Education Policy

RHS Response to the Government’s Green Paper on HE

Endorsed by the Economic History Society, History UK,  the British Agricultural History Society and the East Midlands Centre for History Teaching and Learning.

PDF of RHS response

Edited version of RHS response


  • welcome a renewed emphasis on teaching quality, but are concerned that perverse incentives may be created by the focus on proxies that have little connection to actual teaching quality;
  • want to see teachers at the heart of any assessment of teaching, shaping and defining good practice;
  • believe that teaching cannot and must not be separated from research;
  • believe that teaching methods and outcomes differ so much between disciplines that any assessment would have to be done on a discipline-by-discipline basis (which might carry dauntingly high regulatory and economic burdens);
  • believe that the dual funding model for research must be protected.

The general principle of a ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’

The Royal Historical Society would like to see genuine incentives for HEIs to concentrate on teaching quality. Therefore, if the government introduces a TEF it should be one that encourages institutions to:

  • create a culture in which pedagogy is valued, developed, and discussed among all members of academic staff, and quality teaching rewarded
  • create programmes that are consciously designed to develop in students particular sets of intellectual (and, where appropriate, practical) skills
  • recognise and develop the intrinsic relationship between research and teaching

We believe that to achieve these goals, the TEF must:

  • recognise and value the whole educational experience of students – i.e. learning as well as teaching
  • be based on programme-level (discipline specific) submissions
  • be peer reviewed by respected academics in the same discipline, in much the same way as happens with the REF
  • require submissions that will be largely narrative, rather than metrics-based

We can see the value in aiding student choice of appropriately benchmarked metrics, but we do not think they could ever be an effective proxy for teaching quality and doubt that they could form the basis of reliable comparison across institutions or disciplines.

It is one thing to seek to make information about teaching even more available and transparent to potential students and quite another to impose a target-led regulatory regime on HEIs, with all the well-known problems that will engender. As the government withdraws from direct public subsidy of teaching it must recognise that its regulatory role necessarily changes too. While the government can seek to give more leverage to students, since it is they who are now ultimately paying, it has ceded any direct leverage it may theoretically have had over how HEIs deliver teaching. Since the removal of the recruitment cap on undergraduate numbers, universities have noticeably been focusing more on teaching quality than was previously the case. The test of these proposals is whether it will enhance that tendency or retard it.

The Royal Historical Society’s case is that the only meaningful assessment of teaching quality is one that is rooted in the discipline-specific experience and judgement of those who participate in teaching and learning – the teachers as well as the students.

As the Green Paper concedes, it is palpably not up to the government to define what makes for effective teaching at HE level. It must therefore be up to teachers to determine how best to teach in their discipline at this level, within the resource constraints we face.

We are confident – on the basis of evidence – that a good history programme prepares students very effectively for the workplace, but we are certain that effective learning and teaching in History is not measurable by generic cross-disciplinary standards. Typically, humanities programmes will feature fewer contact hours than most science programmes, but will also feature much more small group teaching, a far greater emphasis on independent learning, and more concentration on the development of students’ writing and communication skills. There will be very different kinds of links with outside institutions and the nature of ‘employability’ will necessarily be different in a subject like ours than in some other disciplines. The QAA has already recognised this in establishing discipline-specific panels in order to draw up disciplinary benchmark standards. The TEF, if it is to have credibility, must do the same.

The RHS takes a lead in shaping and defining what effective teaching and learning means in our discipline. We therefore welcome the suggestion in the Green Paper that Learned Societies are among the ‘stakeholders’ with whom institutions would want to work. The RHS is already well positioned to play this role, being able to draw on a depth and range of expertise from many different institutions.

Metrics and how a TEF would work

We are pleased that the Green Paper acknowledges the difficulties of using metrics. We believe that the conclusions of Prof James Wilsdon’s review of the use of metrics in research assessment for HEFCE, The Metric Tide, apply with even greater force to teaching and learning.

By far the most problematic metric mentioned in the Green Paper is the destination of graduates. The difficulty here is that employment status and earnings are not related in any demonstrable or tangible way to teaching quality but reflect other factors including social class, the perceived status of the university attended, and secondary school type, as well as career choice. It may be of some value to students to have this information, but it should not be confused with a mechanism designed to drive up teaching quality.  

In addition, the use of earnings/employment data, if they do not control for social origin, may have the perverse effect of incentivising socially selective admissions. We are sure you agree that government policy should not end up, however unintentionally, encouraging university admissions officers to have to weigh up the likely earning potential of applicants, something which would be dishearteningly easy for them to do using school and postcode data. Even where it is possible to control for some of these background factors, the demonstrable tendency of employers to use institutional reputation as a ‘screening’ mechanism in employment decisions suggests that a TEF based in any substantial degree on graduate earnings may only have the effect of fossilizing established hierarchies rather than inciting innovation and improvement. 

Retention figures are of relevance but only so long as they are properly benchmarked against the background of the student body, since otherwise this would be a disincentive for institutions to recruit students from under-represented groups, including part-time and mature students, for whom the funding situation has already been deteriorating markedly in recent years. 

Student satisfaction data is potentially of value, but again only so long as it is properly benchmarked. But, to state the obvious, a measure of student satisfaction is not a measure of teaching quality. Learning should be difficult and should require commitment on the part of the learner, and rigorous assessment means that by definition not everyone will succeed. These self-evident observations severely limit the ability of ‘satisfaction’ measures to capture teaching quality.

Of the metrics mentioned for later implementation we would strongly welcome a measure of the proportion of staff on permanent contracts. We would also urge that universities be incentivised to embed the relationship between research and teaching by being penalised for employing staff on teaching-only contracts. The distinctiveness of HE, and one of UK universities’ internationally recognised great strengths, is that students are taught by people who are also actively engaged in research. In our discipline (and no doubt in others) effective teaching cannot be divorced from research: we want to develop students who are engaged in research themselves and who are exposed to the people who are immersed in scholarship.

Teaching intensity’ is not clearly defined in the Green Paper, but in our discipline we believe it should mean levels of student engagement (i.e. evidence that students are actively participating in learning), insofar as that can be reduced to a metric. We are convinced of the value in our discipline of small group teaching and/or low staff/student ratios as a means to this end and believe that this is vastly more important than the number of contact hours. In our experience, drawn from across the spectrum of institutions teaching History, students consistently appreciate the individual attention and higher quality feedback that is only possible in a small-group setting.

On the whole, however, we suspect that the idea that metrics which may not be ‘robust’ can or should be ‘balanced’ with ‘institutional evidence’ is likely to lead to greater managerial attention to the former (which can be automated and rendered generic) than the latter (which relies on costly subject-specific and qualitative measures).  Like other performance indicators this runs the risk of transferring institutions’ efforts from performance to indicator.

The precedent of the REF, where many of the distortions to academic effort have come from HEIs’ (mis)interpretation of the rules, is ominous.  On this precedent one might expect university managers to be unnecessarily and distractingly interventionist not in ways that encourage diversity and experiment in teaching but rather in ways that are thought to mirror government ‘intentions’. It would be one of the most depressing unintended consequences of the TEF, albeit one very easy to imagine, if the regulatory constraints under which university teachers worked, stifling innovation and creativity, outweighed putative benefits in enhancing teaching quality.

Therefore, the TEF should not, indeed in our view cannot, impose measures that, however subtly or unintentionally, have the effect of directly engineering how teaching and learning happens in universities, whether that is through crude measures like ‘contact hours’ or anything else.

Social Mobility and Widening Participation in Higher Education

The Royal Historical Society is strongly supportive of efforts to ensure that class and ethnicity are not barriers to a good historical education with all the benefits that brings. Unless Access Agreements – together with evidence of progress toward achieving the goals set out in them — are a prerequisite for a TEF award, it is difficult to see what incentive HEIs would have for maintaining or extending the numbers of students from under-represented groups. This is especially true since in some respects the TEF, as outlined in this Green Paper, would otherwise incentivise universities to become more socially selective in order, for example, to ensure their graduates have higher earning potential.

There are few more important issues for universities, or the education system and society more widely, than ensuring fair access. Therefore we believe the government should use all available policy levers to ensure that universities make strenuous efforts in this area. However, we do not support externally imposed institution-level admissions targets for under-represented groups.

The challenge for HEIs and for us as a Learned Society is to work with schools and other organisations to increase participation and academic success among under-represented groups at all stages of the education system.

The challenge for government is to discriminate between those levers that can be pulled at the point of admission to university and those that can’t. It would be a mistake to place more policy emphasis on one specific stage than it can bear, and which would therefore be likely to incentivise game playing and produce perverse effects.

As the Green Paper points out, ‘prior educational attainment is the key factor in determining progression’. Disadvantage starts in infancy and deepens (unevenly) at different stages of the life course. Government policy on social mobility needs to link up communities, child-care, child support, schools, universities, careers, equal-employment policies and income inequality.  At the point of entry to HE, a successful widening participation policy must give universities the ability to identify applicants who have demonstrated their intellectual ability while overcoming measurable disadvantages. Properly contextualised decisions about academic potential can only be made on the basis of as much data, about social class, ethnicity and school as possible. Therefore we support greater access to the kind of information currently held by UCAS.

 A student-led market in HE

 There is an important component largely missing from the Green Paper’s discussion of market exit: how to facilitate students transferring, during their degree programme, from one institution to another. Although there is now a rudimentary system of credit transfers that in theory allows students to move from one HEI to another without losing credit, in practice institutions often place barriers in the way. Incentivising universities to facilitate the transfer of students from a programme in one institution to a programme in another would create more fluidity in the market.

Naturally, it would also require an HE system that had robust mechanisms for ensuring peer-reviewed validation of programmes and the reinforcing of broad comparability among programmes through the external examining process.

 Regulation, Research Funding and the ‘architecture’ of Higher Education

The higher education architecture is unnecessarily complex, but this is in large part because as government withdraws from direct administration it leaves behind complex regulatory frameworks. SLC, OFFA, QAA, HEA and HESA are all relatively recent products of this regulatory policy. The Office for Students (OfS) would be yet another one.

Not all of HEFCE’s current functions are appropriate for an OfS. Hiving off HEFCE’s research functions will, according to the Nurse Review, require a further complication of the research support structure.  In addition to assessment and allocation of QR, HEFCE provides essential core funding to research institutes (such as the Institute of Historical Research, as part of the School of Advanced Study of the University of London, which provides crucial infrastructural support for our discipline).  These research functions – not provided for in the rationale for government intervention in HE on p. 58 of the Green Paper– are crucial and not easily separable from ‘education’.  For example, it is not clear from the Green Paper proposals where responsibility for PGT and PGR students will lie. 

We would favour retention and indeed strengthening of a single higher-education regulator, such as the funding councils provide, with if anything transfer to it of some of the functions of the other, smaller quangos targeted for supersession.

Although little teaching grant remains for humanities disciplines such as ours, we are concerned about the proposal to allocate teaching grant from within BIS to ‘enable ministers to strengthen incentives for higher education provision that supports the needs of the economy’. This seems to suggest a degree of ‘manpower planning’ which governments have largely abjured since the 1960s and which is inconsistent with an HE system centred on students and student demand. It points to features of the Australian system, including differential fees and subject quotas, which have been heavily criticised by students and employers for unbalancing the normal functioning of supply and demand mechanisms.

Independence of Research and Academic Freedom

Changes to the institutional framework are presented as reducing complexity. But we are concerned that they are also likely to reduce the independence of academic judgement in teaching and research that has been the recipe for international success of the UK higher education system for decades. We are pleased to see an acknowledgement in the Green Paper of the Haldane Principle, but we note that successive governments have redefined the Haldane Principle when it suits them. Clause 68(3) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, still in force, provides that ‘Such terms and conditions may not be framed by reference to particular courses of study or programmes of research (including the contents of such courses or programmes and the manner in which they are taught, supervised or assessed) or to the criteria for the selection and appointment of academic staff and for the admission of students’. This, in fact, provides for a stronger protection of academic freedom and independence than does the Haldane Principle, as observed as recently as 2010 by BIS in its Strategic Plan. But it would be weakened by the Green Paper’s proposal to limit protection to ensure that ‘ministers and officials could not single out specific institutions’.  We note that the Green Paper acknowledges the importance of ‘research which is directed within institutions’ (p. 70), also protected by the 1992 Act, but it does not extend the same significance to teaching.

We would expect to see the independence of arm’s length bodies safeguarded in legislation at least as strongly as at present, with stronger protections for what the Green Paper calls ‘research directed from within institutions’.

The dual system of research funding

The two streams of the dual funding system have different purposes and different statutory status.  By redefining the Haldane Principle, successive governments have increased their ability to influence decisions made on the RC arm. At the same time the balance between the budgets of the two elements has shifted in favour of RC funding (for example, in the 1992 ‘dual support transfer’ and again in 1998 in order to fund the Arts and Humanities Research Council – in both cases from the QR to the RC stream). To protect both the value and the independence of QR funding, some longer-term guarantee ought to be provided fixing the balance between these two budgets, as indeed is recommended by the Nurse Review.

QR is essential to the independence of individual academics and their employing institutions. Without it, student fees would presumably have to be used to cross-subsidise research infrastructure, which would be difficult to justify, not least to students. Above all, QR ensures, as the Green Paper puts it, that research ‘may be purely curiosity-driven, respond to individual partnering opportunities, or may be in rapid reaction to advances in a given field’. These qualities are more important to the humanities than to the sciences, as our research does not cluster so readily or fruitfully around easily identifiable research frontiers or immediate applications. It is for this reason that, rightly, 85% of government research funding in the humanities is provided by QR and only 15% by RCUK. As a means of distributing QR, REF has its critics, yet so far no one has come up an alternative that would be credible and consistent while also identifying and rewarding quality in all its many manifestations.  In fields such as ours where quality is very widely distributed across a range of institutions, it also enables individual achievers to gain recognition independent of the reputation of their institutions and also to small pots of funding that have disproportionately significant effects in stimulating creative research across the system. This plurality is a sign of health in UK HE that is rightly envied abroad.

If REF is to measure research quality wherever it is, we need to find ways to reduce the extensive (and expensive) game-playing in which institutions engage, modelling the exercise many times in advance and erecting elaborate selection processes that divide the academic community and distract from the research enterprise itself. One option would be to require the submission of all research-contracted staff, but this requirement suffers from the fatal flaw that it would encourage the proliferation of teaching-only contracts and the bifurcation of HE into research and teaching streams, which, as the Green Paper indicates, would be to the detriment of both.









Teaching History in Higher Education conference, 8-9 September

A recent analysis of ‘history teaching at its best’ in universities (Booth, 2014) has presented us with a clear picture of the issues we face as historians and an indication of some of the ways in which our discipline can engage, in broad terms, with the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). There are many challenges. How can we best enhance and support both the student and staff experience using research-informed teaching? How can we use pedagogic research, theory and innovations in order to engage learners, at all levels? How can we make sense of and manage change in higher education without sacrificing academic quality and identity? How can we teach not only our discipline, but also across, into and within others? How do we support students through critical transition points and intellectual thresholds?

In addressing these questions and others, this conference will explore theory and practices in teaching, learning and assessment in critical areas such as public history education; the use of digital and other new technologies; the relationship between school and university history; pedagogic theory, practice and the student experience; ethical dimensions and the teaching of ‘controversial’ subjects; learning outside the classroom; employability and work-based learning; policy, policy-makers and strategy. Papers, workshops and round table discussions will provide opportunities to disseminate and showcase evidence-informed practise from the higher education sector, facilitate discussion and debate and provide networking opportunities for participants.

Keynote Speakers

Dr Mike Maddison (former OFSTED National Lead for History) will give a keynote address on “Developments in Schools History”

Professor Maggie Andrews (University of Worcester) will give a keynote address on “Politics, Problems and Possibilities: why teaching must really matter for historians”

This event is sponsored by The Royal Historical Society, Institute of Historical Research, History UK and The Historical Association

For more information about how to register for the conference go to RHS Events.

Go to RHS Education Policy


Teaching History in Higher Education 2015 – new initiatives from the RHS

Arthur Burns writes:

Over the past few years, the Royal Historical Society has increasingly sought to highlight its commitment to supporting not just historical research, but the teaching of its discipline at all levels. The recent spate of activity relating to the School Curriculum from Primary to A-level has seen the RHS playing a significant role in discussions about History in the Schools, working in close alliance with colleagues at the Historical Association.   At the same time, however, we have also been supporting History teaching in the universities, for example through our involvement in the recent revision of the QAA Subject Benchmarking Document, and our work supporting early career historians both in collaboration with historylab+ and on this website.

In the past our support for history teaching in HE involved us in close collaboration with the Higher Education Academy (first with its History subject centre and then its History discipline lead), which produced valuable support materials and from 2001 to 2013 hosted a very successful annual conference on approaches to History teaching in HE, as well as more focused events for those teaching at this level for the first time.  In 2014, however, the HEA took a strategic decision to move away from subject specific support.

One consequence of this change of policy was the potential end to the annual conferences, which had been hosted at the Institute of Historical Research in 2012 and 2013. These were very successful international events, attracting some 80 delegates from four continents.  Held on the eve of the start of the academic year, those attending valued a timely opportunity to refresh their ideas about their teaching practice, and network both between sessions and at the conference meal. Topics covered included employability and work-based learning; teaching controversial subjects; Holocaust education; fieldwork; developing historical consciousness; taking students through thresholds in history; the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History and the idea of signature pedagogies; cultural diversity; gender history; analyses of texts and artefacts; public history education; interdisciplinarity; the relationship between schools and university history; regional studies of practice; history teacher-education; assessment; using historical fiction; empathy; and teaching world history.

The RHS had always taken a keen interest in these events, not least through providing keynote speakers, and also found them a valuable opportunity to work together in new ways with other key stakeholders in history, not just the HEA, but also the Historical Association and History UK. Following consultation with these other interested parties, we are therefore delighted that we have been able to agree to establish a conference modelled on the HEA events starting in 2015, with the Society acting as lead sponsor in collaboration with the IHR, History UK and the Historical Association. Responsibility for organising the conference rests with Peter D’Sena, a member of our Education Policy Committee and senior research fellow at the IHR, who in his former capacity as History Discipline Lead at the HEA was responsible for organising the conferences held at the IHR in 2012 and 2013. We hope that together we can sustain this very important forum for supporting good and innovative practice in historical pedagogy, something that is rapidly becoming more important both to individual academics and institutions given an increased focus on teaching quality and support in universities and a very rapidly changing pedagogic environment.


Mike Maddison

The conference, entitled Teaching History in Higher Education (THHE) 2015, will be held at the Institute of Historical Research on Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th September 2015. One of the keynote speakers is already confirmed as Dr Mike Maddison, who recently retired from his role as National Lead for History at Ofsted and HMI, and is now a freelance educational consultant as well as a long-standing member of our Education Policy Committee; not only is Mike an excellent speaker, but he is one of the best-informed and thoughtful commentators on the rapidly changing world of the teaching of History in British schools. Around the keynotes there will be opportunities for both experienced and early career academics to present and share views and concerns about teaching and learning. A call for papers, workshops and round table discussion sessions is currently open until 17 May 2015. Further details on this and the conference more generally can be accessed here and on the IHR website.

The RHS is also supporting an associated New to Teaching event, to be held at the IHR on Monday, 7th September, aimed specifically at early career historians getting to grips with teaching in HE for the first time, timed so as to allow those attending also to attend the main conference. Further details about this event will be released early next week.

We are excited about this new opportunity for the RHS to contribute to maintaining the very high standards that characterise the teaching of our subject in the universities, and we hope that some of the fruits of these events will later appear on this website.

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Revised QAA Subject Benchmark Statement for History published

Arthur Burns writes:

On 15 December the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) announced the publication of a revised version of the Subject Benchmark Statement for History, now available on the QAA website.

This document is the outcome of the latest in a regular cycle of revisions of the original subject benchmark statement published in 2000, which has been highly valued by the subject community as a source of guidance for the creation and revision for History degree programmes in the UK. I described the workings of the most recent revision process in an article in the RHS newsletter in May 2014, at which time the document was about to go out to public consultation. As chairs of the revising committee, Professor Jane Longmore and I led the consideration of the responses we received, which came from a variety of HE institutions and stakeholders, and which enabled us to make a small number of minor but helpful clarifications and amendments in the final version which has now been published.

The responses to the consultation confirmed us in our view that the document retains the confidence of the subject community and required only minor changes to bring it up to date and enable it to continue to support colleagues creating new degree programmes, not least in helping them articulate relevant “learning outcomes”, as well as offering institutions a way of evaluating the way they deliver teaching in our discipline against agreed general expectations about standards and the subject. Those familiar with earlier versions will find the overall shape and approach of the document largely unaltered, but it is worth highlighting here what is new or altered since the last revision in 2007. The benchmark acknowledges technological developments in e-learning and the need for digital literacy in history students, as well as the ongoing importance of the employability agenda in stressing the transferability of historical knowledge and core skills to a wide variety of sectors beyond the academy. It also reflects important recent legislation on equality and diversity. In terms of the approach to our discipline, it offers greater clarity and emphasis on the intrinsic value of independent study within history degree programmes and the centrality of the notion of historical enquiry. Finally, it stresses the need to take account of the ethical dimensions of historical practice, reflecting the increased importance of institutional codes of conduct which can be of particular significance for students conducting independent research on the recent past.

[The QAA benchmark review panel consisted of Prof Arthur Burns (RHS/KCL), Prof Jane Longmore (Southampton Solent, History Forum HEA) cochairs; Prof Alan Booth (Nottingham), Dr Arthur Chapman (Institute of Education), Dr Marcus Collins (Loughborough), Dr Paul Corthorn (Queens Belfast), Dr Pat Cullum (Huddersfield), Peter D’Sena (HEA); Prof Jackie Eales (Canterbury Christ Church, Historical Association), Dr Elaine Fulton (Birmingham), Dr Vicky Gunn (Glasgow), Dr Melinda Haughton (TNA), Dr Leif Jerram (Manchester), Dr Valerie Johnson (TNA), Dr Keith McLay (Chester, History UK), Dr Alison Twells (Sheffield Hallam), Dr Jamie Wood (Lincoln), Dr Dave Wyatt (Cardiff).]

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History for All? Teaching Diverse Histories in British schools

Policy background

Incorporating diversity into school based curricula is not a new development. Educationalists, academics and teachers have argued for the inclusion of diversity into an array of subject areas for many years. Whether posited as a means of fostering positive self-esteem and increased engagement for minority ethnic and migrant pupils, or as enriching existing, often mono-cultural lessons for all pupils, school based material developed to focus on the multicultural diversity within society has been taught in schools since the 1980s. Legislative advances – within the Race Relations Amendment Act (2001) requiring the active promotion of race equality in schools, and the current Equality Act (2010) – have provided legal support to arguments for the teaching of a culturally inclusive curriculum for all pupils. These historical processes have themselves been accompanied by much political and popular dissent, but many teachers in schools have nevertheless drawn on a wealth of educational resources to support the teaching of diversity, and specific organisations such as the Black and Asian Studies Network and the Schools History Project provide much professional support to teaching staff with this work.

Read the report: History for All? Teaching Diverse Histories in British Schools

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History in the Schools Survey 2014

Arthur BurnsArthur Burns writes:

2014 has been another (over?-) exciting year for History as a school subject. Hot on the heels of the reform of the national curriculum has come the publication of new History A-levels to run from September 2015 on the new linear model championed by Michael Gove while secretary of state; as I write, the awarding bodies are concluding work on their responses to the new model of GCSEs to be taught for the first time in 2016. At the same time, History’s status as a subject will also be affected by changes to school performance measures. I wrote something on these issues in the Royal Historical Society Newsletter for May 2014, and we will be organising an event to further discussion in the new year – watch this space!

In the meantime, however, this makes keeping a weather-eye on the current position of history in schools – and in the arrangements for training future teachers – all the more important. The Historical Association performs a very valuable service to the History community in the UK with its annual survey of the teaching of History in schools and the views of teachers, and its latest report has just been published.  Written by Dr Katharine Burn of the University of Oxford and Dr Richard Harris of the University of Reading, its main findings are:

  • There has been a 5% increase in the number of respondents reporting that Key Stage 3 history is crammed into only two years (23% compared with 18% last year)
  • There has been a further erosion of children’s right to learn history after the age of 13 years – 44% our respondents said some students are actively steered away from studying history for GCSE by their school if at 13 years they are judged to be unlikely to get a Grade C, even though they would have 2 years to improve and often enjoy history.
  • 50% of respondents said GCSE specifications were likely to make a significant impact on what they decide to teach at Key Stage 3.
  • Most teachers thought that the decoupling of AS from A Level would be detrimental to the future take-up of history post-16.
  • 90% of respondents agreed that all new trainee teachers should receive a guaranteed minimum entitlement to university-based elements in their training. Serious concerns were expressed regarding plans to put more trainee teachers into the classroom without any academic or specialised mentor support and training.

The full report can be downloaded from the Historical Association’s website here, and you can also access previous issues of the report here.

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Concerns over future of teacher training

The Royal Historical Society and Historical Association raise concerns over the move away from subject-centred teacher training

teacher_training_imageThe Initial Teacher Training allocations for 2015-16 announced by the National College for Teaching and Leadership present a profound threat to the quality of future history teaching.

The Facts

  • Increasing numbers of trainee teachers are entering the profession without any training.
  • Opportunities for graduates to increase subject knowledge alongside subject-based teaching practice in university centred school partnerships have been cut.
  • Our research shows that 90% of respondents agreed that all trainees should receive a guaranteed minimum entitlement to university-based elements in their training.

At a time of profound curriculum change, with significant reforms already taking place at Key Stage 3 and extensive reforms about to be implemented at both GCSE and A level, it is vital that those joining the profession have access to rich sources of historical knowledge and research-based approaches to teaching and models of pupil progression within the subject. As schools develop new schemes of work and develop or adopt new assessment structures, it is essential that those mentoring beginners have a secure knowledge of how the school subject has developed over the past few decades.

That the Department for Education recognises the strengths of such partnerships is evident in the fact that even as they are cutting the number of trainees allocated to them, members of the department working on the Carter Review of ITT are seeking the advice of university tutors and working with them in identifying the key features of strong history provision.

The Historical Association’s survey of history teachers, conducted in July 2014, shows that there is very little appetite within history departments for an expansion of school-based provision that reduces mentors’ and trainees’ links to a strong and well-rooted subject community. Nearly 80% of respondents thought that partnerships between schools and universities were the most effective way of training teachers, while over 70% feared that the subject-specific dimension of teachers’ training would suffer if the universities’ role was reduced. So highly was the universities’ role valued that 90% of respondents agreed that all trainees should receive a guaranteed minimum entitlement to university-based elements in their training, incorporated within a partnership programme. Respondents claimed that that it was not only the trainees but also the mentors and other experienced teachers working with them who benefitted through the partnership arrangements from this access to subject-specific research-based knowledge.

The Detail

The Initial Teacher Training allocations for 2015-16 recently announced by the National College for Teaching and Leadership threaten the quality of future history teaching, and risk sabotaging the achievement of the government’s own aims in strengthening the breadth and depth of all young people’s historical knowledge.

We welcome the increase in the number of training places allocated for history to meet the demands of a rising school population and the higher proportion of students continuing with the subject to GCSE. We are alarmed, however, by the distribution of these places. The policy of reducing the number of places allocated to partnerships centred on university providers not only weakens subject links between higher education and schools which the government has sought to strengthen in recent years, but also destroys the stable and well-established communities of history mentors on which high quality subject-specific, school-based, professional training depends.

Our central concern in seeking to ensure that new history teachers have access to the best research and practice-based understandings of history teaching is that their training should have a strong subject dimension. However successful school-only providers may be in delivering some aspects of training, what they can provide is inevitably focused on generic principles and teaching practices. They do not have the numbers of trainees in each subject to be able to provide rigorous, securely-grounded and well-validated subject-specific knowledge and expertise.

It is vital at a time of profound curriculum change, with significant reforms at Key Stage 3,GCSE and A level, that those joining the profession have ready access both to rich sources of historical knowledge and to research-based approaches to teaching and pupil progression within history. As academies and free schools exploit their curricular freedoms, and as all schools develop or adopt new assessment structures, it is essential that those mentoring beginners have a secure knowledge of how history as a school subject has developed over in recent decades – both so that they do not re-invent wheels and so that they avoid repeating past mistakes. Much is to be learned from analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of previous curriculum and assessment models within this country, from the cumulative knowledge of published practices of England’s history teachers and from curricula and practice beyond the UK. Individual subject mentors, working with isolated history trainees in predominantly generic programmes cannot possibly develop, sustain and renew this knowledge in the highly-developed ways that have been achieved by secure partnerships who have built outstanding expertise in teams of subject mentors over time. In stable communities of history mentors, in which those new to the role can be inducted by the experienced, new history mentors are able to learn as much from one another as the from university-based tutors whose own research and wide-ranging roles in supporting practitioner research continually serve to renew their knowledge of effective history teaching. These stable, knowledgeable communities of history mentors are models of schools-led teacher training practice at the subject level. To weaken them is to weaken school-community ownership of high standards in strong subject courses.

That the Department for Education recognises the strengths of such partnerships is evident in the fact that even as they cut the number of trainees allocated to them, members of the DfE working on the Carter Review of ITT specifically seek the advice OF university history education tutors in identifying the key features of strong history provision. In these circumstances, the decision to cut the number of places allocated to university-based providers to the point where many courses cease to be viable amounts to an own goal.

We call on the government to reconsider its actions and to find ways of securing rather than undermining the very links between the school and university subject communities that they have sought so hard to build in other ways.

* The 2014 Survey into History in English Secondary Schools will be published on Monday 3 November