of UK government policy in the 2016 White Paper and brought to the
fore in policy debates and developments in higher education internationally, e.g. USA and Australia.
Recent UK government higher education funding policies have been predicated on consumer sovereignty
and assumptions that market reforms will drive quality. Specifically, the Teaching Excellence Framework
responds to a perceived deficit in quality information for ‘consumers and stakeholders’. However, the
recent developments associated with Unistats, and the discontinuation of ‘Key Information sets’ imply that
the forms of information required by stakeholders needs careful consideration (Donelan, 2017). The policy
logics associated with teaching excellence are being disputed by some parts of the student community, as
reflected in the NUS boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS) this year.
Analysis of the NSS metrics illustrate the strongest correlations with overall student satisfaction are derived
from measures associated with the organisation and administration of teaching (Langan, 2017), suggesting
the need for more nuanced and context-sensitive ways of evaluating teaching excellence. Evaluating
excellence in teaching necessarily entails an explicit conception of learning. The HEFCE-funded Learning
Gain projects are providing  more explicit conceptualisations of learning processes and outcomes.
The reforms culminating in the Teaching Excellence Framework have been positioned as a way of
addressing a perceived disparity in esteem associated with teaching in comparison to research (Willets,
2010). As such, they are an explicit policy mechanism for generating prestige in relation to teaching. These
reforms can indirectly increase emphasis on vertical rankings as universities seek to compete in the market
in terms of institutional reputation. Potentially, new metrics associated with teaching excellence confer
individual as well as organisational benefits whilst inducing new forms of social exclusion and risk aversion
(Blackmore, 2016). Blackmore (2016 a) rejects a fully dystopian view, highlighting the need for robust
indicators and consideration of alternative patterns of prestige which can foster inclusion.
‘Teaching excellence’, as a term, reflects a great complexity of processes and policies which must combine
effectively to provide a framework that enables excellence in HE teaching and learning. As others have
expressed, ‘teaching excellence’ cannot be understood only in terms of the lecturer’s input but also the
collective bodies of knowledge (both discipline-based and pedagogic) which inform his / her practice.
Increasingly we see ‘teaching’ in broader terms (with developments in flexible learning for example).
‘Teaching excellence’ is constituted at sectoral, organisational and individual level and expressed in
particular frameworks, standards and resource allocation processes which shape conceptions of excellence
in relation to teaching and learning. At sectoral level, teaching excellence is conceptualised through
professional accreditation frameworks and Fellowship status.
‘Teaching excellence’ is also associated with the institutional context and the extent to which there is
congruence in policies and processes which foster excellence in teaching and learning. Teaching
excellence’ is mediated at institutional level and articulated and signalled in institutional culture, policy and
practice. Our own research indicates ways TEF, as a perceived framework to foster ‘teaching excellence’, is
mediated by institutional practices and individual career stage ( O’Connell, Rao and O’Siochru). Teaching
excellence is inevitably infused with personal meaning and values which are associated with our personal
and professional identities as educators. Wood and Su (2017) explore academic staff perspectives on
‘teaching excellence’, in an interview study in five UK ‘teaching-intensive’ universities. Their interview
findings reveal that most participants found the term ‘excellence’ broadly innocuous, but tended to express
their understandings of it differently. All expressed doubt about its measurability, remarking on the
complexity of the concept and the importance of context and student need. They argue for locating
excellence in the pedagogic relationship and a restoration of the moral basis of academic professionalism,
with a recognition of the interconnected nature of teaching, scholarship and research.
There is a need to call for a more critical, nuanced and sustainable understanding of how ‘teaching
excellence’ is understood and enacted. We argue that current debate on the topic is largely dominated by
policy perspectives and professional self-interest and often the key stakeholders such as the parents,
students and employers who are influenced by such policy discussions and decisions are excluded from the
process. For university leaders, the challenge is to construct an organisational identity which is credible to
external stakeholders and attractive to organisational members. Research identifies the ways formulaic
expressions of institutional identity, arising from the need to profile the university to external stakeholders,
create tensions internally. There is a need to balance compliance and engagement with these new forms of
third-party evaluation, with creating different narratives and deploy alternative forms of benchmarking
more aligned with institutional missions. Often the very policies such as the Teaching Excellence Framework
which are intended to privilege the student learning experience do not privilege their views in the decision
making processes. Therefore, the symposium organised at Liverpool Hope on 11th July was intended to
make a timely contribution to current debate in higher education in the UK on the Teaching Excellence
Framework (TEF). The event was organised to provide a forum to extend this discussion to draw on the
perspectives of the various stakeholders - the parents, employers, students and the like who are likely to be
influenced by the varying interpretations of the notion of teaching excellence but often may not be offered
an opportunity to influence/shape these conceptions. This event was intended to be a step in the direction
to allow for a more broad-based, multi-perspective understanding and conception of the notion of
‘teaching excellence’.
The event included a panel of invited speakers who presented their perspectives at the symposium -
Professor Paul Blackmore (King’s College London), Professor Christina Hughes (Sheffield Hallam University),
Dr Ben Brabon (Higher Education Academy), Ms Ella Houston (student representative), and Ms Andrea
Pasquier (parent representative) - along with other attendees representing the various stakeholders who
actively participated in and contributed to the discussion. By bringing together people with distinct and
constructivist perspectives on the issue the intention of the symposium was to offer a dialogic space to
Understandings of the term ‘teaching excellence’ in higher education
The perceived relevance and importance of the concept of 'teaching excellence'
Dimensions of teaching excellence from different stakeholder perspectives
Perceived changes that are necessary in practice and policy in order to achieve 'teaching
excellence' (as it is defined by different stakeholders)
Ways of taking forward the debate
The perspectives of the various symposium attendees along with a summary of the discussion is presented
here in this briefing paper.
II.  The Stakeholders Perspectives
2.1.   Christina Hughes, Academic and Senior Management
Professor and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Student Experience at Sheffield Hallam University
I Want to be Outstanding:  Reflections on Teaching Excellence
It’s Outstanding that’s the word for me
Not Excellent
Outstanding is Gold
Excellent is only a middle-ranking Silver
I want to be Outstanding
Outstanding is magnificent
Marvellous, superb, fine
Wonderful, superlative, exceptional
Formidable, first-class, first-rate
Virtuoso, skilful, mistressful
I want to be Outstanding
Outstanding is not a number
A metric, a numeral, a statistic
A sum
It is a summation
Of wisdom, of knowledge, of capability
Of presence, of energy
Of mind and body working in synchronicity
And yes, of organisation and planning
And turning up in good time
I want to be Outstanding
Outstanding is being as one with a learner
Learning as the learner learns
Teaching as the learner teaches
A moment of beautiful co-creation
Taking a step in understanding that changes our worlds
That creates transformation
I want to be Outstanding
Outstanding eludes capturing
So how come we are captured by it?
My job, my role, my everyday being
Is consumed by a striving for institutional excellence
I want to be Outstanding
So what is to change?
What am I changing?
How am I changing?
Is there a need for a new discourse?
A new approach?
To bring back the poetry of learning
It’s ineffable quality
It’s intangible jouissance
It’s pleasure and bliss
I want to be Outstanding
But will this be sufficient?
Is this not a moment for a both-and?
A have your cake and eat it?
Such a very good post-structural insight
That we must challenge false binaries of choice
Doing their work of fastening identities to false premises
And standpoints
As they rule out complexity through universality
Whether it is female-male, black-white, human-non-human
And, yes, of choosing between quality-quantity
I want to be Outstanding
I see those numbers that haunt the TEF accounting sheet
They tell me about attainment gaps
And outcome gaps
And the human costs of students not doing so well
They are the always-already-disadvantaged
Disabled, poor, Black
And the rest
A real Butlerian embarrassed etc
It pulls at my heart
Our learners have failed
We have failed
Our Outstanding has failed
I want to be Outstanding
So I come back to what to do
I say we must close these gaps
No, I say there has to be no gap
This is our goal
We have to eliminate educational disadvantage
That trouble that we inherit and we perpetuate
And we can measure this
There is a number that works here
In that tiny TEF split metric
With its benchmarked Z score qualities
That number focuses my mind
I want to be Outstanding
So we will work on having no gap
No differential because you are poor, or Black or disabled
Or an etcetera
No deficit models of the learner
No deficit outcomes
I love those small metrics
They have galvanised me
They are Outstanding
In all ways
Cake and eating it
I will be Outstanding
2.2.  Paul Blackmore, Academic
Professor of Higher Education at King’s College London (KCL)
Some comments on teaching excellence - An Academic’s perspective
The recent Government White Paper notes:
“For too long, teaching has been the poor cousin of research. Skewed incentives have led to a progressive
“We will act to ensure teaching and research remain coherent and coordinated at the national as well as the
In the hope of addressing these problems, Government has:
Introduced TEF as a stick to beat universities through public shaming into realising that teaching is
just as important as research, and with a small cash incentive for those who do well
Separated research and teaching entirely within government.
I have argued elsewhere (Blackmore, 2016 b) that by these means the government is likely to achieve the
reverse of what it intends. It has been proposed that prestige and reputation can be distinguished from
each other. Prestige is hard to define. It can be had by only a few; it tends to be an “insider” view and is
gained and lost slowly. Reputation generally has the reverse of these attributes. I would argue that
teaching, as it is generally conceptualised and evaluated, provides reputation and not prestige. Pitting
teaching against research means setting reputation against prestige, and prestige always wins.
A better and by no means new – idea might be to concentrate on what unites research and teaching –
which is that they are both forms of learning. A model of excellence that places scholarship at the centre,
scholarship which may find expression in both teaching and research, removes us from this unhelpful and
(for the teaching enthusiast) doomed opposition between the two. Scholarship of course must involve not
only subject knowledge, but a developed understanding of learning and how it can be facilitated.
However, it will be difficult to bring the worlds of research and teaching together for as long as we maintain
our current arid notions of teaching. Over a thirty year period, driven by understandable pressures to raise
educational standards, increase productivity and hold the academy to account, we have witnessed the
drying out of university teaching. Curricula have become standardised and constructively aligned; learning
must be pre-specified; decontextualized learners have to be prodded out of surface and into deep learning.
The whole of this is now expressed in a terminology that leaves many faculty cold. This is not to argue
against any of these approaches, which all have their legitimate uses, but good servants have become bad
masters. Most importantly, for the argument being made here, this is a million miles from how researchers
learn and go about their work.
How can we get to a better place? The most powerful way, I believe, would be to move on from persuading
universities to promote for teaching as well as for research, but instead to promote principally to the extent
that a candidate can show a productive connection between the two. In a varied sector that does mean
having a very broad conception of what is meant by research. The links would be mainly in the area of
learning processes, rather than the passing on of newly discovered knowledge.
When looking at evidence that a teacher is excellent, I want to know that the teacher can articulate what
they are doing and why. This requires a developed understanding of learning, in a broad context. I want to
see evidence that others agree. Students are an important source of evidence; qualitative comments can
offer warmth but one needs to see breadth of influence. This requires quantitative indicators, but both of
the “satisfaction” kind. What did students think of the quality of their own learning and how much did they
themselves invest in it? Excellent teachers are likely to have influence beyond their immediate teaching
situation. They may lead and manage, design new curricula, offer idea to colleagues. They may contribute
through pedagogic publication, but this should not be a requirement. Importantly though, teaching is not a
technical activity done to others. It has to engage the heart, the history, the identity of the
2.3.   Dr Ben Brabon, HEA representative
HEA Academic Lead for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Teaching Excellence - A View from the HEA
Over the course of the past 10 years the Higher Education Academy (HEA) has undertaken and
commissioned several pieces of research into teaching excellence. Most recently, the HEA commissioned
research from LSE Enterprises (2016) and RAND (2016), as well as facilitating Deans’ Summits (2016/2017)
and PVC Network meetings (2016/2017) on the TEF with colleagues from the Department for Education
The research and discussions on teaching excellence that the HEA has undertaken have not only confirmed
the challenges of defining the term, but also the difficulties of capturing and assessing teaching quality
effectively. Critical literature on teaching excellence falls mainly within 4 areas: system-wide, institution,
department, individual. The range of definitions of teaching excellence highlight the dilemmas associated
with a singular definition and/or approach. This said, there is a broad census within the critical literature
about the themes associated with teaching excellence in HE. Glasner (2003) for example notes that:
There is no clear, universally accepted or agreed definition of what excellent teaching is, although
we can probably identify some broadly consensual themes: it is learner-centred or learner-focused,
[emphasis mine].
Here, for Glasner, ‘learner-centred’ teaching is a cornerstone of teaching excellence – something that the
HEA also sees as essential. For other critics, like Gunn and Fiske (2013) for example, the role of lecturer or
teacher is important: “Teaching excellence embraces but is not confined to teacher excellence.”
For the HEA, teaching excellence is focused on student learning. Excellent teaching motivates and inspires
students to learn, encourages them to engage actively in their learning, and fosters independent learning
and critical thinking. In particular, student engagement is one of the most important aspects of teaching
excellence for the HEA, as is the role of the lecturer in curriculum design and delivery.
In order to achieve 'teaching excellence' (as HEA understands and defines it), what changes need to be
The HEA is an advocate and supporter of the ongoing professionalization of teaching within HE. The HEA
supports individual members of staff and institutions to develop and enhance their teaching practice.
According to Little and Locke (2011), teaching excellence is framed/functions in 4 ways:
Excellence as a ‘positive for students’
Aspirational targets for quality enhancement
Reputational advantage for ‘competing’ institutions in a given national or trans-national context
Means of achieving governmental goals, particularly social inclusion and workforce impact
Much of the discussion (and criticism) of the policy context around the TEF has focussed on the
marketization of UK HE, alongside its use as a ‘means of achieving government aims’. Arguably, more work
needs to be done on focusing on the aspirational aspects of quality enhancement and the positive impact
of excellent teaching on student learning.
The HEA is committed to supporting staff develop and enhance their teaching practice and welcomes
aspirational quality enhancement as a means to continue to raise standards for students. For the HEA, this
involves recognising and rewarding teaching excellence at an individual and team level through schemes
like the National Teaching Fellowship (NTF) and Collaborative Awards for Teaching Excellence (CATE), as
well as the HEA Fellowship scheme. At the same time, the HEA is devoted to developing a better
understanding of how students engage with their learning and teaching through the UK Engagement Survey
These elements of student engagement with their learning/teaching and recognition/reward for individual
members of staff are important aspects of teaching excellence that are not fully captured by the current
TEF. Arguably, more needs to be done within a policy context to better understand, articulate and measure
teaching excellence through the processes of curriculum design and delivery.
Teaching excellence is at the core of the HEA’s approach to supporting teaching and learning in HE. With
over 90,000 Fellows, the HEA promotes the importance of giving individual members of staff the
opportunity to reflect upon their teaching practice in order to evidence and enhance their approach to
teaching and learning. The UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) provides a framework to capture
successful practice and act as a development tool to target areas for future enhancement. The 3
dimensions of the framework – Core Knowledge, Professional Values and Areas of Activity – act as markers
to create a reflective dialogue around an individual’s practice. For the HEA, this is an aspirational and
motivational approach that celebrates teaching excellence.
The HEA’s work in this area recognises that teaching excellence evolves over time as new and innovative
approaches to teaching practice are articulated in different institutional settings. The relationship between
an individual lecturer’s professional development and an institutional approach to teaching excellence is
important to the HEA’s work. The HEA supports the professionalization of teaching in HE and recognises
that students value good quality teaching at an undergraduate level beyond high quality research.
The HEA believes that teaching excellence can be recognised, captured and rewarded. As many
commentators have noted, the current TEF metrics are proxies that focus primarily on some of the
outcomes of teaching. For many, the 6 core metrics do not measure teaching excellence.
The HEA recognises the importance of the teaching and learning processes that underpin teaching
excellence. The HEA’s ongoing work on the HEFCE / HEA external examiners’ project has underlined the
importance of the role of individual lecturers as agents of teaching excellence. Within this context, there is
an argument for an evaluation of teaching excellence to involve independent external evaluation of
teaching (such as that provided by external examiners) that does not rely (wholly) upon proxy metrics.
The move towards the discipline or subject level TEF may go some way to better understand the local
educational transactions between staff and students that define teaching excellence. A more granular
approach may also have more positive outcomes for student choice as a fuller appreciation of teaching
within a subject area will help students to decide upon their degree programme.
To recognise and appraise teaching excellence effectively, the disciplinary milieu and distinctions need to
be teased out in order to make the method of assessment formative, authentic and meaningful. Careful
management of the process is required to navigate a path that is sensitive to the ‘high fidelity’ metrics, but
more mindful of ‘low fidelity’ metrics that will speak more eloquently to the disciplines. Land and Gordon
remind us that, ‘The prescriptive nature of a high fidelity approach means that such an approach is largely
externally shaped and determined by the need to comply with the requirements of a stated policy or
strategy, either at sectoral level or at institutional level’ (Land and Gordon 2013). While this approach can
provide reliability and coherence, it can inhibit innovation and engagement – the very tenets of teaching
excellence that the TEF should embrace. The HEA welcomes an approach to measuring teaching excellence
that truly celebrates and rewards innovation(s) in design/delivery and student engagement, as well as
recognising the role of individual lecturers.
2.4.  Andrea Pasquier, Parent
Teaching Excellence in Higher Education - A Parent’s Perspective
I would like to share a few thoughts on how I view teaching excellence from the perspective of a parent,
having recently assisted my son in choosing the university and course that was right for him, and supported
him in his first year.
The term ‘teaching excellence’ suggests on an institutional level, high class facilities in which to study, and
on a departmental level, a curriculum which is diverse, engaging and intellectually stimulating - one that is
delivered by lecturers with a high level of expertise which can be effectively conveyed.
Teaching excellence is such a priority now due to the huge rising costs to students and parents in
undertaking a degree. The average debt for a graduate was £44,000 in 2016. Mistakes in choosing
particular courses or university can be costly.
Initially my son was encouraged by his grammar school to apply to Russell Group universities- the % of
students obtaining places at these institutions is used in sixth form literature. This is a crude indicator of
excellence, particularly regarding teaching, at an institution but one which can sway parents and students
due to the perceived prestige factor. The UNISTATS information was extensive and informative when
comparing courses and institutions, particularly the student satisfaction and employment data. However,
the overriding factor in the decision was the applicant day - enthusiastic lecturers speaking with passion
about the course inspires you to want to be part of that community.
Although the university learning experience is meant to be self motivating, good contact hours are the first
step in maintaining that motivation, interest and ultimately successfully completing a degree. Personally
this has been a disappointment at 6 hours per week! There is also a big disparity between this and the 20
hours received per week during A level teaching. In a year of big changes for many students - living away
from home, making new friendships etc - it does not make for easy adjustment. Teaching excellence is also
about building a rapport with your students and getting to know them on personal level. It is when there is
this personal connection that students feel supported, grow in confidence, seek help when there are
problems and are motivated to give their best. In addition to the lack of contact hours, the lack of personal
contact with lecturers is also an issue. In contrast to my own experience when at university, my son has
only had contact with his lecturers in a lecture hall with over 100 students. Any small group seminars have
been taught by PhD students with varying results.
With £44,000 of “debt” coming out of university, the investment in education is clearly worth it if a
rewarding job / higher level study, in line with the student’s aspiration is an outcome after 3 years and
clearly teaching excellence has an integral part to play. My concern as a parent is in assessing / quantifying
the “value” of this investment.
In summary, Teaching excellence, in my view, cannot be fully quantified. Obviously, there are certain
metrics that help (% completion, graduate employment and student satisfaction) and that can be indicators
of good teaching but do these really separate good from excellence? As a parent, I view the new Teaching
Excellence Framework with some cynicism. In theory, it could be a useful tool for students and parents
when choosing university. It could force universities for whom research rather than teaching has been a
priority, to look more closely at what they are providing in terms of teaching. However, I do agree with
Patrick McGhee from the Guardian when he wrote that outstanding higher education teaching should not
increase student debt and this is the danger when linking the Teaching Excellence Framework with tuition
fees, and this has not been fully dismissed by the current government.
2.5.  Ella Houston, Student
Teaching Excellence in Higher Education - A Student’s Perspective
I have transitioned from undergraduate student to postgraduate student to member of teaching staff in the
department of disability and education in Liverpool Hope University over the past seven years, so my
understanding of teaching excellence is multi-layered and faceted. From 2010-2013 I completed my
undergraduate degree at Hope, from 2013-2014 I completed my masters at Liverpool Hope and in October
2014 I started my PhD at Lancaster University and also started hourly paid teaching at Hope. I am now
employed as a professional tutor in the department of disability and education.
Just over seven years ago, when I was finishing my A-Levels in sixth-form, at my local comprehensive
school, I resolutely decided that I was finished with education oh, the irony.
During this time, I felt very disassociated from formal education. I did not trust the school environment that
I was a part of – I did not feel safe, valued or happy in school. An apt way to describe my experience of my
schooling is that I felt as though I was mindlessly undergoing the same prescriptive process, day in and day
I did not trust what I perceived to be restrictive teaching styles - my teacher's, for the most part, seemed
tired, lacking in awareness of the social dynamics in classrooms and detached from the wellbeing of
individual students. Adding a litany of exams to the mix, I was totally fed up.
By chance, as I was flicking through a Liverpool Hope University prospectus, I happened upon the disability
studies undergraduate program - a subject that although I did not know existed, immediately sparked my
Now, this is where teaching excellence begins. Here, I experienced the type of teaching that leaves you with
a rush. Questioning everything. Teasing out beliefs about the world, values, preconceptions and attitudes.
Shaking your sense of reality. Not sitting comfortably in your chair.
So, it is safe to say that I really liked the learning and teaching experience during my undergraduate degree.
What did I like about it so much?
Mostly, I liked the way the teaching packed a punch. The way in which content was delivered gave a strong
sense that the theory, research and information we absorbed really mattered in a real world context. We –
the students – knew it mattered because our tutors shared stories from their own lives and practice, whilst
encouraging us to draw upon our own subjective experiences. Often, I remember that a personal story told
by a tutor or student was a pivotal moment in helping to make a theory ‘click’ in my mind.
The understanding that disability studies theory and research matters in real-world contexts was a strong
impetus for my engagement with and enthusiasm for the degree. The lectures given as part of my degree
often carried undertones of rallying calls for activism. When you feel part of a movement that is challenging
social oppression, it’s hard not to pay attention.
The experiences I have shared thus far are intended to support my perception of excellent teaching
practice. Specifically, I suggest that a central aspect of teaching excellence surrounds fostering and being an
active part of an interdependent teaching and learning community. Valuing and supporting the growth and
development of peers and colleagues is of particular importance in disability studies which is the
discipline I studied and now teach and research in. The notion of independence is highlighted as a myth. In
it’s place, the understanding that we all require and depend on one another, in different ways, exists.
My experience of teaching students at the Network of Hope – a provision through which various degree
programs are taught at colleges in Bury and Blackburn – has been pivotal in my deepened understanding of
interdependence and the ways in which it relates to teaching excellence. A large proportion of NoH
students identify as mature students who would not have otherwise had the opportunity to enter into
higher education. In my experience of teaching at the NoH, since 2014, I have seen how adept students can
be at fostering an authentic sense of interdependence in class-groups. From validating one another’s
experiences and stories in groups discussions to offering support via social media networks, this kind of
thing can come very naturally to students.
I do think that teaching practice has a vital part to play in nurturing and sustaining interdependence in
learning communities. But, critically, interdependence should not be confused with interference. I suggest
that a key attribute of teaching excellence is a willingness to trust students to support their own and one
another’s learning experiences.
When I first started teaching, I believed that the way I could prove myself as a ‘good’ teacher was by doing
as much as I possibly could for my students. From explaining the course readings to them, to finely
dissecting the ins and outs of assessments and launching into descriptions when I could see confused faces
during class discussions.
However, now I recognise that by enacting this approach I was hindering, not helping, my students. In
particular, I was blocking their opportunities to self-discover, go through the feelings of uneasiness and
searching for answers. And, importantly, their abilities to develop deeper support systems between one
Now that I have described my personal interpretation of what may constitute teaching excellence, I am
going to very briefly address the question of whether or not teaching excellence can be measured.
In my view, it is not helpful to invest too much faith in quantitative data such as dropout statistics,
employment rates and survey results when gaining a sense of teaching excellence in higher education
institutions. Such an approach will produce broad and generalizable patterns, however, I would suggest
that such patterns will inevitably be flawed. For example, I previously suggested that I have learnt that it
can be productive and beneficial for students to allow them to develop their own strategies when dealing
with senses of uneasiness during learning. Although I strongly argue that this process is worthwhile and
ultimately helpful for students such an understanding may not be reflected in student satisfaction rates.
I also believe that external measurements of teaching excellence that result in gold, silver and bronze
judgments are misguided. In my talk, I have demonstrated that I feel as though discussions surrounding
teaching excellence should exist in higher education. However, I suggest that such discussions should take
place substantially on an internal level in a way that fosters in an interdependent approach.
As someone who has made the transition from student to tutor in relatively recent years, I have found
community of practice meetings at Liverpool Hope University particularly helpful as a space in which to
share examples of teaching practices that have proved useful for others. I would advocate a dialogic
approach as more useful that a metricized, competitive approach.
III.  Excerpts from the Symposium Panel Discussion
I see my role as a custodian of very important lives. Sheffield Hallam University has 32000
students and 3000 employees. My job is to deliver ‘teaching excellence’. I will talk briefly
about some of the things I see in the sector which vex me.
What I see is colleagues with too much to do, colleagues being de-professionalised,
government trying to measure something which is unmeasurable, student leaders caught up
by populism, I see the difference between transaction vs. transactionalism, a
hypercompetitiveness which does not raise standards (we are aware of examples of this eg.
Southern Rail). I am vexed by a discourse which can tacitly formulate a secret deal with the
student ‘leave me alone to do my research and you will be a 2.1’. I am vexed by
unaccountable bodies (newspapers and media organisations) which decide the league table
algorithms by which universities are judged by.
We have to be metric mindful not metric driven. We have to find ways of enabling pleasure
and joy in teaching. Some of these numbers revealed in metrics tell us nothing that is useful.
However, some numbers highlight important and moral issues: some students in our
universities by virtue of their ethnic background will never achieve the same as their white
counterparts so they may not stand the same chance in the labour market. We must value
what we measure. We have been given lot of measures we as a sector haven’t decided on.
What is it that we really value that we wish to measure.  How can we surface these things?
- Prof. Christina Hughes
From a discipline, subject-centred perspective, I see teaching excellence in terms of something
learner-centred, learner focused and an inspirational learning experience. The six TEF metrics,
however, look at the outcomes, not the process.
There is an implicit, questionable, policy assumption that excellence is ‘neutral’. In the pursuit
of excellence, most of the measures taken are institutional but not individual. Through TEF
there is an increased focus on competition and government control, reflecting an ongoing
marketization of HE where if you do well you have financial gains. The trajectory of this policy
appears to suggest that the fee cap would be lifted at a future point. But what happens to the
individual narratives of excellence in this context?
TEF regurgitates the data which is already there. However, there is a need for more
aspirational models of teaching excellence. HEA is exploring potential ways external examiners
are involved in the teaching quality enhancement process. The HEA has campaigned, also, for
broadening the concept of student voice; through incorporating student engagement as a
feature of the national student survey. It is important to know the student assess their own
relationship within the university engagement is a very important.
There are some key questions that need to be highlighted - Will TEF motivate students to go
for an institution? How do we reward excellence? If it is about teaching and research at the
same footing? What does it look like? In evaluating teaching excellence, can we incorporate
both high fidelity and low fidelity metrics (recognizing that some indicators are harder to
measure and define)? What forms and approaches to evaluating teaching excellence will get
staff buy in?
- Dr Ben Brabon
In preparing for this event, I have reflected on what is it that was actually important to me as a
parent and what has been important to my son as a student? Financial commitments result in
greater parental involvement as mistakes can be costly. We did look at the metrics (eg. Student
satisfaction) though it wasn’t the most important factor. The experience of applicant days
talking to the individual tutors in the process, was an important factor. It is a very individual
perspective and it may be different from how the sector may view excellence. Since my son
has been at university I have noticed the limited contact time he has had at his university. Six
hours of contact time is not very conducive to having very highly motivated students. Even
within those six hours, three hours are have been with a PhD student. On a personal level, the
rapport which you have individual lecturers can be important as you feel part of a community
which can be helpful in being a support network. You are more likely to seek help if you feel a
The TEF may be helpful potentially in encouraging research-intensive universities to place a
greater focus on teaching. However, an outstanding university education should not involve a
huge student debt and it is worrying that the two are being linked.
- Ms Andrea Pasquier
Excellent teaching encourages you to question everything, it shakes your sense of reality.
Excellence is connected to the way in which the teaching is delivered. The willingness of tutors
to share their lived experience helps the theory to ‘click’; in creating opportunities of
self-discovery – and their ability to develop independence and interdependence. Fostering and
being part of an interdependent learning and teaching community is part of this. Too much
emphasis on a broad and generalizable pattern of ‘excellence’ may not be helpful.
Understandings of student satisfaction and discussion around teaching excellence should be
concentrated on an internal basis.  A dialogic rather than metricised approach is helpful.
- Miss Ella Houston
IV. Closing Reflections Implications for a Multi-Stakeholder Perspective
At the Symposium, contributors and colleagues problematised the concept of 'teaching excellence' and its
framing in neoliberal ideological assumptions of performativity, new public management and competition.
Using the Symposium as a dialogic space, we have widened the debate and taken a step towards offering a
multiple stakeholders' perspective on ‘teaching excellence’ . This is our attempt for developing an inclusive
understanding of the concept of ‘teaching excellence’ which engages different voices including those often
less privileged in such discussions ( parents, students and employers) with the view to develop a more
complex, pluralistic argument.
There are a number of implications for such a multiple stakeholders' perspective - how can measurements
of teaching enhance the focus on good teaching? Can we really count what counts as good teaching? How
do measurements have an impact on the actual teaching practice? Does the emphasis on measurement
allow for teaching innovation? We live in a risk averse system so the current measurements may stifle the
opportunities of learning that challenges. The measurement metrics are not going to go way but we need
to think about less risk averse ways of working with the view to facilitate real learning. There is the hidden
curriculum which we can exploit to support learning which is often not measured by any kind of
teaching/learning metrics.
Further, work needs to be done in closing the gap between management and the rest so that management
decision in response to any internal/external teaching metrics are understood by all the stakeholders in
order to ensure their participation and support in any decisions that ensue. Often the various stakeholders
think they are being done to by the management as a result of the actions that follow any form of metrics.
By being ‘metric-mindful’ (rather than metric-led) colleagues are more likely to recognise that the
institution is being built by and with them.
We need to recognize the ethics and morality of what the data tells us and identify where this aligns with
and diverges from institutional values and mission. We need to be aware of the distinction between
standardization and consistency. Being alert to the subtle effects of routinization is essential. In their
recently launched Manifesto for a Post-critical pedagogy, our CEPA colleagues urge us to embrace a
principled normativity rather than procedural normativity (Hodgson et al, 2017).
Avoiding the over-use of metrics as a management tool at institutional level is paramount. Recognising the
limitations of the marginal gains approach is needed. It is essential we look towards value-driven
approaches and aspirational models of teaching excellence. Maintaining the debate at organizational and
sectoral level on how to reward teaching excellence meaningfully on the ground needs to be considered.
We need to recognise the influence of leadership and management practices. Differing forms of
accountability practices are associated with TEF at organizational level, some of which are
relational/collegial ‘giving an account of’; and others are managerial, ‘holding to account for’ (O’Connell,
Rao and O’Siochru, 2017; Oancea, 2014).
V.  References
Blackmore, P (2016 a) Prestige
.  Abingdon: Routledge.
Blackmore, P (2016 b) Why research trumps teaching and what can be done about it, in Blackmore, P.,
Blackwell, R. and Edmondson, M. Tackling
London: HEPI.
Donelan, G (2017) Meeting the need of prospective students.  AHUA Blog.
Hodgson, N., Vlieghe, J., and Zamojski, P. (eds) (forthcoming, 2017) Manifesto for a Post-Critical Pedagogy. New
York: Punctum Press.
Langan, M (2017)  HERE@Manchester research seminar.  8 June.
Oancea, A., (2014) Research assessment as governance technology in the United Kingdom: findings from a
survey of RAE 2008 impacts.
, 17(6), pp.83-110.
O’Connell, C. , Rao, N. and O’Siochru, C.  (ongoing) Metricisation
Willets, D (2010) Speech to Universities UK Annual Conference.
Wood, M. and Su, F. (2017) What makes an excellent lecturer? Academics' perspectives on the discourse of
'teaching excellence' in higher education. Teaching
, 22(4), 451-466.
VI. Appendix - Questions and comments addressed to the panel
Jo Frankham: Given the apparent importance of the narratives in the recent TEF exercise, aren't we
seeing another new performativity of needing to be excellent in performing a narrative?
Christina Hughes: The TEF narratives do count and should count. We need to recognise that the TEF
metrics ‘bracket out’ excellence, as they are focused on outcomes. The narratives can tend to emphasise
processes and procedures, but we must address the ‘so what question’. However, a single narrative
evaluation for the entire university is problematic, how can a 15 page submission capture everything?
Reframing what teaching excellence is not going to be found in TEF. But TEF is not the only game in town.
Ben Brabon: Ben gave some anecdotal examples of transformational teaching. Many of the aspects of
inspirational, transformational teaching cannot be easily measured. Yet, increasingly, we live in a world of
marginal gains. If there are things we can do to improve our marginal gains then people in managerial roles
often speak to those issues. In taking this approach, however, we are missing something important. Within
the broad TEF framework at sectoral level, we need to maintain and role and space for the individual
narratives and the conversations that these foster. There is a need to consider what how excellent
teaching can be rewarded meaningfully.
Richard Budd: Are TEF, REF, NSS so resource-intensive that they don't allow for loose coupling? Do they
generally subsume our values and approaches to teaching? If they're light enough in their touch, then
this is possible, but if they're very heavy then there's no room for manoeuvre.
Christina Hughes: We need to distinguish between transformational and transactional the two are
related. We might see the latter as ‘window dressing’. Some organisations can be good at this. What they
are seen to be doing is fairly routinized and the energy is being routed to get the right/meaningful things
done. There are potential merits to routinisation of aspects associated with metrics if it creates a space and
freedom to do the things that are important.
Jeremy Cogley: I am struck by your earlier reference to ‘peoples’ lives’ Christina. In TEF we are trying to
formalize something which is very complex. How can we be mindful of these metrics but not be driven by
Christina Hughes: Innovative approaches can be taken, eg. listening rooms approach at SHU , facilitating
student-student conversations about learning experience. Such approaches highlight the importance of
social connectedness (and how lack of this can create barrier to learning); and provide illuminating
information that wouldn’t otherwise be accessed.
Ben Brabon: We could look to the value of ‘low fidelity’ metrics which capture more of the complexity in
the teaching-learning experience.
Andrea Pasquier: there can be a disparity between what is presented at applicant days and what is
experienced on the ground.  This can erode trust.
Jeremy Cogley: It seems important to decide what you are about as an institution and build from there so
that what you place importance on in evaluative terms is authentic. This is the way to build trust with
students and parents.
Margaret wood: What does ‘learning gain’ add to our understanding of teaching excellence? Teaching
excellence is a complex idea which lacks a clear consensus. Similarly, ambiguity and a lack of agreement
perhaps exist about the concept of learning gain, what it is and how best to measure it. Therefore is
learning gain a useful development which helps to link teaching excellence to student learning, or does it
introduce further complexity in terms of the lack of agreement about understandings and measures of
learning excellence?
Christina Hughes: It is important to recognise the policy interests that resulted in the funding for the
LearningGain projects. The US research study ‘Academically Adrift’ presents a critique of the value of a
liberal arts education. This research has been influential with government policy makers. Within the
Learning Gain projects there are a range of projects examining ways of evaluating the variance in xxx.
There have been some conflations. The links between teaching excellence and learning gain – teaching
excellence and it is an idea which is increasingly colonised. Learning gain is not financial gain so it is not
about gaining employment. Learning Gain is not graduate income, it is not input/output scores. The
‘Legacy project’ (a HEFCE funded Learning Gain ‘LEGACY’ project) is a bit like the 11+, a test of critical
thinking skills (eg. reasoning, open-mindedness). It is concerned with understanding the space between
levels of education and supporting that transition more effectively.
Michael Elliott: There is a prominent, derisory discourse of incoming students which bemoans their
unpreparedness for university-level study and their instrumentalism. How do we get past this? These
learners have learned something of how to function in an environment that emphasises results and
academic performance over other factors.
Andrea Pasquier: We need to recognise the ways in which schools are measured and evaluated by their
stakeholders. Increasingly, schools report on the number of students who gain places at Russell Group
universities (in their promotional literature to parents) and as social mobility indicator.
Ella Houston: We should take account of the different strategies of choosing university. For some students,
attending university is a non-decision (described in Richard Budd’s research as embedded choosers). In
such cases, prestige and league table position can be influential factors for students and parents. For
first-generation HE-students, choice factors will be different.
John Nixon: Is it a ‘bit of a con being pulled’ within TEF that the focus is being pulled towards learning
outcomes and we lose emphasis on what counts as excellent teaching? Does it have to be inspirational?
Can we be excellent in terms of our ability to explain? Are we understating the importance of the
discipline-level in evaluating teaching excellence?
Ben Brabon: A caveat to my definition, I said ‘possibly’ inspirational. We are possibly looking over the
shoulders of teaching when we try to define good learning. We do need to recognise that learning happens
at different levels and in different moments of time. We may need to develop the language and concepts
to reflect this. In parts of the research community, in the context of REF imperatives, there is growing
interest in the concept of ‘slow research’ to reflect the value of longer gestation periods for meaningful
research. We may need to foster a similar concept of ‘slow learning’.
Andrea Pasquier: There is value/importance in looking beyond the discipline and seeing excellent teaching
as being about fostering personal connectedness to the learning community.
Ella Houston: It is also about who is validated; I am thinking of bell hook’s work about the experience of
those we give voice to.  Maybe that is where the inspiration lies.
Sophia Deterala: How do we encourage a focus on what teaching should be: how might the higher
echelons enact rally in the face of demands imposed by TEF?
Ben Brabon: An orientation to TEF can foster risk-aversion, stifling opportunities for ‘troublesome,
uncomfortable, transformative learning. We need to look towards different ways of managing/framing risk.
We could look to the hidden curriculum and surfacing the broader range of learning processes that are
Christina Hughes: we need to foster levels of dialogue within the organisation to reduce that sense of being
‘done to’. I invite my colleagues to come and work shadow me to see the challenges I face. We need to
recognise the distinction between standardisation and consistency and place more importance on the
latter.  We need to release staff from a permission culture where possible.
Jo Frankham: Much of the debate on teaching excellence is focused ‘inwards’. How can we look
outwards more effectively and take account of the increasing role private HE providers and alternative
providers (degree apprenticeships) will play in defining excellence.
Christina Hughes: We must recognise that if we present ourselves narrowly in terms of the TEF metrics,
private providers will do this competitively and more cheaply,
Ben Brabon: BIS commissioned some research on marketization of HE but it has not had much traction.
Christina Hughes: Undergraduate degree education tends to be framed around an individual model of
student mobility. For first generation undergraduates, this can be alienating and dislocate them from their
communities. Degree apprenticeships have the potential to offer a collective model of student mobility,
taking a cohort through, whilst being able to study at home, stay in their community. This is just a
hypothesis but there is something distinct on offer.
Michael Elliott: There is increased visibility of degree apprenticeships in schools. And there is a close
mirroring of what is on offer through this route in comparison to traditional HE provision. Prospective
students are more clued into the fissures between different forms of provision and are increasingly literate
in their readings of these different offers.
Centre for Education and Policy Analysis
Liverpool Hope University
Hope Park
L16 9JD
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Given the apparent importance of the narratives in the recent TEF exercise, aren't we seeing​
  • Jo Frankham
Jo Frankham: Given the apparent importance of the narratives in the recent TEF exercise, aren't we seeing​ ​ another​ ​ new​ ​ performativity​ ​ of​ ​ needing​ ​ to​ ​ be​ ​ excellent​ ​ in​ ​ performing​ ​ a​ ​ narrative?
NSS so resource-intensive that they don't allow for loose coupling? Do they generally subsume our values and approaches to teaching? If they're light enough in their touch, then this​ ​ is​ ​ possible,​ ​ but​ ​ if​ ​ they're​ ​ very​ ​ heavy​ ​ then​ ​ there's​ ​ no​ ​ room​ ​ for​ ​ manoeuvre
  • Richard Budd
Richard Budd: Are TEF, REF, NSS so resource-intensive that they don't allow for loose coupling? Do they generally subsume our values and approaches to teaching? If they're light enough in their touch, then this​ ​ is​ ​ possible,​ ​ but​ ​ if​ ​ they're​ ​ very​ ​ heavy​ ​ then​ ​ there's​ ​ no​ ​ room​ ​ for​ ​ manoeuvre.
We could look to the value of 'low fidelity' metrics which capture more of the complexity in the​ ​ teaching-learning​ ​ experience
  • Ben Brabon
Ben Brabon: We could look to the value of 'low fidelity' metrics which capture more of the complexity in the​ ​ teaching-learning​ ​ experience.
there can be a disparity between what is presented at applicant days and what is experienced​ ​ on​ ​ the​ ​ ground
  • Andrea Pasquier
Andrea Pasquier: there can be a disparity between what is presented at applicant days and what is experienced​ ​ on​ ​ the​ ​ ground.​ ​ ​ ​ This​ ​ can​ ​ erode​ ​ trust.
It seems important to decide what you are about as an institution and build from there so that what you place importance on in evaluative terms is authentic. This is the way to build trust with students​ ​ and​ ​ parents
  • Jeremy Cogley
Jeremy Cogley: It seems important to decide what you are about as an institution and build from there so that what you place importance on in evaluative terms is authentic. This is the way to build trust with students​ ​ and​ ​ parents.
We need to distinguish between transformational and transactional-the two are related. We might see the latter as 'window dressing
  • Christina Hughes
Christina Hughes: We need to distinguish between transformational and transactional-the two are related. We might see the latter as 'window dressing'.