Skip to content

John Nisbet Award Winner

Kathy Sylva, Professor

After 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 hereand we published an obituary in Research Intelligence upon his death in October 2012.

Kathy Sylva's contributions

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...