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Geoff Whitty – an appreciation

Blog Editor, IOE Digital29 July 2018

 
It is with deep sadness that we relay the news that Geoff Whitty, Director Emeritus of the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), has died.  He passed away peacefully on Friday.  Here we celebrate his life and work. (more…)

Questioning the curriculum: here's to Michael Young's next 50 years at the IOE

Blog Editor, IOE Digital28 November 2017

Geoff Whitty. 
Last week the IOE celebrated Professor Michael Young’s 50 years at the IOE and the publication of a festschrift in his honour. I was one of a number of colleagues asked to speak at the event.  Having cancelled my flight to Australia to do so I thought I would be able to say that, as the result of the fare penalty, I was the only person who had actually paid to be there.  But in fact there were other people attending from overseas, which just goes to show the high esteem in which Michael is held throughout the world.
I haven’t known Michael quite 50 years – more like 49.  It would have been in October 1968 when I arrived at the IOE as a PGCE student training to be a history teacher, and Michael was one of a group of sociologists who inspired me to see my own future as a sociologist. His particular contribution was in encouraging us to question much of (more…)

Independent schools and social mobility: no easy answers

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 November 2016

Geoff Whitty and Emma Wisby. 
There’s now just under a month for people to give their views on the government’s schools green paper proposals. If the impassioned public debate it has generated is anything to go by, Department for Education officials will have a lot of consultation responses to read. They will also have much thinking to do about how the behaviour of different parts of the education system would most likely change in response to the proposals, and the likely implications of that for achieving the aims behind them, especially Theresa May’s much vaunted commitment to increasing upward social mobility.
In broad terms, what the green paper proposals do is to accept at face value an existing hierarchy of secondary schools with regard to academic attainment: elite independent schools at the top, followed by grammar schools, high performing non-selective schools, and less well performing non-selective schools and a few studio schools with rather different ambitions at the bottom. They reinforce the legitimacy of this hierarchy by, in theory, removing the post code/house price or school fees barrier to the most academically able and engaged children accessing schools at the top end, regardless of background. Linked to this is an apparent intention to create more space ‘at the top’.
A particularly notable feature of the green paper in this regard is its ambition to harness the independent schools sector (more…)

Grammar schools: the rise and fall of ‘evidence-informed policy’?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 September 2016

Geoff Whitty and Emma Wisby. 
In her first major foray into domestic policy as Prime Minister, Theresa May has offered us more grammar schools. Not a return to the selective system of education that existed in England prior to the 1960s and still exists in modified form in a small number of local authorities; not the grammar school in every town envisaged by John Major in 1997; but new grammar schools where parents want them as part of the diverse mix of secondary schools that has developed in England over the past 30 years. We know that this would entail relaxing the restrictions on new or expanding grammar schools, as well as allowing existing non-selective schools to become selective in some circumstances. A fuller set of proposals will be subject to consultation in the light of a new Green Paper.
Our concern here is what to make of this development in relation to the rhetoric of evidence-based or evidence-informed policy that has been espoused by politicians of all three major political parties for some time now. On the face of it, it looks like a particularly stark illustration of how policy is in fact more often driven by ideology and the personal experiences and preferences of policy makers and their advisors – as well as the internal management of party politics. This is a point we made in our publication earlier this year, Research and Policy in Education. The conduct and outcome of the EU referendum (more…)

Why education policy debates need a sociological voice

Blog Editor, IOE Digital17 March 2016

Geoff Whitty
Attending a gathering of philosophers and sociologists of education this week brought home to me how much closer those two groups are now in their analyses of education compared to when I first worked as a sociologist of education in the early 1970s. That encounter also led me to recall that, at the same time, there were major battles within the sociology of education itself, between the so-called ‘old’ sociology of education of A.H. Halsey and his colleagues at Oxford and the ‘new’ sociology of education, associated with Michael F.D. Young and others at the Institute of Education in London. I discussed these disputes over the sources and significance of change in education and society in my first authored book, Sociology and School Knowledge (Methuen, 1985).
My newest book, Research and Policy in Education, published last month by UCL IOE Press, reflects my attempt to make sense of the relationship between education research and education policy in the years since I stood down from the Karl Mannheim Chair in the Sociology of Education at the Institute of Education in September 2000 to become Director. While working on the new book, I found myself increasingly drawn back to my roots as a sociologist of education. Even though such work is not necessarily undertaken first and foremost with a view to policy impact, I found sociological work really helpful in understanding why some of the policies I was discussing hadn’t had the impact that politicians claimed they would have. This applied not only to contentious initiatives (more…)

Education research and policy in an imperfect world

Blog Editor, IOE Digital24 February 2016

Geoff Whitty
In 2005 it was my turn to deliver the British Educational Research Association (BERA) presidential address, typically a ‘state of the nation’ review for education research. I considered many topics, but an overwhelming issue for the education research community at the time was the ‘what works’ agenda and its implications for the kinds of research that would continue to command funding. After consultation with colleagues, that is what I chose to focus on. Our concern was that this agenda would narrow the discipline of education, on a false prospectus of determining policy. Actually, in our political system research evidence is just one factor among many in policy decisions – and often a relatively insignificant one at that.
At the time, the address received a mixed reception: many welcomed my defence of the breadth of our discipline, but some colleagues working in the ‘what works’ mould rejected what they saw as its premise that researchers and policymakers were necessarily on ‘different sides’. But that reading was not my intention. I simply wanted to highlight the
messy and often indirect relationship between research and policy and the way in which all kinds of research could usefully input to public and policy debate about our education system – and the need for this to be reflected in research funding policy.
Ten years on, my IOE colleague Emma Wisby and I have revisited the BERA address as part of my new publication, Research and Policy in Education: Evidence, ideology and impact. In (more…)

20 years on and departments of education are 'next in line for the treatment' again

Blog Editor, IOE Digital3 April 2013

Geoff Whitty
Michael Gove recently wrote an article in the Daily Mail attacking so-called Marxist teachers and teacher educators, who he characterises as “the enemies of promise”.  Reading this no holds barred critique may well have given many who work in education a strong sense of déjà vu. I sought out a copy of my inaugural lecture at Goldsmiths College in May 1991 – “Next in line for the treatment: Education Reform and Teacher Education in the 1990”. As I noted back then:
“A recurring theme in the pamphlets of the New Right pressure groups is the need to rid the system of the liberal or left educational establishment, which is seen to have been behind the ‘progressive collapse’ of the English educational system and which ‘prey to ideology and self-interest, is no longer in touch with the public’.”  
The answer prescribed by the pressure groups: schools free to recruit whoever they wanted as teachers and any training deemed necessary done on the job. At one level the pressure groups were making a general argument about producer interests, but it was also a more specific attack on the alleged ideological bias of teacher educators. The fundamental problem for this line of argument was that, if the critique of teacher training was right, schools surely needed to be purged of teachers who had “suffered” from teacher training before they could themselves be entrusted with teacher training.
Much has changed in education in the intervening 20 years, and it’s a shame that the contemporary debate does not acknowledge that. Most importantly, the more legitimate criticisms of university-led teacher training of the 1980s and ‘90s have long since been addressed through constructive engagement between government, universities and schools. In that same 1991 lecture, I argued that higher education institutions should actively embrace school-based training and partnership working, and the sector has subsequently welcomed multiple training routes and worked ever more closely with schools. It’s also the case that some of us in university departments of education were involved right from the start in the development of Teach First, one of the teacher training routes consistently praised by government ministers.
All this, according to Ofsted under its previous HMCI and a report last year by the House of Commons Education Committee, has had positive effects on the quality of new teachers entering the profession. It has helped to shape the schools that Michael Gove himself singles out for praise. Current policies, however, are being rolled out in a manner that risks eroding some of the best practice that has developed in recent years and the infrastructure that supports it. Only a couple of weeks ago at the launch of the Ben Goldacre report Building Evidence into Education (pdf) the DfE was promoting an evidence-informed approach to education policy and practice. We need that in initial teacher training policy, too.
Key to an evidence-informed approach, of course, is the responsible and considered use of the evidence. On that basis it was disappointing to see the way in which the first inspection results under the new inspection framework for teacher training were described in an Ofsted press release last week. It included spurious interpretations of limited data and at least one factual error, and it omitted to mention anything that reflected well on HEIs or badly on school-led teacher training schemes.
It was also disappointing to see a report in The Times suggesting connections were being made between the allegedly inferior teacher training inspection results from HEIs and the letter from 100 education academics voicing doubts about the government’s National Curriculum proposals (which had prompted Michael Gove’s article in the Daily Mail) – not least because very few of the signatories to that letter are actually involved in the design or delivery of initial teacher training.
What the evidence does show is that teacher training in the best performing education systems worldwide is based in close collaboration between universities and schools. It would be political folly to disregard the contribution that HEIs are making to teacher supply and quality in England in order to pursue an agenda based on outdated caricatures.
Geoff Whitty, former IOE Director, is currently Professor of Public Sector Policy and Management at the University of Bath and a non-Executive member of the Board of Ofsted. His comments on Ben Goldacre’s recent paper on the use of evidence in education can be found here