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John Nisbet Award Winner

Kathy Sylva, Professor

Higher education professor at University of Oxford

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).

Kathy Sylva's contributions

BERA Public Engagement and Impact Award

The BERA Public Engagement and Impact Award recognises and celebrates the impact of research and practice in the education community and how both have demonstrably engaged the public.



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...