Professor Edgar Stones

Champion of 'psychopedagogy'

Edgar Stones was a psychologist whose interest in children and learning led him to the field of educational psychology. He rejected the term educational psychology, however, in favour of "psychopedagogy", and this was more than mere semantics. He was highly critical of the dominant paradigm of intelligence testing in educational psychology, with intelligence (or IQ) viewed as some sort of given that teachers could not alter, arguing instead that it was the role of the teacher to develop children's learning skills and attributes.

Stones's contribution to the development of educational psychology was to use a series of case studies to show that teachers' practical teaching skills could be allied to theoretical psychological perspectives on human learning to produce insights combining the theoretical and practical, hence the notion of psychopedagogy.

In many ways, Ed Stones embodied this mix of the practical and the theoretical in his own life. Stones had fought his way out of the poverty of the Yorkshire mining village of Wath upon Dearne. A local education authority scholarship allowed him access to Wath Grammar School, but his parents could not afford for him to continue in education beyond the age of 15, so in 1937 he took up an engineering apprenticeship in the Royal Air Force, travelling to India and Egypt and making use of the free time he had to read widely.

On purchasing his discharge from the RAF in the 1950s, he then read Psychology at Sheffield University, supported by the Ministry of Education on condition that he teach for five years in state schools. It was during this period, studying part-time for a master's degree in History, that he became very critical of the then widespread use of intelligence testing for the 11-plus examination. This led him to a focus on human learning, which eventually resulted in his first book, An Introduction to Educational Psychology (1966). This seminal work became a set text in colleges of education and was translated into a number of languages.

In 1971 Stones moved to Birmingham University as a lecturer in educational psychology, but with a growing interest in the application of psychology to teacher education. He became Director of the Colleges of Education Research Group for the West Midlands, which led to an examination of the way the foundation disciplines were taught in 18 colleges of education, and also to further publications.

His research into teacher education and its pedagogy produced Psychopedagogy: psychological theory and the practice of teaching (1979), followed by Supervision in Teacher Education: a counselling and pedagogical approach (1984), both of which were concerned directly with explaining how to improve the quality of children's learning. Quality Teaching (1991), his last book, drew on a wealth of case studies to make the point that teaching is a complex skill and teacher education even more so.

His appointment in 1972 to the William Roscoe Chair at Liverpool University and as Director of the university's Institute of Education was a mark of his standing in the profession, as was the award in 1998 of the honour of Distinguished Contribution for the Teaching of Psychology by the British Psychological Society. After his retirement in 1982 from Liverpool, as Emeritus Professor, Stones became the Director of the Institute for Advanced Research in Arts and Social Sciences at Birmingham University.

Some certainly found Stones's Yorkshire directness difficult to accept, but there are countless numbers who have been influenced directly or indirectly by his work, through immediate contact with Stones, through his publications, through the British Education Research Association (Bera) he founded in 1975, or the international Journal of Education for Teaching (Jet) founded in 1973. Stones invited Professor John Nisbet to be the first president of Bera, serving as the second himself, as he felt that Nesbit would lend gravitas to the newly formed association.

As founding editor, Stones encouraged a variety of approaches to writing in Jet and was especially keen to support young authors with a wealth of advice aimed at improving their communication skills. What will be most missed is his willingness to subject shibboleths created by the use of arcane jargon masquerading as technical language to a rigorous critique - hence what he called the "guru-free zone" of the Jet colloquia and lunches that he organised. That critique was also levelled at ill-informed political decisions regarding the nature of teacher education, evaluation and research. He was absolutely opposed to what he saw as the spread of a "profound anti- intellectualism" driving government-led changes to teacher education.

What I remember best are his pithy comments on some of the manuscripts we received for Jet. These are just two of his reviews of rejected papers: "37 pages to discover the blindingly obvious - I fear there is little hope"; "The paper is subtitled 1st draft - ask them to try us with the 21st." But, if he felt that there was some merit in a paper, however slight, then he would give freely of his time to work it up for publication.

Peter Gilroy