Schools think teaching at British universities isn’t good enough

Sir Anthony SeldonThe quality of teaching in British universities is not good enough and there is much they could learn from schools, according to a survey of sixth form heads published in a new paper by Sir Anthony Seldon for the Social Market Foundation.

More than half, 56% of those surveyed, said that higher education institutions put too much emphasis on research and not enough on teaching. Two thirds (66%) of the 100 sixth form heads surveyed said that higher education institutions were not interested in school curriculums, learning or teaching methods. An even greater number (89%) said universities needed to seek help with teaching methods from schools.

Teachers overwhelmingly felt that the best teaching was for professional degrees such as medicine and law, according to the survey in Sir Anthony’s paper, Solving the Conundrum: Teaching and learning at British universities.

The Times and Sunday Times has awarded the University of Buckingham the accolade of University of the Year for Teaching Quality 2016 because of its track record for excellence in teaching.
Sir Anthony said: “The Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, is absolutely right to have given the question of teaching such a high priority. The recent focus on research has tipped the balance, always precarious, from teaching to research.

“It is abundantly clear in too many universities today that the leadership and the academics care far more about their research than about the quality of the learning experience of their students.
“Whilst much teaching is excellent, much could be improved. The academics I know mostly share a passion to teach their students as well as they can. Many are frustrated by the lack of priority given to teaching. There is considerable scope for greater professionalization and sharing within higher education and between HE and schools.

“Too little is known about where the excellent teaching is in universities today, and the quality of leadership from the top on teaching in universities is inconsistent.

“My own career spans both schools and higher education. I worked in schools for almost 30 years, for nearly 20 years as head of Brighton College and then Wellington College.

“I am now one of a very small number who have crossed from running schools to heading a university. The proposals I set out in ‘Solving the conundrum’ are workable and will achieve the aim of improving teaching at British universities.”

Sir Anthony also proposes a five-point grading system for academic teachers, based roughy on the levels used in the REF:

Four stars The teaching succeeds to an outstanding degree in achieving the criteria in the Big Ten. The teaching ranks among the very best in the university.
Three stars The teaching quality is a very good standard, but exhibits aspects for improvement.
Two stars The teaching is generally good, allowing the students to make progress in their learning. But it is not inspiring or notably motivating.
One star The teaching is acceptable only. Students make progress but patchily and at too low a level.
Unclassified The teaching quality is unacceptable. Students do not make progress and lack full confidence in the quality of the teacher.

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