Buckingham’s Sir Anthony Seldon: Universities must step up a gear and academics need to show humility – but another Ofsted isn’t welcome

The new Green Paper on education has stirred considerable controversy, especially the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which would monitor universities.

By Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham
Friday, 20th November 2015, 9:02 am
Sir Anthony Seldon
Sir Anthony Seldon

I am sorry to say, but, Vice-chancellors themselves are to blame for failing to provide the quality of leadership of teaching that students at their universities deserve to receive.

I am deeply proud to become a vice-chancellor, starting at the University of Buckingham two months ago. My own criticisms of the standards of teaching are designed not to harm, but to strengthen universities.

Universities have given insufficient attention to one half of their ‘HE’ description. They are very keen on the ‘higher’ part, but have given insufficient thought to ‘education’. Head teachers display a profound commitment of probing the whole meaning and process of teaching and learning. Universities could learn much from schools.

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Teachers not only have an extensive period of initial teacher training, but this is followed up by regular lesson observation, mentoring, self-appraisal, continuous professional development, and inspection.

Another key lesson that can be learned from schools is that heavy inspection regimes, as Ofsted at worst can be, are counterproductive, bureaucratic, demoralising, and lead to dull and formulaic teaching.

I do not favour a heavy external body, such as the Teaching Excellence Framework, being created.

Universities must become self-improving institutions.

Teaching and learning within universities must focus on three key areas. The students should be engaged, they should make progress, and the academic should give constructive feedback on student work. All academics can learn how to improve at these, but to do so requires a certain humility and a willingness to learn.

All universities should step up several gears. They could develop their own qualifications, as the University of Buckingham is planning to do from 2016 with its Teaching Excellence Qualification (TEQ). Every university should have a leader on its senior team appointed expressly to oversee the quality of teaching and learning, as happens in schools, and heads of faculty must see themselves as leaders of education and not just as leaders of research. Student feedback should be at the heart of the entire evaluation process.

Universities need less, not more, bureaucracy and government interference, but they must show themselves worthy of the autonomy by providing excellent teaching across the board at their institutions.