Education Policy Committee Overview

17 September 2017

Ken Fincham is Chair of the Education Policy Committee. He writes:

The RHS is committed to monitoring and supporting the teaching of history in higher education and secondary schools. The Educational Policy Committee was founded in 2003 to bring together expertise in and outside Council in order to promote history teaching through offering expert advice to government and NGOs as well as sponsoring conferences and teaching-related initiatives. Accordingly, on the Committee sit not just elected councillors with a particular interest in teaching but also a number of co-opted members from History UK (representing History in HE), the Historical Association and secondary schools, and they bring to our discussions a wealth of experience and insights. Among our co-opted members are the former Chief HMI for History at Ofsted, the former discipline lead for History at the Higher Education Academy, and a current academy-school teacher and editor of Teaching History. Regular Committee meetings are supplemented by biannual visits to history departments where we see history teaching on the ground, sometimes in rather challenging circumstances, which helps inform our discussions and shape our priorities.

History in HEIs

The Committee takes a broad purview of history at university by examining trends in admissions, curriculum design and delivery for both undergraduates and taught postgraduates. We are interested in history teaching in all its various settings, whether in a single-subject department, a multi-disciplinary humanities or humanities and social science unit, or historians teaching in other departments such as languages. Representatives of the RHS speak at teaching events and sponsor a number of workshops and conferences, most recently the ‘New to History teaching’, a one-day event in September 2017 at the IHR. We often provide expert advice to public bodies: in 2013-14 we contributed to the revision of the History Benchmarking document produced by the Quality Assurance Agency, and in 2017 gave evidence to the British Academy’s flagship project on skills in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Currently the most pressing matter is the rapid development of the Teaching Excellent Framework. In January 2016 the Society submitted its response to the Government Green Paper on HE, ‘Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice’, which was endorsed by the Economic History Society, History UK, the British Agricultural History Society, and the East Midlands Centre for History Teaching and Learning. Since then, the Society has maintained a watching brief over the rapid evolution of the TEF, and will in due course take up the invitation to offer views on the pilot subject-level metrics in 2017-19 and to the Independent Review of TEF in 2018-19. Another important role of the Society is to provide guidelines and resources for the fellowship and the wider discipline. We see it as a priority in the next few years to consider the implications of the digital revolution as it affects the teaching of history, and the evidence for better and best teaching practice across UK, and to share our thoughts and findings through a teaching resource portal on our website.

History in Schools

The RHS plays an important role in discussions about teaching in history, working in partnership with the Historical Association. In 2014-15 we took a leading role in discussions on reshaping history teaching from the National Curriculum via GCSE to A level. We are committed to ensuring that history in schools offers the best possible preparation for further study of the subject while also providing a rounded and fulfilling historical education for those who do not continue to study history at a higher level. Over the past decade we have built up excellent relations to the School Examination Boards, offering them advice and support as required, and convening a meeting most years to facilitate the exchange of views between their representatives as well as to asess trends in uptake, choice within specifications and performance. The recent revision of GCSE and A Level make these meetings particularly timely and informative.

The Move from School to University

Given the remit of the Society, and our close working relationship with the Historical Association, we are well-placed to help bridge the gap between history at school and university. We welcome, and are actively supporting, the Historical Association’s recent initiatives to forge closer ties with HEIs. We keep a close eye over the provision of teacher training places, and intervened in 2015-16 to protest to government over the threatened reduction in their number. A conference is being planned for March 2018, under the auspices of Professor Arthur Burns, Chair of the Committee in 2013-16, to bring together teachers of history in schools and universities with represenmtatives of the Examination Boards to review the consequences of recent curriculum changes and to smooth the transition from A Level to first year university history.

Kenneth Fincham is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Kent. A former RHS Hon. Secretary and then Councillor, he is an experienced academic editor and has a long-standing interest in curriculum and in building bridges between secondary and tertiary teaching. In the 1980s he taught for two years in a secondary school, and since then has been involved in ‘A’ Level history as an examiner, setter and now reviser.