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david layton


Emeritus Professor David Layton, OBE, MA, MSc

Emeritus Professor David Layton, OBE, former Professor of Science Education, died on 28 November 2010. 

David Layton was born in Darlington in 1925.  He was a pupil at Sir William Turner’s School, Coatham, Redcar, where he enjoyed considerable success both academically and on the sports field.  He went up to St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1943 to read Natural Sciences and played for the University 1st XV at rugby.  After graduation, he spent two years carrying out scientific research in industry before taking up a teaching post in 1947, at the County Grammar School, Bolton.  Two years later, David moved to the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where, as well as teaching science, he was master in charge of rugby.  He distinguished himself in both capacities.  In 1957, he was appointed to a new post, as Director of General Studies, at RGS, Newcastle, his responsibilities in this regard including looking after the interests of pupils applying for University entrance.  Following a period of part-time study, David was awarded his MSc degree by the University of London in 1955.  His thesis, on the popularisation of science in Great Britain between 1650 and 1800, was the first fruit of what was to prove an enduring interest in the development, influence and diffusion of scientific ideas and in the educational functions of science.

Appointed Lecturer in the Department of Education, as it then was, in 1960, David went on to make major and seminal contributions to the development of science education.  His achievements were based on his success as both scholar and teacher, his outstanding organisational abilities and unfailingly good judgement, and his estimable personal qualities which inspired the warm cooperation and loyalty of students and colleagues alike.  At Leeds, David was initially responsible for the course on the teaching of Chemistry in secondary schools but in 1963 he was appointed to the newly-created office of Deputy Head of the Education Department.  For the next nine years, he took responsibility for the administration of the Department’s higher degree programmes, the establishment of a full-time MA programme and the introduction of the teaching of Curriculum Studies into higher degree programmes at Leeds some years before other universities followed suit.  The 1960s witnessed a pronounced expansion in the number of science graduates following the Department’s Graduate Certificate programme, and a parallel increase in the number of students on higher degree programmes, a growing number of them from outside the UK.

David Layton was closely involved in the study and evaluation of the extensive developments in science education in schools which took place during the 1960s, both in this country and abroad, under the aegis of bodies such as the National Science Foundation, UNESCO, the Nuffield Foundation and the Schools Council.  He was also in large measure responsible for the planning and development of Science Teaching Laboratories which ensured the Department was fully equipped to sustain a comprehensive programme of both initial and in-service training.  It was a logical progression when, in 1970, David was the principal architect behind the establishment of the Centre for Studies in Science Education.  He was the inaugural Director of the Centre and continued in office until 1982.  From the outset, the Centre, under David’s inspirational leadership, pioneered a wide-ranging and varied programme of both in-service education and research.  The research programme sought to balance shorter-term studies on problems of immediate relevance with longer-term, more fundamental enquiries.  The span of research activity was wide and reflected David’s recognition that science education involved much more than teaching and learning.  It embraced participation in school science curriculum projects, the growth of children’s understanding of scientific concepts and socio-historical studies of the politics of the school curriculum.  Complementing the Centre’s activities, David founded the journal Studies in Science Education in 1974, which continues to be an influential international review of research in the field and of which he was to remain editor until 1986.

David was appointed, in 1973, to a new Chair in Science Education.  In the same year, one of his most influential volumes, Science for the People: The Origins of the School Science Curriculum was published.  Illustrating the attempts to accommodate elementary science as an integral component of education for all, the book posed questions which went on to be taken up by scholars in a variety of disciplines and which continue to be of critical importance within debates about the future of school science education.  Further articles, books and reports followed, all characterised by an elegant and lucid prose style and informed by his historical scholarship, sensitivity to wider political issues and hospitality to international developments in science education.  These, together with David’s other accomplishments, were central to the establishment of the international reputation that Leeds continues to enjoy in the field of science education.  Recognition of this came in numerous guises, not least in the decision of the then Department of Education and Science to establish its flagship Assessment of Performance Unit for Science jointly at Leeds and the then Chelsea College London.  David himself held several visiting professorships and acted as consultant to a number of national and international organisations with an interest in science education.  In 1988, he was co-opted to the National Curriculum Working Group on Design and Technology, a co-option that reflected his scholarly exploration of the nature of technological activity and its interactions with scientific knowledge.

Over the years, David served as a wise and respected presence in the counsels of the University.  At one time or another, he was a member of all the major Senate committees. He chaired the Board of the Faculty of Education from 1976 to 1978, and the Committee on Representatives from 1976 to 1988.  He served as President of the Yorkshire Region of the Association for Science Education, an organisation of which he wrote a history (Interpreters of Science) and was made an Honorary member.