TEF gold award recipients ‘teach fewer disadvantaged students’

Gaps between quality of providers’ teaching and the students they cater for identified in new Hepi report

June 1, 2023
A hand holding a clutch of gold medals
Source: iStock

English universities deemed to provide high-quality teaching often recruit fewer disadvantaged students, new research has revealed.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) said its report suggested that those who received Free School Meals (FSM) continued to lose out even after entering higher education.

For the study, Antony Moss, director of education and student experience at London South Bank University, compared the results of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) with the proportion of FSM students at each provider.

TEF awards institutions gold, silver or bronze ratings based on their teaching, learning and student outcomes, and whether these are consistent across different types of student.

The paper, sponsored by London South Bank University, says that providers with gold awards from 2017 recruit a significantly smaller proportion of FSM pupils than bronze and silver universities.

Of the 20 providers with the lowest proportion of FSM entrants, 15 had gold awards. The lowest proportions of FSM students were found at the University of Bath (5 per cent), the University of Exeter (7 per cent) and the University of Bristol (7 per cent).

By contrast, none of the 20 institutions with the highest proportions of FSM students had the top award. Providers with the highest proportions included Middlesex University (41 per cent), Soas (39 per cent) and London South Bank itself (38 per cent).

“These observations appear to indicate that recruiting a smaller number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, with a higher tariff on entry, is disproportionately more likely to lead to a gold outcome under TEF, reflecting the highest standards of teaching excellence,” says the report.

“This is despite the fact that previous analysis has demonstrated that the relative gaps in outcomes for FSM-eligible students do not vary between bronze, silver and gold-rated providers.”

Professor Moss said bronze and silver TEF-ranked, lower-tariff institutions were doing far more to expand access to higher education, meaning “the heavy lifting on social mobility is not distributed equally”.

At the same time, they were still achieving comparable outcomes compared with high-tariff providers, which recruited fewer disadvantaged students and had greater resources, he added.

Professor Moss called on the Office for Students (OfS) to rethink how it provided financial support so that universities educating many disadvantaged students did not continue to lose out.

The report says there is “limited cause for optimism” that TEF 2023 – due out later this year – will resolve the equality-of-outcome gap for FSM students.

Nick Hillman, director of Hepi, said it was vital for the awards to do more to recognise the circumstances of individual institutions.

“It does not sufficiently reflect one basic educational truth: it is harder to educate thousands of disadvantaged students than it is to educate a handful of them,” he said.

“This important new research suggests that those who received free school meals continue to lose out even after entering higher education.”

John Blake, director for fair access and participation at the OfS, said the analysis would inform discussions around its new equality of opportunity risk register, which providers must consider in formulating their access and participation plans.

“Evaluation to determine effective practice is vital in this work so that all students can succeed in their chosen paths, as well as ensuring their education is high quality, wherever they are taught,” Mr Blake said. 


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Reader's comments (2)

No-one is going to take any of this seriously if it doesn't produce the 'right' results.
I just wonder how much of staff time goes into achieving these metrics.