Institute of Education


Q&A with Professor Peter Blatchford

Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Education at the IOE's Department of Psychology and Human Development.

What is your role and what does it involve?
I am Professor in Psychology and Education and have had continuous research funding for many years to support several programmes of research - on class size, Teaching Assistants, collaborative group work, and peer relations in schools. I also teach at MA and doctoral level.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I have been at the IOE for many years! I started a research post in 1981 on a large scale ESRC study of pupil progress in inner London schools at Thomas Coram Research Unit and apart from a brief period working on teacher training in 1989 I have been at UCL Institute of Education since - in what is now called the Department of Psychology and Human Development

I actually left school at 16 and was a telephone engineer apprentice for two years before deciding I needed to change my career - this was after all the 1960s and there was change in the air - and decided to move on by doing A Levels at college in East Ham and then university - not common for children where I was brought up.

What's the most important thing you've learned from your students about the subject you teach?
That a critical evaluation of what counts as evidence in research is vital - but it goes further than that. Many of our students work in schools and so the relevance of the findings for practice and policy also needs to be worked through. Responsibility for what we find doesn't just stop with publication in journals.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
Once we had the unexpected results from the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff project - that the more support pupils had from Teaching Assistants the less progress they made - I was pleased with the way the team and I worked through all the observation, interview and questionnaire data to develop what has become an influential explanation for why Teaching Assistants can have a negative effect - and what we can then do about it. After a talk I gave at the University of Melbourne the discussant praised us for the bravery shown.

This is an unusual way of looking at research but in the early days it really felt we were challenging established ways of doing things, and there was a lot of initial resistance from policy makers, government and some in schools. But we were confident in the research and stood our ground. The important thing is what's best for children.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list.
It's become apparent that commentary and policy on education is more and more distant from children's and teacher's everyday classroom interactions and experiences. We need up to date close observations on the classroom factors that support or hinder learning.

Top of my list is closer attention to the semi-private world of peer relations in schools - we know so little about them but they have a huge role in filtering what the teacher says and on learning. Also the way that classroom features like within class groupings and the size of the class affect teaching and learning. There's far too much tinkering by politicians with structures when the real key is the classroom and teaching.

What would it surprise people to know about you?
It's not a surprise to my closest colleagues but I am a season ticket holder at West Ham United. I was born and went to school in Barking and played in the same football team as Trevor Brooking.

What other piece of research outside of your own subject area interests you?
I am fascinated by research on sleep and dreams. We all sleep and dream but their purpose and meaning is so mysterious.