David Malvern, 1946-2010

November 11, 2010

An internationally renowned leader in science education has died.

David Malvern was born in Crosby, Merseyside on 20 October 1946 and won a scholarship to Merchant Taylors' School before reading nuclear physics at Hertford College, Oxford. He trained as a teacher; taught physics, rugby and drama at Wellington College; spent a year on a kibbutz in Israel; and, after hitch-hiking back to the UK, joined the University of Reading in 1971 as a research associate on a Schools Council project in applicable mathematics.

At this stage of his career, Professor Malvern focused on teaching mathematics and science, notably through a series of books aimed at teachers and students. He later contributed to the Cockcroft Committee's inquiry into mathematics education, the Numeracy Task Force and the Tomlinson Review of 14-to-19 education.

A major shift in Professor Malvern's interests came in 1987 when a colleague at Reading, Brian Richards, published a paper challenging the validity of commonly used measures of vocabulary diversity. This spurred Professor Malvern, himself a talented linguist, to develop a mathematical model that formed the basis for a set of innovative assessment techniques.

More than 100 research teams have now used the methods of tracking language development that the pair honed over the course of a 20-year collaboration.

In parallel, Professor Malvern designed and directed Reading's MSc programme for science teachers, which has had a major impact in many developing countries. He was particularly well respected in Cameroon, where he was made honorary life vice-president of the country's Institute of Physics. He also influenced curriculum development in Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Namibia and Sudan.

Promoted to a professorship in 1999, he was appointed dean of Reading's Faculty of Education and Community Studies and then, after an internal reorganisation, head of the Institute of Education. He also served as a visiting professor at McGill University in Montreal.

"Not only did he seem to know everything but also everyone, which is testimony to the fact that he always had time for everyone," recalled Andy Kempe, senior lecturer at the Institute of Education.

"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 was that he was a veritable walking 'What's On' in both sports and the arts and could chat knowledgeably about a vast range of subjects."

Professor Malvern died of prostate cancer on 23 September and is survived by his wife Sue and daughter Esther.


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