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Professor David Malvern 1946 - 2010

Professor David Malvern 1946 - 2010

Professor David Malvern

David Malvern reckoned that he'd probably taught every physics teacher in the Cameroon. Far from being an idle boast, this was just the sort of good humoured, off-hand remark that belied the actual extent of the contribution he had made to a generation of science and maths teachers around the world.

David very probably had taught every physics teacher in the Cameroon where he was especially well loved and made Honorary Life Vice President of the Institute of Physics. So many of the teachers there regarded him as a personal friend that when he died they held a day of mourning for him.

Beyond the Cameroon, David's work in science education and curriculum reform has had a notable impact in Namibia, Sudan, Morocco and Kyrghzstan. His development work took him to South America, Asia and Eastern Europe and he was a visiting professor at McGill University, Montreal. His recognition abroad, however, grew from the major contributions he made to Maths and Science education in the UK.

Born in Crosby, David won a scholarship to Merchant Taylor's school where he became head boy. He went on to Hertford College, Oxford where he read nuclear physics. This choice of study involved him signing the Official Secrets Act, something he was immensely proud of in his typically bemused way. On finishing his degree David trained as a teacher. He undertook his teaching practice at Wellington College where he went on to teach physics, as well as rugby and drama, for a year before spending time on a kibbutz in Israel. 

After hitchhiking back across Europe he joined the University of Reading in 1971 as a research associate on a Schools Council project on applicable mathematics. David made significant contributions to the ten books the project team produced for schools.

David's passion for numbers, mathematical models and equations of all sorts along with his commitment to education and equality (he was an active member of the Labour party) rapidly led to his career and influence expanding in a number of different directions.

His direct impact on the teaching of maths and science is apparent in a further 11 books he wrote for teachers and students. His deeper yet less publicly recognised influence is manifest in some 15 government reports and a further 6 he wrote for professional bodies.

He contributed to the Cockcroft Commission into maths education, the National Numeracy Task Force and the Tomlinson Review of 16 - 19 education. He served as a consultant to the British Council and European Union and in the late 1980s was seconded for a period to the Royal Society to help develop their education programme.

In 1987 a colleague at Reading, Professor Brian Richards, published a paper which challenged the validity of commonly used measures of vocabulary diversity. A linguist himself, David was intrigued and developed a mathematical model that formed the basis of a set of new and innovative assessment techniques. This led to a 20 year collaboration which produced numerous journal articles, conference presentations and computer software.  This element of David's work has been hugely influential in the development of more reliable methods of measuring language development and more than 100 research teams in over 20 countries have drawn on the methods developed by Malvern and Richards.

David designed and directed the MSc programme for science teachers at the University of Reading. This programme became a major conduit for the establishment of science teaching in many developing countries and especially in West Africa.

David was promoted to a professorship in 1999 when he became Dean of the Faculty of Education and Community Studies. Following a re-organisation in the University he took over as Head of the Institute of Education, a post he held until 2007.

The groundwork David laid in these roles has been a major factor in Reading now being rated as one of the top ten teacher training institutions in the country. David sat on innumerable committees and boards and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of regulations and protocols. Whenever colleagues at the Institute didn't know how to do something the final answer was always ‘ask David'. Not only did he seem to know everything but also everyone which is testimony to the fact that he always had time for everyone. Leaving your tutorial room door open could be dangerous in that David would take it as an invitation to drop in and have a chat. The reward though was that he could chat so knowledgeably about such a vast range of subjects.

In addition to being an outstanding teacher, researcher and academic leader, David was a talented sportsman and played scrum half for the University of Oxford. Such was his love of the game, he once missed an exam in order to play in an important game for his home club, Waterloo and on occasion played rugby league under a false name! Though rugby was his preferred game he maintained a keen interest in Liverpool football club and would no doubt have some interesting and entertaining comments to make on the current situation at Anfield.

David took great pleasure in and was immensely proud of his wife Sue's work in art history and his daughter, Esther's budding career in film and media production. He was no stranger to theatre, opera, ballet, fine art and music; in fact, he was a veritable walking ‘What's On' in both sports and the arts.

David Malvern was a great mentor to a great many colleagues in teaching and teacher education. A remarkable, generous and kind man, he died on 23 September aged 63 of prostate cancer.

Dr Andy Kempe

Memorial to David

Sue and Esther Malvern have established a fund in memory of David to be used in support of educational purposes and have asked that this be administered by Professor Paul Croll and Professor Brian Richards.

Friends and colleagues who wish to contribute to this fund should send their cheques (payable to the University of Reading) to Lynn Beecroft at the Institute of Education.  Contributors will be kept informed of uses to which the fund is put.

Sue and Esther would like to thank all those who have already contributed.

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