BERA John Nisbet Fellowship

Since 2014 BERA has awarded the John Nisbet Fellowship to one or more people who are deemed to have made an outstanding contribution to educational research over their career. Named in honour of our first President, this award recognises individuals who exemplify BERA’s commitment to encouraging educational research and its application for the improvement of practice and public benefit.  


2018 Winners

Pat Sikes and Ivor Goodson


Pat Sikes


Pat Sikes is Professor of Qualitative Inquiry in the School of Education at the University of Sheffield. Pat began her research career in 1978 at the University of East Anglia as a research assistant on Lawrence Stenhouse’s Nuffield/Gulbenkian project, The problems and effects of teaching about race relations. A PhD at the University of Leeds came next, followed by a period working at the Open University with Peter Woods and Linda Measor on the ESRC funded Teachers’ lives and careers study. Then there were a few years as a member of the OU TVEI evaluation team convened by Roger Dale, as well as a stint at the Counselling & Career Development Unit at the University of Leeds. From 1988 to 2000 Pat was at the University of Warwick, working closely with Barry Troyna in developing and practicing auto/biographical pedagogy. Four years after Barry’s untimely death in 1996 she went to Sheffield.

Throughout her career as a researcher the majority of Pat’s work has focused on various aspects of teachers’ lives and careers, narrative and auto/biographical methodologies and methods, and research ethics. Her publications include Parents Who Teach: Stories From Home and From School, Teacher Careers: Crises and Continuities (with Peter Woods and Linda Measor), Researching Sex and Lies in the Classroom: Allegations of Sexual Misconduct in Schools (with Heather Piper), Life History in Educational Settings: Learning From Lives (with Ivor Goodson). She also edited the four volume Sage Benchmarks in Social Science Series on Autoethnography and along with Ivor Goodson, Molly Andrews and Ari Antikainen was an editor of The Routledge International Handbook of Narrative and Life History.

 Since 2014 Pat’s interest has been in using narrative auto/biographical approaches to investigate the perceptions and experiences of children and young people who have a parent with young onset dementia, receiving funding from the Alzheimer’s Society for this work.

Pat was an editor of the British Educational Research Journal from 2003 to 2007 and a member of BERA Council between 2010 and 2013. She was recently involved in editing the 2018 iteration of the BERA ethical guidelines.


Ivor Goodson


Ivor Goodson is professor of Learning Theory at the University of Brighton. He has worked in universities in England, Canada and the USA, and held visiting positions in many countries.

Early in his career his PhD explored the construction of school subject knowledge and its relationship to social processes. This led to his first book School Subjects and Curriculum Change, which is now in its 3rd edition. Following that book, which was published in 1983, he produced a series of books which aim to explore the curriculum as a site of social contestation and social distribution. The series Studies in Curriculum History was commissioned by Falmer Press in 1984 and led to the publication of over 20 books which established the history and sociology of curriculum construction, not just in the United Kingdom but around the world. His own contributions to the series includes the books Defining the CurriculumThe Making of CurriculumStudying School Subjects and Subject Knowledge. Alongside his work on curriculum he began to develop a range of qualitative methodologies focussing on life history approaches. The first book, Biography, Identity and Schooling, sought to explain how life history methods could connect our understanding of personal motives and missions to wider social movements and processes. In particular his work explored the relationship between teacher’s life purposes and their work. The pioneering book Teachers’ Lives and Careers published in 1985 and co-edited with Stephen Ball opened up a new field of study focussing on the teachers life and work. This was followed by Studying Teachers Lives published in 1992 which took further the focus on teachers’ lives and explored both the methodologies and the substantive findings emerging in this field. One of his recent books, Professional Knowledge, Professional Lives looks at how understanding the teachers life and work provides new insights into why reform initiatives succeed or fail. This book is the result of a large 4-year Spencer Foundation project on stability and change in schooling focussing on the United States of America and Canada. Most recently Ivor has been involved in large research projects on people’s life histories. ‘The Learning Lives’ project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council studied people’s learning experiences across the life course and led to the book Narrative Learning. The theoretical insights generated by this and the ‘Professional Knowledge’ project funded by the European Union led to the book Developing Narrative Theory. Many of his books are available in translation and have been published in Japan, China, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Ireland, Portugal and Spain. Currently, his collective works are being translated into Spanish, Chinese and Japanese. Ivor was given: the Michael Huberman award at the American Educational Research Association for his work on teachers’ lives, an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Gothenburg and Laureate of the American Leaned Society Phi Delta Kappan Society in the USA. In 2016 Ivor was nominated for inclusion in the forthcoming volume 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century 10th Edition Publication.



2017 Winners

Geoff Whitty and Gloria Ladson-Billings

Geoff Whitty

Geoff Whitty was Director of the Institute of Education from 2000 to 2010, and is widely credited with leading the Institute to new heights in terms of its local, national and international standing. Previously, he taught in primary and secondary schools before pursuing a career in higher education at Bath University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, King’s College London, Bristol Polytechnic and Goldsmiths College. Prior to becoming Director, Geoff held the Institute’s prestigious Karl Mannheim Chair in Sociology of Education, as well as serving as Chair of the  Department of Policy Studies and Dean of Research. He now holds the title of Director Emeritus of the UCL Institute of Education. He also has a part-time Research Professorship at Bath Spa University and a Global Innovation Chair at the University of Newcastle, Australia, where he co-directs the Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education.

Geoff’s sociological work has been concerned with the dynamic between middle class advantage and working class disadvantage in education and he has led a number of ESRC research projects on that theme. He currently researches teacher education and access to higher education. His many publications include Society, State and Schooling (with Michael Young), Sociology and School Knowledge (recently reissued by Routledge), The State and Private Education (with Tony Edwards and John Fitz), Devolution and Choice in Education (with Sally Power and David Halpin), Making Sense of Education Policy and Education and the Middle Class (with Sally Power, Tony Edwards and Valerie Wigfall), which won the Society of Educational Studies book prize in 2004.  His most recent books are Research and Policy in Education and Knowledge and the Study of Education (with John Furlong), published earlier this year.

Geoff has extensive experience of working with the policy community, which has informed his somewhat sceptical stance towards the current enthusiasm in our field for ‘evidence-informed’ policy. He was a specialist advisor to successive House of Commons Education Select Committees between 2005 and 2012. He was also a member of the General Teaching Council for England until its abolition by the Coalition Government in 2012 and a member of the Board of Ofsted until he was removed by Michael Gove in 2014. He is a former Chair of the British Council’s Education and Training Advisory Committee and a past President of the College of Teachers.

Geoff was President of BERA from 2005 to 2007 and has subsequently served on its Risk Assessment and Audit Committee and on two inquiries into research and teacher education. He holds Fellowships of the Academy of Social Sciences, the Society for Educational Studies and the American Educational Research Association. He has been a Visiting Professor at the Universities of Bath, Birmingham and Bedfordshire, an Honorary Professor at Beijing Normal University and an Honorary Research Fellow at Oxford University. In 2009 Geoff was awarded the Lady Plowden Memorial Medal for outstanding services to education and in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2011 he received a CBE for services to teacher education.


Gloria Ladson-Billings

Gloria Ladson-Billings is the Kellner Family Distinguished Professor in Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction and is Faculty Affiliate in the Departments of Educational Policy Studies, Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis and Afro American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was the 2005–2006 president of the American Educational Research Association. She is currently the President-Elect of the National Academy of Education. Ladson-Billings’ research examines the pedagogical practices of teachers who are successful with African American students. She also investigates Critical Race Theory applications to education.

Ladson-Billings is the author of the critically acclaimed books, The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children, Crossing over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms, and Beyond the Big House: African American Educators on Teacher Education. She is editor of 6 other books and author of more than 100 journal articles and book chapters. She is the former editor of the American Educational Research Journal and a member of several editorial boards. Her work has won numerous scholarly awards, including the H. I. Romnes Faculty Fellowship, Spencer Post-doctoral Fellowship, and the Palmer O. Johnson outstanding research award. She is the 2015 winner of the Social Justice in Education Award given by the American Educational Research Association. She was named the 2012 winner of the Brock International Prize in education. In 2012 she was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Alicante, Alicante, Spain. In 2010 she was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Massachusetts – Lowell. In 2002 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden. During the 2003–2004 academic year she was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California. In fall 2004 she received the George and Louise Spindler Award from the Council on Anthropology and Education for significant and ongoing contributions to the field of educational anthropology. In spring 2005 she was elected to the National Academy of Education and the National Society for the Study of Education. In 2007 she was awarded the Hilldale Award, the highest faculty honor given to a professor at the University of Wisconsin for outstanding research, teaching, and service. She is a 2008 recipient of the state of Wisconsin’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Heritage Award and the Teachers College, Columbia University 2008 Distinguished Service Medal. In 2009 she was elected to Kappa Delta Pi International Education Honor Society’s Laureate Chapter—comprised of 60 living distinguished scholars. Former laureate members include notables such as Albert Einstein, John Dewey and Eleanor Roosevelt. Ladson-Billings is currently one of the NEA Foundation Fellows charged with providing advice on its “Achievement Gap Initiative.” In 2014 she was a panelist on the White House’s African American Educational Excellence Initiative’s Essence Festival, “Smart Starts at Home” panel. In 2015 she received the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award from the Literacy Research Association. In 2016 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Benjamin Banneker Association of the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics.


2016 Winner

Brian Street


Brian is a professor emeritus of language education at King’s College London and visiting professor at the Graduate School of Education in University of Pennsylvania. He has mainly worked on literacy in both theoretical and applied perspectives, and is perhaps best known for his book Literacy in Theory and Practice (1984).

Brian taught social and cultural anthropology for more than twenty years at the University of Sussex, and latterly he has supervised doctoral students and taught graduate workshops on ethnography, student writing in higher education and language and literacy. In 2009 he was elected Vice-President of the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) and has been Chair of the Education Committee of the RAI since 2006. He is currently involved in development projects in South Asia and Africa using ethnographic perspectives in training literacy and numeracy teachers in a programme known as LETTER (Learning Empowerment through Training in Ethnographic Research). He has also been working with colleagues in Brazil with particular interest in ethnographic and academic literacies perspectives.




2015 Winners

Sara Delamont and Patricia Broadfoot

Sara Delamont

Delamont picSara Delamont was born near Southampton in 1947.  She read Social Anthropology at Girton Colleges Cambridge, and did a PhD in Education at Edinburgh.  The thesis was an ethnography of ‘St Luke’s’, an elite girls’ school.  She lectured in the School of Education at Leicester with Tom Whiteside and Gerry Bernbaum, and was part of the ORACLE project there until 1981.  In 1976 Sara moved to Cardiff and has been there ever since.

One of the 100 people to be invited to join BERA as a Founder Member, Sara was the first Woman to be President in 1984.  Sent to the inaugural meeting that led to the Academy of Social Sciences to represent BERA, by the then-President, Ted Wragg, she served on the council for many years and was elected as a Fellow in 2000.  She was the first woman Dean of Social Sciences in 1984-1986.

As a protest against the 1988 Education Act (which removed tenure from those who were promoted) Sara has never been a Professor.  She was the European Associate Editor of Teacher and Teaching Education from 1984-1994, and its editor (with John Fitz, Lesley Pugsley and Chris Taylor) for 2003-2010.  She was awarded a DScEcon by Cardiff University in 2007, was given the British Sociological Association’s Lifetime Service Award in 2013, and Cardiff University’s equivalent the same year.  Sara did two terms on the ESRC Training and Skills Committee 2006-2010 and was on the RAE and REF sub-panels for Sociology in 2008 and 2014.  Most recently she has been elected a Fellow of Learned Society of Wales in 2014.

Her first book, Interaction in the Classroom came out in 1976, and the third edition of Fieldwork in Educational Settings is in press.  Since 2003 Sara, and a colleague Neil Stephens, have been doing ethnography of how Capoeira, the Brazilian martial art, is taught in the UK: and yes, that is educational research.

Patricia Broadfoot


After undergraduate studies in Sociology and a PGCE, Patricia’s first job was as a teacher in a Jamaican High School. This experience led to an abiding interest in the Sociology of Education and the beginnings of a research career that linked the study of assessment and comparative education. Subsequently working for the Scottish Council for Research in Education -then chaired by Professor Nisbet – she was involved in early pilot work in schools on ‘Pupil Profiles’ – work that was to lead to the major Government initiative in the 1980’s to introduce Records of Achievement and the co-directorship of the National Evaluation of the programme. Her 1979 book: ‘Assessment, Schools and Society’ proved the foundation for a sustained research engagement with the role played by assessment as a policy tool, especially in the contrasting settings of education in England and France, work which culminated in her !996 book ‘Assessment, Education and Society’ and the award of a D.Sc from Bristol University in 1999. 

Having been appointed lecturer at Bristol University in 1981, Patricia subsequently set up the Centre for Assessment Studies which hosted a range of research projects relating to assessment policy and practice. A series of long-term, ESRC-funded projects traced the impact of the National Curriculum and Assessment in English schools and provided the basis for empirical comparative studies of the ethos and very different educational practice in France and Denmark. A parallel interest in the relationship between assessment and learning led to the creation with colleagues, of an on-line assessment tool – the Effective Lifelong Lerning Inventory – ELLI – which is now used around the world. The scale of interest in ELLI has led to Patricia’s recent work on the potential of technology-enhanced assessment to underpin a paradigm shift in contemporary assessment thinking and practice. 

A former President of both BERA and the Comparative and International Education Society, Patricia contributed as a member of the Assessment Reform Group to its sustained efforts to translate research into policy and practice. She served on the ESRC Council from 2001 to 2006, chairing its International Advisory Committee and the Research Resources Board. Since 2008, Patricia has been the inaugural Chair of the Governing Board of the largest longitudinal household study in the world – ESRC’s ‘Understanding Society’. This has encouraged her to pursue the interest derived from her ESRC experience, in the future role of social science and the potential of large data sets to transform educational and social research. 

She is a Founding Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences and was recently elected a member of its Council. 

Patricia was awarded a CBE for services to Social Science in 2006. 

For further details, please see Patricia’s page on the University of Bristol web-site.


Inaugural John Nisbet Fellows (2014)

Paul Black and Kathy Sylva

Paul Black

Paul_B1 copy

For the first 20 years of his career Paul worked in research and undergraduate teaching in physics. During this time he also became involved in assessment work, both as a member of the JMB schools examination board and in a study of assessment of university physics degrees. This move from physics research to work in science education was accelerated when he became joint organizer of the innovative  Nuffield A-level physics course, and was completed when he moved in 1976 from his physics chair in Birmingham to a chair in science education in London, initially at Chelsea College and subsequently at King’s. There his curriculum development work with the Nuffield Foundation developed further to include design and technology, and science work at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Paul was chair of the government’s Task Group on Assessment and Testing in 1987-88, and deputy chairman of the National Curriculum Council from 1989 to 1991. This stimulated interest in the formative aspects of assessment. A published review of assessment  work in science education led to an invitation from the Assessment Reform Group to produce, in collaboration with Dylan Wiliam, the more comprehensive review  of formative assessment published in 1998. Since then he has been engaged in research and in development work to improve classroom practices in both formative and summative assessment, some of it linked to work as a member of the Assessment Reform Group. One feature of his work has been to engage closely with and for classroom teachers, by publications, notably the Black Box series of booklets, and by many contributions to INSET programmes. Paul has served on three committees of the USA National Research Council, and is currently a member of the Technical Advisory Group of OFQUAL. For further details please see Paul’s page on the King’s College website.  




Kathy Sylva

Kathy SylvaAfter earning a PhD at Harvard University Kathy moved to Oxford where she taught Psychology while serving on the Oxford Pre-school Research Group which was led by Jerome Bruner. Her book Childwatching at Playgroup and Nursery School broke new ground by questioning an unbridled ‘free play’ ideology. In the 1980s she evaluated the High/Scope pre-school programme with its emphasis on ‘plan, do, review’ in each session. In this work she began to explore the notion of ‘structure’ in Early Education. In 1990 Kathy moved to London to carry out research on assessment and curriculum in primary education. In Early Intervention in Children with Reading Difficulties she and Jane Hurry showed that Reading Recovery is a successful intervention and cost-effective as well. During this period she was co-director of the Royal Society of Arts Enquiry into Early Years Education (Start Right Report, 1994). In 1997 Kathy returned to Oxford as Professor of Educational Psychology. She is one of the leaders of the DCSF research on effective provision of pre-school and primary education and on the evaluations of the Transformation Fund and the Early Learning Partnership Project. She has also investigated programmes to support parents as educators of their own children. A dominant theme throughout her research is the impact of education not only on ‘subject knowledge’ but on children’s problem-solving, social skills and disposition to learn. A related theme in her research is the impact of early intervention on combating social disadvantage and exclusion. She was Specialist Advisor to the House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Employment during their Inquiry into Early Education (2001). She serves on Government advisory committees concerned with national assessment, evaluation of programmes such as Sure Start, and curriculum for children 0-7 years (2003, 2005-6, 2008). She advised the Scottish Parliament in 2005-6 on Early Years; and in 2006 she advised the Government on the teaching of phonics She has been given honorary doctorates by the Open University and Oxford Brookes University. She is an Elected Fellow of the British Psychological Society and in 2008 she was awarded an OBE for services to children and families. For further details please see Kathy’s page on the Oxford website.   John Nisbet John started work at the University of Aberdeen in 1949 and in 1963 he was appointed to the first Chair in Education at the University and held that until he retired. Between 1965 and 1975, in collaboration with colleagues he wrote six books, five book chapters, 23 journal articles, and spent summers teaching in California, Australia, New Zealand, visited South Africa, started research projects in Norway and the Netherlands, and edited the British Journal of Educational Psychology. As well as being the first president of BERA and being awarded honorary life membership in 2005, John chaired the Educational Research Board of the Social Science Research Council, the Scottish Council for Research on Education and served on many other committees, which led to the award of an OBE for services to Scottish Education. To read John Nisbet’s Presidential address, please see here and we published an obituary in Research Intelligence upon his death in October 2012.