From education to employment

Independent Review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF)

Dame Shirley Pearce

UK higher education (#HE) has a justifable reputation for international excellence. 

Our graduates have a profound impact on the economic, cultural and social wellbeing of communities across the world in which they live and work. In introducing TEF, the UK is leading the way internationally in demonstrating a commitment to recognising excellence and promoting enhancement of the educational experience and outcomes for HE students.

TEF is still at a relatively early stage of development.

This review, required by the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA), is an opportunity to assess its impact from an independent perspective at a critical stage in its development. TEF has already become an established part of the scrutiny of HE providers.

Its success to date owes a great deal to the leadership provided by Professor Sir Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffeld Hallam University, and Professor Janice Kay CBE, Provost and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Exeter, who have chaired the TEF and the subject pilots respectively. It is also due to the time and commitment of academics and students who have acted as panel members and to the care of those in the Offce for Students (OfS) and the Department for Education (DfE) who have overseen its development.

As with all new initiatives it has been modifed in light of the challenges of delivery. This review identifes the outstanding challenges that must be addressed for it to become the widely respected and robust framework that our students deserve.

It has been both a privilege and a signifcant responsibility to conduct this review of the TEF.

In fulflling my role as Independent Reviewer, I have much appreciated the support of my advisory group, drawn from experts who understand the diversity of UK HE and who have provided invaluable advice and challenge at all stages of the review. While this review is in my name and I take responsibility for it in my appointed role under the Act, in recognition of my close working relationship with my advisory group, I refer to ‘we’ throughout the report to refect the contribution that all have made to the recommendations in this publication of our fndings.

I have also had the beneft of the highest quality administrative support from Sam Meakin, who was seconded formally from the DfE to lead the review secretariat. Throughout the review I have taken the need for independence from both the DfE and the OfS extremely seriously and have commissioned independent research for some of the key questions. I am grateful to both organisations for respecting this independence while providing information and administrative support where needed. I have also wanted to ensure that the review is informed by the views of those with a direct interest in TEF. To achieve this, I have listened to providers of HE from all parts of the sector including senior leaders, administrators and academics; current and recent undergraduate students; HE applicants and their advisors; employers; and a range of sector representative bodies.

I also recognise the need to be objective and avoid the infuence of those with interests in any one part of the sector.

The diversity of provision of HE in the UK is one of its great strengths. Its diversity enables UK HE to deliver different patterns of social and economic impact and provides real choices for applicants as to how, where, and to what aim, they study. This range of provision gives rise to different views about how excellence should be articulated and assessed.

Over the last six months I have heard starkly opposing views about TEF presented with equally strong passion. In conducting the review, I have held this diversity, and the need to take a balanced view of the sector as a whole, frmly in my mind.

This review identifes strengths and risks in the current TEF.

We aim to make recommendations which build on the strengths and propose areas for improvement to address the risks.

The recommendations we make will improve the relevance, transparency and robustness of the framework and enable a revised TEF to become a respected part of the regulatory landscape for HE across the UK.

Dame Shirley Pearce

Report to the Secretary of State for Education from the independent review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).

Summary of the recommendations

1. The student interest is best met by TEF having the primary purpose of identifying
excellence and encouraging enhancement of the educational experience and outcomes
for HE students in the UK.
2. To improve confdence and respect in the framework, three overarching principles
should guide the development and delivery of a revised TEF. These principles should be
used to inform periodic review of the framework. All elements of a revised TEF should be:
a. Transparent (clear to all and widely understood)
b. Relevant (to the purpose and to all provision)
c. Robust (both statistically and operationally)
The assessment process
3. Statistical improvements are needed to address concerns in the management and
communication of:
a. statistical uncertainty at all levels of the process, including multiple comparisons
b. small numbers (small providers and/or small datasets) and non-reportable metrics
c. relative versus absolute comparisons
These issues are of particular importance to the design of any statistical processes that
may guide TEF judgements, such as fagging and initial hypotheses.
4. A subject-level exercise should be developed for inclusion in the provider-level
assessment to inform ratings at provider rather than subject level.
Developing the framework
5. The structure of the framework should be adjusted to improve:
a. transparency about what is being measured
b. its relevance to all institutions
c. the balance between nationally comparable and institutionally determined evidence
We have proposed adjustments to the existing framework structure.
To incorporate the subject-level exercise (Recommendation 4) into the proposed framework, we also propose that variability in subject performance should be addressed under all four aspects.
A summary of the proposed framework is:
Dimensions Aspects Evidence
Educational Experience   Teaching and Learning Environment  Institutionally determined evidence
Student Satisfaction Nationally comparable metrics and institutionally determined evidence
Educational Outcomes  Educational Gains  Institutionally determined evidence
Graduate Outcomes Nationally comparable metrics and institutionally determined evidence
 6. Each institution should be expected to demonstrate how, within their own particular mission, they articulate and measure the educational outcomes and learning that they aim to provide for their students. In our proposed framework structure, we have incorporated this by having ‘Educational Gains’ as one of the four aspects of assessment.
7. In assessing graduate outcomes: a. Nationally comparable metrics should not be restricted to employment and earnings. Broader outcome metrics should be developed and use made of other questions in the Graduate Outcomes survey. b. Metrics used to assess employment and earnings should control for regional differences in the location of graduates’ employment. Location of employment should be used as a benchmarking factor or in creating the metric.
8. The submission process should: a. have a standard structure for submissions that is used by all institutions b. enable the student body to contribute their own written input that refects their view of the institution’s performance in all as
Rating system
9. The rating system should be improved by: a. Providing greater and more nuanced information. We propose that the overall provider rating is supported by ratings for each of the four aspects being assessed under the proposed framework. b. Using rating names that make clear that the awards demonstrate excellence that meets or exceeds the UK quality baseline. We propose the names Gold, Silver and Bronze be replaced with ‘Outsta
Name of the scheme
Name of the scheme 10. The name of the scheme should be changed to more accurately refect what is being measured and assessed. We propose the Educational Excellence Framework (EdEF).


TEF independent review report

PDF, 1.93MB, 126 pages


This report contains the outcomes and recommendations of the independent review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF). The review was lead by Dame Shirley Pearce with the support of an advisory group.

Supporting evidence for the review includes:

Government response to the independent review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework

On 10 September 2020, DfE announced that they have asked the OfS to carry out a radical root and branch Review of the National Student Survey (NSS), with a focus on resolving aspects of the NSS that may act as a disincentive towards quality. The outcomes of the NSS Review will be important in considering the role the survey plays in the TEF assessment.

DfE recognise that there is a place for students’ feedback on the quality of their teaching and learning experience and will work with the OfS to develop how this aspect of quality could be included. It is important that the assessment provides ratings that are credible to students, parents, employers and providers. For this reason, the Government considers it essential that student outcomes should act as Limiting Factors, such that a provider should not achieve a high TEF rating if it has poor student outcomes.

DfE will work with the OfS to determine how the Limiting Factors should work.


DfE now expect the OfS to consult on the new TEF Framework, having regard to the Government’s views set out here and in the Secretary of State’s strategic guidance letter to the OfS shortly to be issued. This consultation will align with those on the OfS approach to quality, and with the OfS Review of the NSS. The Government would like to see the new Framework in place and assessments completed and published by September 2022.

Related Articles