Professor Sir David Watson

10 February 2015

We were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Professor Sir David Watson on 8 February. David had been a dedicated and inspirational Trustee of the Foundation for nearly ten years, and had a formative influence on many of the changes here during that time.

David played a significant role in a fundamental reorientation of the Foundation’s education programmes, in particular in the growth of a substantial but focussed body of research aligned to key issues in policy and practice. Under his close and careful watch the Foundation has become one of the most notable funders of education research, in its broadest sense, in the UK. He was an internationally renowned expert on higher education, but had a deep understanding of schools, further education and lifelong learning and those issues where research and evidence could advance policy and practical change. He cared deeply about the potential for education to increase opportunities in life.

He played a particularly important role in our work on all aspects of the teenage years. He chaired the advisory group for the first phase of the Nuffield-funded review of 14-19 education and training, which synthesised a wide-range of evidence. He took a keen interest in the second phase of this project, which resulted in a book containing detailed policy recommendations. David also played an active and strategic role in relation to our programme of work on adolescent mental health, which examined the broader situation of adolescents today.

David’s influence on the Foundation was much wider than our work in education. He had an eye for ways in which we could fund practical projects that built on research evidence. He had an appetite for smaller projects that did not fit easily into mainstream categories but which had the potential to open up new areas of interest. He took a special interest in work that crossed boundaries and was unlikely to be of interest to other funders. And he understood the importance of taking well-placed risks when outcomes could not be guaranteed. He played an important role in our governance, chairing the Foundation’s Audit Committee for many years.

David played an active role in helping the Foundation make the most of the projects that we funded, chairing numerous seminars and events at Bedford Square, invariably raising the level and quality of discussion. His style was one in which there was a sense of occasion, recognising the importance of the topic, but bringing a relaxed informality that brought out the best in everyone.

Through all of this, David was challenging but warm, making tough judgements when those were required, but always in a way that was constructive and that recognised the need for change as well as continuity.

We will miss him terribly.