Derek May (1936–2018)

An appreciation from colleagues.

Derek May was a well-known and well-loved figure to many people at the Institute of Education (IoE), not surprisingly considering he worked there for 50 years. Born in Walthamstow he passed a scholarship exam to Leyton County High School, became a Tottenham Hotspur supporter (nobody’s perfect) and turned his attention to psychology, graduating from Nottingham University. This was the beginning of his lifetime commitment to psychology.

He took up a lecturing post at IoE in the 1960s, following his graduation, and he tirelessly championed the role of psychology in education. His work over the next 50 years was to have a remarkable impact. Thousands of students were touched by his vision of psychology: students who experienced the department he helped to shape and build, students he lectured, and students whose master’s and PhD dissertations he supervised. Derek was a warm and effective mentor of staff. He acted as a mentor to Geoff Whitty, former Director of IoE, when Geoff first joined IoE.

Derek had a depth of understanding of how psychology, especially social psychology, was relevant to education, and had a unique way of making it accessible to students and teachers. Evidence of this was provided only recently when on a visit to a school in Tower Hamlets, a member of IoE staff spoke with a senior teacher who had very fond memories of Derek. She described Derek’s supervision as a ‘transformative experience’ that fundamentally changed her approach to her work with children, contributing to her practice then and now and informing her own training of the teachers of the future.

His influence reached far beyond IoE. He was a very active member of the British Psychological Society (BPS), editing one of its publications for many years and promoting the role of psychology in education nationally. He served in the Royal Commonwealth Society and worked in India and Hong Kong to teach about the contributions of psychology to education internationally.

He influenced students in many countries worldwide. IoE staff still get mails from students in far-flung corners of the earth who are putting to use his insights, understandings, knowledge and confidence to make a difference.

He also trained as a counsellor and worked as the Academic Counsellor for IoE for many years, supporting students who were struggling with psychological barriers to their studies. He continued to teach a Counselling module in Psychology and Human Development, IoE until 2016, constantly updating his own counselling practice. For those of us in Psychology and Human Development he was also a colleague of whom we were inordinately fond. He was always ready to listen, consult and discuss ideas with colleagues (not infrequently over a glass of red wine).

It is difficult to sum up the contributions of this man who quietly, like a stone dropped in a pond, radiated his commitment and humanity in ever expanding ripples.

He is sorely missed. Farewell, Derek.

Jane Hurry, Peter Blatchford and Dawn Male
Department of Psychology and Human Development,
UCL Institute of Education

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