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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…)