Professor Ron Davie 1929-2019

An appreciation from John Visser.

Ron Davie, who died late last year, left school at 18 and after a few years in industry was able, with a Local Authority grant, to obtain a psychology degree at the University of Reading. He continued with studies obtaining a teaching qualification alongside a specialist qualification in the teaching of children who are deaf, from the University of Manchester. After some years teaching in mainstream and specialist settings, Ron trained as an educational psychologist at the University of Birmingham. His first post in this role was on the Isle of Wight.

In 1964, he was appointed Senior Research Officer at what became the National Childrens Bureau. In this post, he had particular responsibility for what became a seminal research project, the National Child Development Study. The research team at the Bureau worked with a sample of 15,000 children born in the week 3-9 March 1958. Ron’s vision and drive in this post contributed to the team completing the task just within an 18-month deadline. The project and subsequent follow-up research laid the base for his interest in multi-professional approaches to meeting the needs of children and young people, who were vulnerable within society and particularly within education. He developed a passion for breaking down the barriers that existed between different professional groups. He obtained funds for a follow-up study and surveyed the cohort when they were eleven years old and the resulting publications became seminal works for those of us working with children and young people, influencing our understanding of the factors which impede their development. In 1973, aged just 43, he was made a fellow of the British Psychological Society. 

He was encouraged by colleagues to consider a move into academia, resulting in his appointment as Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Wales, Cardiff in 1974. It was as a student on his Masters program on what was then maladjustment that I first came into contact with him.  He also ran what was a pioneering Masters course for senior staff in secondary schools with the aim of achieving institutional change. I played a very minor part in this program, but was able to witness his challenge to staff to think out of their silo’ and examine their possible contributions to meeting the wider needs of their pupils.  A study conducted by the Welsh Office concluded that this program had had a significant positive impact upon academic achievement and lowering factors such as truancy.

His activities as a Professor were not confined to just the academic. He chaired various groups of professionals encouraging multi-agency working in more joined-up ways. He contributed to research groups in an advisory capacity; the DHSS appointed him as chair of their research projects, and he chaired the Welsh International Year of the Child in 1979.

His next move saw him appointed as director of the National Childrens Bureau. He set out to move the Bureau more towards policy and practice issues, though it continued to retain some research capacity. Under his guidance, the Bureau developed and disseminated examples of good practice particularly involving multi-agency approaches. His guiding mantra was one of finding and promoting policies and practices, which had a positive impact on the care and education of children and young people.

During his time as Director, he was asked to serve and help advise the All Party Parliamentary Group for children. The esteem in which he was held by a cross-section of professional groups led to him being made an Honorary Fellow of the British Paediatric Association and a Fellow of the Royal College Paediatrics and Child Health. He also served  on the National Curriculum Council where he was able to influence the guidance that the initial curriculum documents gave on the inclusion and teaching of children and young people with special educational needs.   

After retiring, Ron was persuaded to use his extensive experience in the field by accepting a post as an expert witness for the Official Solicitor with regard to work within the Family Courts. This involved work across a wide range of legal cases and local authorities across England, providing advice on the often complex needs of children and young people. Along with this, time was given to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal.

During this retirement’ period he found time to support the creation of the National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN). In this work, our paths crossed again and I can bear witness to his mediation skills as we brought two charities together to form the new association. Once formed, he was elected as NASENs first President. His knowledge of the professional cultures and training of the different professionals in what was then called Special Educational Needs and his contact with members, led to the compilation of advice which was influential on the format and content the Governments  publication An SEN Code of Practice’.

Ron began to withdraw from his many professional commitments in 2000, finally stepping down from the SEN Tribunal in 2004.

Ron was rightly, but quietly, proud of his contribution to professional development and training over his lifetime. His knowledge and understanding of children and young people were easily shared with all who had the good fortune to work or listen to him. One may not have agreed on everything, but his gentle challenge always made one think through and take on board advice he gave. He, along with others, led the charge to breakdown the silo’ mentality which was prevalent when I started work in the field, some fifty years ago.

His was a well-lived, professional life and his work remains influential. He is survived by his wife Kathleen and children Alison and Neil.

Professor John Visser 

University of Northampton

See also our interview with Ron

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