Prof Alan George Smithers (born 20 May 1938) is a British educationalist.
Method of research and information dissemination
He is best known for his distinctive style of research, which leads to him often being called upon to comment on the issues of the day. His early experience in science led him to the view that educational researchers are wrong in aping the scientific paradigm. While science studies a relatively enduring reality, educational research often aims to capture a fast changing scene when accurate information needs to be got to policy-makers and practitioners as quickly as possible. Having published over a hundred papers he came to the view that peer-reviewed journals are not the most appropriate medium for disseminating findings since they are too slow and directed at the wrong audience. He has concentrated on getting out results as quickly as possible through reports and the media. He guards against the bias from prior value positions to which educational research is vulnerable by drawing financial support from a plurality of funders.
Smithers was born in the East End of London, the son of a Billingsgate fish porter. His mother worked in a sweet factory, and he claims he lived on fish and Turkish Delight during the war. He was educated at Barking Abbey Grammar School then King's College London, gaining a first class honours degree BSc and then a PhD in Plant Physiology in 1966. From the University of Bradford he gained a degree in the psychology and sociology of education MSc and a PhD in Education in 1974. All professors at the University of Manchester are required to be graduates of the University and in 1981 a master of education MEd was conferred. He became a Chartered Psychologist in 1988.
He became actively involved in education as a subject when in 1960s the University of London, where he lectured, began introducing modular degrees. This led to a secondment at the newly elevated University of Bradford. There he re-qualified as a psychologist and progressed rapidly to become Senior Lecturer in Education in 1969. He became a professor at the University of Manchester at the age of 37. He has successively occupied four chairs: Professor of Education at the University of Manchester (1976–96); Professor of Policy Research at Brunel University (1996-8); Sydney Jones Professor of Education at the University of Liverpool (1998-2004); and currently as Director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham (2004 to present). He was elected as one of the first three fellows of the Society for Research in Higher Education in 1986. He was seconded to BP from September 1991 to August 1992 to help it think more systematically about the value of its education programmes.
Smithers’ applied approach and funding base has meant he is regularly directed to the educational issues that are uppermost in people’s minds. Among the areas with which his team have been associated have been choice and selection in education, social variation between schools, qualifications and assessment, physics education, international comparisons of educational achievement, headship, teacher training, recruitment and retention, technical and further education, the independent/state divide, single-sex and coeducation, and higher education.
Selected publications, in addition to The Good Teacher Training Guide which has been published annually since 1998 include:
- The Science and Mathematics Teaching Workforce (2014)
- Confusion in the Ranks (2013)
- 14-18 A New Vision for Secondary Education (2013)
- Educating the Highly Able (2012)
- Choice and Selection in Education: the experience of other countries (2010)
- Worlds Apart: social variation among schools (2010)
- Physics Participation and Policies: lessons from abroad (2009)
- Specialist Science Schools (2009)
- The Diploma: a disaster waiting to happen? (2008)
- Blair's Education: an international perspective (2007)
- Physics in Schools and Colleges (2007)
- School Headship (2007)
- The Paradox of Single Sex and Coeducational Schooling (2006)
- England’s Education (2004)
- Attracting Teachers (2000)
- Further Education Reformed (2000)
- The Impact of Double Science (1994)
- General Studies (1993)
- Graduates in the Police Service (1990)
- Increasing Participation in Higher Education (1989)
- The Growth of Mixed A-Levels (1988)
- The Progress of Mature Students (1986)
- Sandwich Courses: an Integrated Education? (1976).
Two of his reports were featured as Dispatches programmes on Channel 4, Every Child in Britain (1991) and All Our Futures: Britain’s Education Revolution (1993). He has been a frequent commentator on the policies of successive governments. His analyses of Blair's education have appeared in Anthony Seldon’s books, The Blair Effect: The Blair Government 1997-2001 (2001), The Blair Effect 2001-2005 (2005) and Blair's Britain 1997-2007 (2007)
Educational advisor at a national level
While mainly a hands-on researcher he has served as an adviser, latterly standing adviser, to the Commons Education Select Committee since 1997. He is determinedly apolitical believing that close association with any one party compromises the objectivity of the research. He has served on national committees including the National Curriculum Council, the Beaumont Review of National Vocational Qualifications and the Royal Society Committee on Teacher Supply.
- Woodward, W. (7 September 2004). 'Declaration of independence', The Guardian.
- Smithers, A. (9 September 1997). 'Is education a science?' paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the British Association, Leeds.
- Rafferty, R. (22 January 1999). 'Leaders of the pack', Times Educational Supplement.
- Who's Who 2013, London: A&C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing.
- Hulme, A. (18 May 1990). 'Smithers sites them again', The Friday Profile, Manchester Evening News.
- Baker, K et al (2013). 14-18 A New Vision for Secondary Education, London Bloomsbury Publishing. Notes on Contributors, Alan Smithers, p xiii.
- The Independent (13 January 1987) Court and Social, page 23; Times Higher Education Supplement (2 January 1987) 'Cheers for four firsts'.
- Brown, M. (Autumn 1992). 'Equal partners', Shield: The international magazine of the BP Group.
- http://www.alansmithers.com and http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/research/ceer
- Every Child in Britain, 1991. Report of the Channel Four Commission, (A.H. Halsey, Neville Postlethwaite, Sig Prais, Alan Smithers and Hilary Steedman). London: Broadcasting Support Services.
- All Our Futures: Britain's Education Revolution, 1993. London: Channel Four Television.
- Ed Anthony Seldon (2001, 2005 and 2007) The Blair Effect: The Blair Government 1997-2001, London: Little,Brown,2001; The Blair Effect 2001-05, Cambridge: University Press; and Blair's Britain 1997-2007, Cambridge: University Press.