Recognising the achievements of Professor David Hargreaves

CEO Sue Williamson shares the achievements of Professor David Hargreaves who has received the Lord David Puttnam award for Lifetime Achievement at the National Teaching Awards

Last Sunday, I was delighted to present the Lord David Puttnam award for Lifetime Achievement to Professor David Hargreaves at the National Teaching Awards. David could not attend, so I went to his home to present the trophy and to talk to him about his time in education. He has an impressive curriculum vitae, and, whilst we mentioned the posts he has held, our conversation was more about the drivers in his career.

David’s parents were working class; his father a labourer, and his mother first worked in the cotton mill. They believed that education would help their children out of poverty. At the time of the eleven-plus they put a direct grant school – Bolton School – as their first choice of school for all three children and all got in. As the cost of keeping the three children at school made increasing demands on the family budget, David’s father took a second job as a cloakroom attendant in a night club; and his mother in a dress shop. They worked exceptionally hard to support their three children, but there was rarely extra money for holidays or school trips.

David generally enjoyed school but was never top of the class. He was a dreamer and too inclined to be bored very quickly. He enjoyed the extra-curricular activities, particularly the theatre. He acted in many plays with his best friend – Ian McKellen. Bolton School also funded a trip to Tours for a month in the summer holidays to help improve his French. It was his French teacher, Ken Haigh, who made the greatest contribution to his education. Mr Haigh “exercised the necessary brutality that forced me indelibly to think for myself.” David took his ‘O’ levels at 14 and his ‘A’ levels at 16. The expectation was that he would leave school at 16 and aim for a career as a reporter on the local paper or a librarian. At this point, his Headmaster, Mr F.R. Poskitt intervened. Part of his mission in life was to get bright, working-class boys to university. He summoned David’s parents and told them that David could get into Cambridge, a step that would transform his life.

David’s astonished parents agreed and he won a place at Christ’s College to read theology and psychology. The foundations for an amazing career were established by:

  • Loving parents
  • Ken Haigh – French Teacher
  • F.R. Poskitt – Headteacher

After graduating from Cambridge, David went to teach at Hull Grammar School for three years, and then decided to return to research. This was a period when the universities were expanding and there was a real shortage of people to fill the posts of researchers. He applied to the University of Manchester and was greatly surprised to be offered three different jobs in one day – none of which he felt he was qualified to do. This was not seen by the interviewers as an insurmountable problem, and he was advised that by reading a few books he could prepare himself for the fieldwork of research. This set the pattern for the rest of his career – his fear was boredom, and he was happy to take a risk to increase his professional competence. So, he chose the post in the Social Anthropology department and committed to the path of working with schools. He did a seminal piece of research on Lumley Secondary Modern school about which he wrote his first book. At the time this opened a new approach to educational research by which the researcher lived full-time in the school to gain insight into the lives of teachers and their pupils. After some years in the Education Department at Manchester University he moved to Oxford University, working with colleagues such as Andy Hargreaves and Chris Woodhead. Whilst there, he was invited to Chair the Inner London Education Authority Committee on the under achievement of working-class students – his job was to manage the group and write the report, eventually entitled Improving Secondary Schools.

David has never been an academic to work in an ivory tower – he has always believed on being in schools and knowing the reality of teaching and life in schools. So he insisted that as part of their remit all members of the committee should visit schools. David produced Improving Secondary Schools (1984). He then successfully applied for the Chief Inspector’s post and so was able to influence the implementation of the report. ILEA was abolished and David went to Cambridge as Professor of Education, where his work included school development planning with David Hopkins and others. He served on David Blunkett’s Standards Taskforce. His next challenges were the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority as Chief Executive and Chair of BECTA.  A glittering array of posts, and David would be the first to say that he had to be a continuous learner to deliver the required outcomes.

In 2002, David joined the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust as an Associate Director (Development and Research) and led the work on personalising learning. I was fortunate to be part of a team working with him. The approach as always was to work closely with school leaders. David brought lessons from the business world on the importance of innovation, and we set up innovation networks. He proposed the 9 gateways to personalising learning and SSAT with SHA (now ASCL) held a series of conferences with school leaders on the gateways and highlighting the interesting practice from schools. He created a feedback loop through the writing of pamphlets and workshops and was amazed at the creativity of schools in their implementation. As the work developed over the next few years, we realised that the most outstanding school leaders were paving the way to a fundamental redesign of the school system. I mention this in detail, as David tells me that it was the happiest time of his career. He enjoyed the teamwork and he certainly helped us all with our thinking and writing.  He loved the engagement with schools and seeing the impact of the work in schools. David then worked for several years with the National College for School Leadership, where his most important work was on the need to move beyond the notion of the self-improving school to a bolder vision of how through collaborative partnerships between schools the whole system of schooling, not just individual schools, could become self-improving.

Teachers make lives and all of you will have made a difference to the young people in your care. David is a lifelong learner and teacher – his work has inspired thousands of teachers –  and, I hope you agree, he is worthy of the lifetime achievement award.

One thought on “Recognising the achievements of Professor David Hargreaves

  1. Emeritus Professor Roger Kitching AM on said:

    I was taught by David at Hull Grammar School – I was the only ‘scientist’ in the small group of ‘intellectual’ sixth-formers who gravitated to him. He sat up late with us debating life the universe and everything – making a major impact on me. I subsequently became a research scientist, then an academic and emulated his method of Socratic teaching whenever I could – and, indeed, right now (at the young age of 77) I have a short term appointment in the Czech republic with a remit to ‘broaden the minds of the science post-graduates’ here. If this message could be passed on to David I would be delighted to hear from him (

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