Morag MacLean 1955-2020

An appreciation by her colleagues and former students of Oxford Brookes University.

Morag MacLean, senior lecturer in Psychology, passed away on 9 December 2020 after a short illness.

Morag obtained a BA (Hons) in Psychology from Goldsmiths College, London University in 1977 and then a qualification in Social Work from what was then the Oxford Polytechnic. At the same time she took up a position as Research Officer in the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford with Peter Bryant and Lynette Bradley. There she worked on the pioneering 15-month longitudinal study of young children’s knowledge of nursery rhymes and their phonological skills1. Her fun and friendly demeanour no doubt contributed to the successful data collection for this project.  Morag had several further publications in this area, which were critical in laying the foundation for further research on the topic and benefited the teaching of reading to children in schools across the world.

Morag became a lecturer in Psychology at Oxford Brookes University in January 1990. Her Psychology and Social Work qualifications, combined with her warm and caring nature, put her in an ideal position to teach Psychology to Social Work and Health Care students. Morag readily took up important positions of responsibility, most notably working on the University Research Ethics Committee for 17 years, where she was greatly respected for her meticulous yet pragmatic approach.

Morag taught across Undergraduate and Postgraduate Psychology programmes in areas of Developmental Psychology and Research Methods. She was an inspiring, conscientious, caring and supportive teacher. Morag built confidence in her students, helping them to believe in themselves and to focus on developing their skills and knowledge at whatever level they were working. Morag provided colleagues with similar levels of care and support, and was particularly adept at helping new staff settle into the Department, delivering wise and humorous advice for the weeks and years ahead.

Morag’s own research interests developed from early childhood phonological skill to aspects of parental reflective function, mind-mindedness and their impact on parent-child interaction and child development2. With a genial, sensitive approach and good listening skills she was able to put children and parents at ease and to engage even the most reticent participants. Morag also published work in children’s understanding of emotion and understanding of risk3.

Morag was an active member of the Developmental Psychology section of the BPS. Her roles included Information Officer, Conference Organiser and Newsletter Editor. She was also a reviewer for the British Journal of Developmental Psychology and British Journal of Educational Psychology. Morag regularly participated in the BPS Developmental Section Annual Conference, often supporting her own students to present their work.

Morag was a thoroughly talented Psychologist and researcher, with a sharp mind and keen intellect. Outside of work her passions included travel, cooking, gardening, music, Scotland and cats. Some of these were shared through photos of the Scottish Isles above her desk, her nurturing of office plants and many cat anecdotes! She will be fondly remembered by staff and students as a caring, supportive and dedicated colleague and teacher.

Morag spent her last days at Sobell House. Donations may be made via the Sobell House website.

Anna Barnett

Professor in Psychology

Oxford Brookes University

Reflections from staff and students at Oxford Brookes University:

Maxine Fletcher, Head of Psychology, Health and Professional Development, shared her thoughts:
Morag was a wise, dedicated, capable, warm and utterly splendid woman. I held her in the very highest regard and I shall miss her very much.

Vince Connelly, Programme Lead for Psychology, reflects on the positive influence that Morag had on her colleagues:
We all knew and loved Morag for the great colleague and close friend she was to us all. Someone who has always been there for us, from the day all the psychology staff arrived at Brookes, has been suddenly taken away. Her kind words when she first welcomed anyone to the team, the chats she had with everyone when they were down or needing encouragement, all made an impact on us that is difficult to underestimate. Professionally we have lost a colleague whose expertise and psychological knowledge was at the centre of our activities.”

Tributes and fond memories have flowed in from many students and alumni who have all been touched by Morag’s knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for psychology.
She was a wonderful teacher and lecturer. Her lectures on Vygotsky are still so clear in my mind seven years later. Perceptive, funny, challenging and a great listener. Thank you, Morag.”

I looked forward every week for her lectures. She had such an important influence on the path I took in psychology, she has been a continuous inspiration throughout my studies. She will be missed.”

Such a loss for all. I remember when she invited me to her office to just let me know how proud she was of me. She was there for everyone!

Her lectures were a pleasure to attend, she was witty and funny, and simply bursting wit enthusiasm about her subject... During lectures she would go off on other relevant interesting tangents and it was clear she could have delivered an entire course on what she had to say. If you had a question or comment she would give a detailed, thoughtful answer which was always a delight. May we all have such engaged, curious, enthusiastic minds..”

Morag was my academic advisor who helped me navigate through my academic journey, especially when things were turbulent. She had the ability to make anyone feel calm and respected, and showed incredible understanding. I really admired her intelligence and her kind nature and how much she really cared about psychology and her students. I will always carry her ethos with me... “

“Morag was an amazing lecturer and such a supportive supervisor during my dissertation. She truly laid the foundation for my academic journey.”

I remember Morag’s lectures for developmental psychology, including her teaching us to count to 10 in Japanese in less than 5 minutes which I have never forgotten!”


1MacLean, M., Bryant, P. & Bradley, L. (1987) Rhymes, Nursery Rhymes and Reading in Early Childhood. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 33, 255-281.

2Illingworth, G., MacLean, M., & Wiggs, L. (2016). Maternal mind-mindedness: Stability over time and consistency across relationships. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 13(4), 488-503.

3Joshi, M. S., MacLean, M., & Stevens, C. (2018). Accident frequency and unrealistic optimism: Children’s assessment of risk. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 111, 142-146. 

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