A renowned academic expert on education who headed a leading institution for a decade has died.
Geoff Whitty was born in Mortlake, London in December 1946 and educated at Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith before going on to St John’s College, Cambridge (1968). He had already had a temporary job in a primary school when he obtained a postgraduate certificate in education from what is now the UCL Institute of Education (1968-69) – the institution he would later run – and then taught history, humanities and social studies within schools.
Returning to the academy, Professor Whitty took up a position as lecturer in education at the University of Bath (1973-80), which he combined with part-time tutoring in educational studies at the Open University (1975-82). After a series of jobs at King's College London (1981-84), Bristol Polytechnic (1985-89, now the University of the West of England) and Goldsmiths, University of London (1990-92), he was appointed Karl Mannheim professor of sociology of education at the IoE (1992-2000), where he went on to serve as director from 2000 to 2010.
Deeply marked by his early experiences of teaching in disadvantaged communities, Professor Whitty always focused on the issue of equity. His work with Peter Aggleton in the 1980s helped pioneer less judgemental approaches to sex education. His books such as Sociology and School Knowledge (1985, reissued 2017), Devolution and Choice in Education (with Sally Power and David Halpin, 1998) and Education and the Middle Class (with Sally Power, Tony Edwards and Valerie Wigfall, 2003) helped set the agenda for ongoing debates. He was a specialist adviser to successive House of Commons Education Select Committees, including one that revised national school admissions policy to facilitate fairer access. More recently, in Knowledge and the Study of Education (with John Furlong, 2017), he set out a vision of education research that can and must go beyond simplistic attempts to identify “what works”.
“Few people have had as great an impact on the education discipline as Geoff Whitty,” said Becky Francis, current director of the IoE. “What marked him out as a leader was his deep integrity and fairness – the latter underpinning his research expertise on social justice in education…The love and appreciation in the room at the recent event we held to celebrate his contribution to the institute and to education was staggering and moving.”
After retiring from the IoE, Professor Whitty held posts at the universities of Bath, Bath Spa and Newcastle, Australia. He diedon 27 July after a long struggle with cancer and is survived by his wife Marilyn Toft, three children and two grandchildren.