Royal Historical Society Responds to TEF Review

First introduced by the government in England in 2017, and open to all UK higher education providers, the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) is designed to:

  • better inform students’ choices about what and where to study;
  • raise esteem for teaching;
  • recognise and reward excellent teaching;
  • better meet the needs of employers, business, industry and the professions.

Section 26 of the Higher Education and Research Act (2017) provided for an independent review of the TEF.  The Secretary of State for Education appointed Dame Shirley Pearce of the LSE to conduct this review, supported by an advisory group, and she issued a Call for Views on 18 January 2019, with a closing date of 1 March 2019. The Royal Historical Society submitted a response, and this is now available in full on our website.

As our response to the review (and indeed our own commitment to rewarding excellent teaching within the history profession) makes clear, the Royal Historical Society welcomes initiatives which raise the status of teaching and reward teaching excellence. However, we remain unconvinced that TEF  should be used to inform students’ choices or that, as it is presently configured, it is best suited to enhance teaching and learning provision.

In particular we have concerns about:

  • whether Subject-Level TEF will provide meaningful information to prospective history students;
  • the absence of any engagement with “learning gain” acquired by students studying history at university;
  • the use of NSS core metrics which, by indicating student views on teaching rather than assessing teaching itself, are inadequate proxies to assess ‘teaching excellence’, particularly in the light of studies that identify substantial levels of bias in student evaluations;
  • the bunching of History with other disciplines (such as Archaeology) which have their own disciplinary norms in terms of teaching, underpinning premises and conceptual framework. To conflate these disciplines will not provide accurate information for potential students, a central purpose of TEF;
  • the impression of competition in the same ‘race’ implied by the award of Gold, Silver and Bronze evaluations, notwithstanding the use of benchmarking in TEF evaluations (which mean that institutions are not ‘competing’ on the same ground);
  • statistical flaws in TEF as identified by the Royal Statistical Society.

As ever, we welcome feedback from our members and the wider historical community on this response and any other policy issues.

2nd Gender Equality Report

Royal Historical Society report highlights gender inequality in UK History

A new report published today (6 November 2018) by the Royal Historical Society (RHS) recommends steps to promote gender equality in UK History, following the RHS’s recent report on race in UK History. Recent spotlights on the #MeToo movement, “Everyday Sexism”, and the centenary of women’s suffrage in have raised public awareness of gender as a defining social influence. Yet despite some progress since its landmark 2015 report, the RHS reveals considerable work remains to be done, revealing enduring structural barriers to equality as well as worryingly high levels of workplace discrimination.

While there is a small majority of female students in History at A-level, undergraduate level, and on taught postgraduate programmes, women remain underrepresented at more senior levels, constituting just 41.6% of academic staff in History and only 26.2% of History Professors. Female historians are also more likely to be in temporary, fixed-term, or part-time posts, with over 60% of full-time permanent posts in History held by men.

A survey of hundreds of UK historians revealed a number of reasons for this “leaky pipeline”Overwork is chronic throughout the sector, and gendered in its effects. Almost all respondents reported working “a lot” in the evenings, most worked a lot on weekends (72.2% female; 56.2% male) and many often gave up annual leave (51.7% female; 37% male). Many respondents called for more transparent workload models to combat these inequalities.

Respondents highlighted how the effects of overwork and an unhealthy working culture were exacerbated by a lack of support for caring responsibilities, which are still more likely to affect women. Nearly a fifth of respondents (19%) reported that maternity leave policy was implemented partly or hardly at all in their workplace. Female respondents reported mid-career issues returning to work after maternity leave, with many feeling they have been overlooked for promotion (44.5%) or become stuck in certain roles (52.9%).

Nearly half (47.8%) of female respondents reported their working lives had been affected by discrimination, and 18.2% reported sexual harassment. Both men and women also reported widespread issues of bullying and intimidation. Issues of gender discrimination were often particularly pronounced for female early-career historians: over a fifth (21%) reported being subject to sexual harassment, while many observed or experienced gender inequality in conference programming, keynote lectures, publishing, and teaching; indeed large numbers of historians at all levels reported the same. The RHS is also very concerned by strong evidence of negative gender bias in student evaluations, particularly in advance of the implementation of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) at subject-level.

The report concludes with specific action points and guidance for Heads of department, teaching staff, appointment panels, promotion committees, editors, and conference organisers. The recent RHS report on Race, Ethnicity & Equality in UK History emphasises that inequalities intersect, and the Society is committed to History becoming more inclusive for women, non-binary, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) and other underrepresented groups of historians. This report provides essential data and guidance to promote a more equal and diverse profession, which will ensure and expand the intellectual vitality of our discipline.

The full report is available here.

The full results of our survey are available here.