Walter Humes has been a Professor of Education at the Universities of Aberdeen, Strathclyde and West of Scotland. He is now an Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Stirling. His publications range over a number of fields within educational studies – policy analysis, curriculum development, history of education, teacher education, professionalism, leadership and management. Some of his work has employed a form of discourse analysis, but he is not committed to a single approach, favouring methodological eclecticism. The recurring theme of his writing has been a desire to question orthodoxies and challenge the complacency of much official thinking. Scottish Culture and Scottish Education, 1800-1980, co-edited with H. M. Paterson, sought to open up new lines of enquiry about the Scottish educational tradition. The Leadership Class in Scottish Education, published in 1986, raised uncomfortable questions about the official narrative promoted by political and professional leaders, particularly in relation to claims about the democratic character of the policy community. Its naming of individuals and critical scrutiny of key agencies (the inspectorate, directors of education, teachers’ organisations) caused controversy by departing from the deferential culture of approved professional discourse.
The establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 created an opportunity to provide informed analysis of new developments in Scottish education. This led to the publication of successive editions of Scottish Education (1999, 2003, 2008, 2013, 2018), a 1000-page text covering all sectors of the educational system. The first three editions were co-edited with T. G. K. Bryce. For the fourth and fifth editions, two additional editors, Donald Gillies and Aileen Kennedy, were brought on board. The book has become a standard text, widely cited by students, researchers and professionals.
Although the main focus of Walter’s work has been on education in Scotland, he has also written about topics that will resonate with researchers in other countries – globalisation, the corporate drift of higher education, the infrastructure of educational research, the teaching of controversial issues. As well as his academic output, he has published a substantial amount of journalism, having been a columnist for the Times Educational Supplement (Scotland) for ten years and a contributor to the online journals Scottish Review and Sceptical Scot. His recent work has combined biography and history, tracing the links between social context and the achievements of educational radicals (A. S. Neill, R. F. Mackenzie, Margaret McMillan, William Boyd, John Maclean). He is a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Education Committee, which seeks to inform government policy through representations to the Scottish Parliament and the production of Advice Papers. In 2010 he was made an Honorary Member of the Scottish Educational Research Association.