To our students, on the Teaching Excellence Framework

Year after year in Sociology at Westminster we receive consistently high levels of student satisfaction (90-100%) in the National Student Survey. Individual Sociology staff have won awards for their quality teaching, and most recently were awarded a team Excellence Award in recognition of our innovative teaching programme. We have specialist teaching qualifications which mean our work is informed by the latest thinking in Higher Education. External examiners reported only last week how impressed and inspired they are by what we do.

While it does not come as a surprise, we are disappointed to find that our university has been ranked ‘Bronze’ – the lowest category – in the national Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), published this morning. Although the stated aim of the TEF is ‘to recognise and reward excellence in teaching and learning’ the outcome for Sociology at Westminster has been the direct opposite: the TEF result says, quite plainly, that we’re crap at our jobs.

This is why I’m writing to you, our undergraduate students. You know as well as I do that the TEF result is just not true. You know that in Sociology you’ve got a really dedicated teaching team. You know how much work we put in to developing super interesting modules (spending many more hours on this than the university asks us to). You know how much one-to-one support we provide to develop your knowledge and skills. You know how intellectually transformative our critical, socially engaged teaching can be.

We’re confident that you know how good our teaching is, but we don’t want the TEF’s insinuation to shake that. We want our graduating third year students to know (as our examiners tell us) that your hard work is comparable to that produced at the UK’s most elite institutions. Because the TEF is telling you, quite plainly, that you’ve had a third-rate experience, it’s important to explain why the TEF is a fundamentally flawed mechanism.

While there is variance in student satisfaction across our University, the issue with the TEF is not that Sociology is being dragged down by poor results in other subject areas. That would be unfair on our colleagues who work very hard in increasingly difficult circumstances to provide excellent teaching.

The most obvious problem with the TEF is that it doesn’t engage with teaching at all. Nobody has observed a single lecture, seminar, or workshop. In the very simplest terms, the TEF is a lie. Instead of this, the TEF uses proxy data, and alongside student satisfaction it includes metrics like drop-out rates and graduate employment data.

It is no wonder, then, that the more elite institutions like Oxford and Cambridge have generally obtained a ‘gold’ rating in the REF.  These universities continue to be populated by disproportionate numbers of privately-educated students whose privilege goes on to secure them the UK’s top jobs. This isn’t because these students have experienced excellent teaching: it is because elite institutions continue to play a significant role on reproducing preexisting social privileges. The advantages conferred by social class are invariably consolidated by white privilege.

The TEF also needs to be understood as part of a wider and ongoing process of the marketization of the university sector. The TEF is according the author of a recent report, ‘not so much about teaching excellence as raising fees’. The TEF promises to give elite institutions the right to raise fees (and so further reinforcing class distinction); it will force lower-ranking institutions like Westminster to reduce fees, with a predictable knock-on effect on future student expenditure and the resourcing of teaching. In short: the TEF is going to make things a lot harder for non-elite universities like Westminster.

In the General Election students and young people put the injustice of tuition fees firmly back on the political agenda. There’s increasing recognition that neither university staff nor students are benefiting from the market in UK Higher Education. In Sociology at Westminster we will do our best – in collaboration with our amazing, talented students – to struggle against its injustices, and that includes the faulty verdict of the TEF.

Ben Pitcher is Co-Leader of the Sociology BA Honours at Westminster. @Pitcher_Ben

Image from the University of Salford SU ' there's more to excellent teaching than statistics'

Image from the University of Salford Student Union:



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Sociology team win teaching excellence award

sociology team

In a Ceremony at Marylebone on 23 May 2017 the Sociology team at Westminster received a Teaching Excellence Award. Award holders make a significant contribution  to learning and teaching at Westminster through contributing learning resources, promoting learning and teaching development at faculty level and more widely. Complementing the individual Teaching Fellowships awarded in previous years to Dr Celia Jenkins, Dr Ben Pitcher and Dr Naomi Rudoe, the Excellence Award recognizes the work of the whole team in developing an innovative and inspiring teaching programme.


Receiving the award on behalf of the team, Dr Hilde Stephansen gave some background to the Sociology team, the work we do, and our plans for the future:

Sociology at Westminster is one of three disciplinary groups within the Department of History, Sociology and Criminology. We have a diverse student body, the majority of whom are non-traditional students from local working class and ethnic minority communities, especially women. The application was based on the work that we do as a team to support our non-traditional students and deliver an innovative degree programme that responds to a diversity of interests, experiences and needs.

Our approach to teaching and learning is informed by principles of critical pedagogy and based on an understanding of sociology as a transformative discipline that develops students critical thinking and enables them to connect personal troubles to public issues, to quote the sociologist C. Wright Mills. Our non-traditional students are particularly affected by structures of inequality linked to class, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and we use our subject expertise in these areas to develop research-informed teaching that links issue they face in their personal lives to sociological theory.

A key feature of our degree programme is the high level of support we offer to our students. Recognising that our non-traditional students have specific support needs, we have consciously integrated study skills and information literacy within our core curriculum – making sessions on academic writing, referencing, finding and evaluating sources part of our core provision. We offer high levels of support with assessments and we work especially hard to provide high-quality, constructive assessment feedback.

Finally, we take a holistic approach to the student experience and work hard to make students feel part of an academic community. We have a Facebook page and a blog, a student forum that offers an informal space for students and staff to discuss the course together, and we organise social events and fieldtrips to London museums and exhibitions.

We know that much of the work we have done is successful but we have also identified challenges. These include an apparent increase in the number of students experiencing mental health issues and a lack of confidence among some students in their skills and abilities. We therefore plan to use award for a student consultation exercise to identify support needs in areas including mental health, academic skills and employability, which will inform further improvements to our curriculum and teaching practice. We also plan to use the award to support our professional development as a team by drawing on the expertise of professionals working in these areas.

excellence award

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New video about Sociology at Westminster

Take a look at our new video showcasing why students should come to study Sociology at the University of Westminster. Thanks so much to our fabulous students who took part!


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Sociology Food Walking Tour of Soho

As part of the Level 6 module Food, Taste and Consumption, Dr Emily falconer and Dr Francis Ray White led a student walking tour of Soho, stopping to explore the cultural history and changing landscape of food and taste (and yes, we also enjoyed some snacks!)
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LGBTQ Studies at Westminster

lgbtq-handbooks-picThis semester sees the launch of the Sociology-led Westminster elective module in LGBTQ Studies. The module is one of a range of interdisciplinary option modules that students from any course or faculty can choose in their second year of study (this year there are students doing everything from biomedical sciences to illustration taking the module). Module leader Francis Ray White said ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer studies is inherently interdisciplinary, so the module works really well in this format. We’ve got lecturers and researchers from all sorts of academic backgrounds giving lectures in their specialist fields over the course of the semester’.

As well as lectures the module is hosting a range of field trips, film screenings and workshops as part of the overall programme. ‘Being in London really makes this aspect of the module both possible and exciting,’ said Francis. ‘I know I’m really looking forward to going to things like the Museum of Transology and the Tate’s Queer Art exhibition with the students.’


Francis Ray White

The module aims to introduce a range of debates around contemporary LGBTQ lives and politics. It asks questions about shifting identities, about representations and about equality and justice, both in the UK and internationally. ‘I want this module to make students think critically about LGBTQ issues and about which kinds of LGBTQ lives have, and have not, become more liveable in the post-same-sex marriage era,’ said Francis. ‘I want to be able to celebrate the rich diversity of LGBTQ life and culture at the same time as recognizing how dominant definitions of gender and sexuality can be limiting, culturally specific and at times exclusionary’.


From the second week of the semester lectures on the LGBTQ Studies module are open to all students and staff at the University of Westminster. Lectures are at 5pm on Wednesdays (except 8th Feb) in Regent St UG04. The programme is as follows:

1st Feb – LGBTQ Movements for Social and Political Change
(Hilde Stephansen, Sociology)

8th Feb (4pm) – What’s the T? Thinking Transgender
(Francis Ray White, Sociology)

 15th Feb – Queer as Folk: Telling LGBTQ Stories
(Matthew Linfoot, Media Studies)

22nd Feb – Queer Literature
(Simon Avery & Kate Graham, English Literature)

1st March – LGBTQ in Education
(Naomi Rudoe, Sociology)

8th March – The Business of Sexuality
(Olimpia Burchiellaro, Westminster Business School)

15th March – LGBTQ Space
(Adam Eldridge, Sociology)

22nd March – Travelling Sexualities: International LGBTQ Rights
(Oliver Phillips, School of Law)

29th March – LGBTQ Asylum Seekers
(Lea Sitkin, Criminology)

 5th April – Sexuality and Religion
(Shamila Ahmed, Criminology)


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Westminster Sociology Open Talks 2016-17: Perspectives on Migration


Date: Thursday 2nd February

Time: 5pm

Location: Regent Street room 412

Westminster Sociology Open Talks in 2016-17  bring together Sociology staff with external speakers to explore a shared topic of interest. In the third talk of the academic year, Dorrie Chetty is joined by Dr Clifton Evers from Newcastle University. Clifton will be discussing his ethnographic work on Australian expats in China, exploring how straight white masculinity travels and mutates with transnational mobility. Dorrie will draw on interviews with migrants and migrant organisations to consider the impacts of ‘crisis talk’.

This event is open to academics, students and anyone else who’s interested in this important topic. External attendees should email in advance. As usual, refreshments will be provided.


Clifton Evers: Transnational mutating masculinities and mobile media

In the past few decades increasing numbers of people work and live across countries in an effort to stay employed and improve their lives. For some, there is ‘transnational’ mobility. Research to-date about transnational mobility, masculinity, and Australia tend to focus on those moving to this country and how the new arrivals negotiate the hegemony of white straight Australian masculinity and the associated values, tropes, and practices. What has been found is that the hegemony is remaining rock solid. However, what happens when the white straight Australian men engage in transnational mobility as they take up privileged employment opportunities and expatriate life around the world? How does their version of masculinity travel and mutate? Reflecting on ethnographic work conducted over a five-year period in China I show how powerful privileges are tightly clung to, as well as how the men respond when their privileges are challenged and the privileges slip through their fingers or are taken. The presentation includes discussion of these men’s use of ‘mobile media’ – social media and smartphones – to negotiate the dynamics of transnational mutating masculinities.

Dorrie Chetty:  ‘Crisis talk’ in Migration discourses: Impact on UK migrants and migrant NGOs

The main aim of the research is to gain an understanding of how ‘crisis talk’ has structured migrant discourses and in the process affected migrants and migrant organisations. It has two main objectives: The first is to explore the ways in which a focus on ‘crisis talk’ when referring to migrants and migration has impacted on migrants’ lives, and the second to examine how migrant organisations have responded to the ‘crisis talk’.  Referring to migration as a humanitarian crisis can evoke feelings of pity and the need for urgent action to rescue migrants, but when narratives of migration focus on numbers and linked to economic crisis, then migrants can be perceived mainly as a drain to resources, evoking sentiments of self-protection and the need for increasing control of national borders – feelings that are reinforced by the fear of terrorists being potentially amongst migrants.   A 2008 study highlighted the importance of understanding the relationship between recent immigration and social cohesion within the context of other social and economic transformations that affect everyday life for UK citizens (Hickman et al 2008).  A recent Joseph Rowntree report on poverty has indicated a strong correlation between poverty and insecurity (Tinson et al 2016:11).

Based on interviews with migrants and migrant organisations this research highlights the impact of ‘crisis talk’ on migrants and migrant organisations.  The paper argues that the association of ‘crisis talk’ with migration has served to obfuscate the links between deprivation and insecurity.  Furthermore, this association has resulted in exploiting people’s feelings of insecurity, thereby playing a significant role in evoking sentiments of protection based on ‘fear of the Other’, with the potential of serious implications for social cohesion.  The study therefore seeks an understanding of the reported rise in xenophobia and racial violence, in relation to economic inequalities, deprivation and insecurity.



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Alternative Families and Donor Conception: Stories Across the Life-course

Westminster Sociology Open Talks in 2016 bring together Sociology staff with external speakers to explore a shared topic of interest. In the second Open Talk of 2016, Dr Emily Falconer is joined by Dr Susanna Graham, Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge to discuss stories of complex kinships and alterative families across the life-course, from donor conception through to adulthood. Refreshments will be provided.


Date: 10 November 2016

Time: 5pm

Location: The Boardroom, 1st Floor, 309 Regent Street, University of Westminster, W1B 2HW

Stories of an absent father: single women negotiating relatedness through sperm donation

 Dr Susanna Graham, Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge

 This talk will present findings from an in-depth, qualitative study exploring the experiences of single heterosexual women in the UK embarking upon solo motherhood through sperm donation. Focusing upon the process by which the participants choose a sperm donor, this talk will elucidate the complex and ambivalent meanings that are attributed to both solo motherhood and sperm donation. By paying particular attention to the women’s decision-making regarding the level and type of information sought about their donor, the power for a sperm donor to become a visible actor, albeit symbolically, in this family form will be explored.


Complex Kinships across the life-course

Dr Emily Falconer, Department of History, Sociology and Criminology, University of Westminster

 This discussion explores the familial relationships of adult children who were themselves raised in ‘queerer’, alternative family structures. Whilst there is now a greater acceptance of same-sex parenting within both public and private services that work with families (fertility clinics, social work, adoption and fostering) U.K public services still struggle to relate to ‘queerer’ families whose lifestyles feel less familiar then the two-parent family. This is especially the case where there are multiple parental figures involved in child rearing. Whilst current U.K law only recognises two legal parents at one time in practice ‘queerer’ families often have more than two recognised parents. There are many combinations of extended queer family formations that include genetic and non-genetic parenting, and ongoing relationships with known sperm donors, but little research that as yet look into the impacts of multiple parenting on the families involved and ongoing networks of care over time. This is especially pertinent where there is a lack of legal recognition beyond two parents, and how this impacts upon care and kinship throughout changes in the life course and potential relationship breakdown.

This event is open to academics, students and anyone else who’s interested in this important topic. External attendees should email in advance.




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