Carol Fitz-Gibbon was born in Manchester in 1938. She secured a state scholarship to study physics and geography at the University of London (1959) and began her career teaching physics and mathematics, first in East London and then in Arizona and California (1959-70).
While working for a master’s at the University of California, Los Angeles (1971), she obtained a grant from the US Office of Education to study gifted inner-city children at UCLA’s Center for Evaluation. She developed this into a doctorate on peer tutoring in schools (1975) and continued her research at UCLA, while also co-authoring highly successful textbooks on How to Design a Program Evaluation and How to Analyze Data.
In 1976, Professor Fitz-Gibbon returned to England, initially as a temporary lecturer at what is now the University of Manchester. She moved on to become lecturer (1977), senior lecturer (1985) and, eventually, professor (1991) at Newcastle University’s School of Education, latterly in parallel with a role as director of the Curriculum, Evaluation and Management Centre (1989-96).
Professor Fitz-Gibbon was inspired by the rise of evidence-based medicine and committed to rigorous empirical investigations and, where possible, genuine experiments. At Newcastle, she developed the A-Level Information System (ALIS) as a means of providing detailed, confidential data to help schools improve their processes and outcomes.
From Newcastle, Professor Fitz-Gibbon moved to Durham University (1996-2003), bringing with her what is now the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM). There, she became increasingly critical of the methods used by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) to assess schools, and this drove her to set up an Office for Standards in Inspection to challenge them.
Rob Coe, CEM’s current director, described Professor Fitz-Gibbon as “the most innovative educational thinker I have known”.
“When I first met her in the early 1990s, Carol was energetic and forceful in a scatter-brained, whirlwind, big-personality kind of way,” Professor Coe said. “She described herself as ‘a grandmother from the North’, and seemed to take pleasure in the way ‘men in suits from Westminster’ would sometimes appraise her small stature, Lancastrian accent and friendly, unimposing manner, only to be blown away by the force of her intellect and passion when they, with almost inevitable predictability, said something uninformed or contrary to good evidence.”
Professor Fitz-Gibbon died of complications arising from Parkinson’s disease on 19 January and is survived by a son, a daughter and seven grandchildren.