Author: Warwick Sharp
Publisher: The Educated Guess
Details: 208pp; £8.99
Warwick Sharp’s The Educated Guess is evidently a labour of love. At times thought-provoking, wide-ranging and even funny, this book sets out to tell the reader how to “challenge invisible biases and make better education decisions”.
And – to a point – this is exactly what it achieves. It contains little in the way of educational rocket science, but it is a good canter through many of the non-financial problems facing schools, focusing on the behavioural psychology behind how the players in the sector come to the decisions they do.
Thus, the reader has it explained why it is that too many people consider technical education second class, why careers education too often does as much to hold back aspiration as develop it, why the system is so slow to adopt character education and why teachers sometimes don’t report their suspicions of child abuse. It also looks at how school choice plays out in practice.
The psychology of decision-making
If you’re interested in the psychology of decision-making – and I am – this is an easy read, and even a helpful refresher of how we are all beset by biases, many of which are subconscious.
Each example is explained using a combination of humanity, theory and research. Each comes with a hopeful twist, developing potential solutions to each problem.
So far, so good. Setting to one side that rarely has a well-written book needed an editor more (both for tightening copy and for providing friendly advice on structure), this book is really, well, fine.
I could leave it there. However, through nearly all of this the book I had one question constantly whizzing around in my head: who is the author writing for? Sharp, a one-time teacher, and now a senior Department for Education mandarin, does not appear certain. Is it for parents? For teachers? For school leaders? For civil servants?
Each, would, I fear, find the book slightly missing the mark. It’s too technical for parents, too broad-ranging to be useful to a busy teacher and too simple for a school leader or civil servant.
And then it dawned on me who should read this book: new entrants to the DfE. For young mandarins setting off on the fast track and for new ministers looking to spend a couple of years in Sanctuary Buildings, An Educated Guess should be mandatory reading.
This book, I realised late in the reading, is a terrific guide for the amateurs who play an important but often temporary role in the education system, explaining how and why it all too often doesn’t work.
And for that, we should be grateful.
Ed Dorrell is head of content at Tes
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