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Obituary: Gordon Whalley - full obituary

Dr Gordon Whalley

As many members will sadly be aware, Dr Gordon Whalley, former Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, died on 22 April 2008.

Born in 1930, Gordon Whalley graduated in Botany and Zoology from the University of Durham. Having completed a Diploma in Education in the following year, he embarked on an outstanding career as a schoolteacher. Following appointments in Shropshire and Lancashire, he became head of the biology department at Scarborough High School for Boys in 1959. Here, he was held in the highest regard for his capacity to inspire his pupils and his boundless vigour and enthusiasm. He gave unreservedly of himself in promoting extra-curricular activities, taking charge of cross-country running and guiding the fortunes of the Natural History Society so successfully that his headmaster was prompted to describe this as the most valuable and active society he had ever encountered in any school. He also completed a Durham MEd degree during the course of his teaching career, later adding an MA in Social Science (Psychology).

Appointed Lecturer in the then Institute of Education in September 1964, Gordon Whalley made a seamless transition to the higher education environment. Here, too, he rapidly developed a reputation for teaching of the highest quality. His lectures to experienced teachers were renowned for their content and delivery; employing, as one colleague later wrote, a combination of wit, logic and provocation, he constantly challenged his students to examine their practice and perceptions. Equally, the students were left in no doubt as to his interest in their welfare and progress and many were the informal and spontaneous tributes his courses elicited. His areas of expertise were wide-ranging and included the legal aspects of education, the links between home circumstances and school performance, technical and vocational education, and children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. He had a particularly rich and fruitful relationship with the programme of advanced diplomas. He served for two lengthy spells as the Schools co-ordinator of the diploma programme (the Institute had become part of the School of Education in 1976). These periods saw considerable growth in student numbers, in very large measure a result of the skill and judgement exercised by Gordon Whalley in refreshing, revising and augmenting the portfolio of diplomas in response to the changing needs of the teaching profession.

Gordon Whalley was also a prominent figure within the Schools in-service training programme for serving teachers, making a massive contribution over very many years to the successful provision of short courses and conferences. Central to these was his firm conviction as to the importance of relating work carried out within the University to the work of teachers in schools. The reputation of his in-service activities (all carried out, as a former Head of School put it, expertly and without fuss) attracted much external goodwill, esteem and professional credibility for the School and University alike.

Firmly grounded in the work of schools and colleges, the research and scholarship of Gordon Whalley produced over the years a corpus of considerable achievement. He directed a number of major projects, including one during the 1970s, funded by the Department of Education and Science for five years, to examine the way colleges adapted to changes in teacher education. This Colleges Curriculum project gave rise to a number of publications under the auspices of the National Foundation for Educational Research and the DES itself. Between 1985 and 1988 he received substantial funding from the Manpower Services Commission to carry out a study of the effectiveness of a project in Bradford on technical and vocational education. In 1976, Dr Whalley was awarded his PhD by Leeds for his thesis on the professional responsibilities of school teachers in England since 1902 in their legal and administrative context. The impact of legislation on the organisation and management of schools, on which he wrote extensively, was one of his principal interests. Although much of his work was local in origin, the quality and import of his scholarship attracted a much wider national audience. Gordon Whalley also attracted a substantial number of research students, a large percentage of whom were his former diploma students, their enthusiasm having been fired by his own. He was unfailingly assiduous in providing support and guidance and enjoyed a reputation as an outstanding research supervisor. In 1992, he was promoted to Senior Lecturer.

A dedicated and committed scholar, admired for the profundity of his knowledge and insight into a wide range of educational issues, Gordon Whalley was frequently invited to speak at and to advise schools, colleges, professional associations, local education authorities and examination boards. He served for many years on the Yorkshire CSE Examination Boards Committee and as Moderator for the BEd Educational Studies programme at Bretton Hall College. He also had a long connection with the governing body of Grafton School, Leeds, serving as its chairman for six years. Within the University, his popularity ensured that he was elected to a variety of committees.

Dr Whalley retired from his post in 1995 but retained an active interest in his academic studies and the progress of the University. This led to a number of co-authored articles, with a particular focus on the role of quality assurance in the enhancement of learning and teaching. He also kept abreast of changes in legislation in order to support parents and teachers, more especially to help secure appropriate provision for pupils with special needs. In addition, he completed an MA by research in the School of Law.

Gordon Whalley is survived by his wife, Yvonne, daughters Susan, Jenny and Alison, and by eight grandchildren.

The funeral service will take place at Barkston Ash Church at 3.30 pm on Friday, 2 May 2008. There are to be no flowers but a collection will be taken, to be shared jointly between the church and Lakeland Mountain Rescue.

The flag will be flown at half-mast on the Parkinson Building on Friday in Dr Whalleys memory.

Published: 25 April 2008