Professor Donald McIntyre

Pioneering educationist

Donald Ian McIntyre, educationist: born Edinburgh 3 January 1937; teacher, Dunfermline High School 1960-61; Lecturer in Education, Moray House College, Edinburgh 1961-65, 1967-69; Research Tutor in Mathematical Education, Hull University 1965-67, Senior Research Fellow, then Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader in Education, Stirling University 1969-85; Reader in Educational Studies, Oxford University 1986-95; Professor of Education, Cambridge University 1996-2004 (Emeritus), Head of the School of Education 1997-2002; Fellow, Hughes Hall, Cambridge 1996-2004, Life Fellow 2004-07; married 1964 Anne Brown (two sons, one daughter); died Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire 16 October 2007.

Donald McIntyre, Emeritus Professor of Education at Cambridge University, was a remarkable builder – of educational institutions, educational ideas and educational partnerships. He left a lasting mark on the departments he led; both Oxford and Cambridge universities are heavily indebted to him.

McIntyre was already a Reader at Stirling University, with a formidable reputation in Scotland, when Oxford University courted him in 1986 for a prestigious Readership. At that time the department had a director but no chair, the post of Reader somehow signifying the university's ambivalence about Education as a subject for serious academic enquiry. Although Oxford was beginning to forge a reputation in teacher education, its research was in a parlous condition, a position that was brought home by the results of the first Research Assessment Exercise.

Where others saw problems, McIntyre saw opportunities; he committed himself wholeheartedly to providing research leadership. A few years later, Richard Pring joined as the new professor and within a decade the transformation was complete – Oxford had a vibrant teacher internship programme, a flagship master's course in research methods, a group of colleagues who had become confident researchers and a research culture of the kind that was expected. Unfortunately, formal recognition from the university's grandees for McIntyre's achievements was slower to emerge. Whilst Oxford dithered, Cambridge pounced.

The Oxford turnaround had been extraordinary but Cambridge was to provide a still greater challenge. Education at Cambridge was in a much healthier state but curiously (to the outside world at least) spread across three institutions: the Department, the Institute and, on the fringes, Homerton, Britain's leading college for teacher education.

The vision for a unified Faculty of Education had emerged some years earlier but McIntyre's arrival in 1996 was to prove catalytic. His distinctive contribution was to persuade the university that it was in its interests to have a large and successful stake in Education. There was resistance in some quarters but when Cambridge was finally convinced, it delivered handsomely, underwriting its commitment with some of the finest facilities in Europe. McIntyre served as the first head of the combined Faculty, from 2001 to 2003.

Donald McIntyre was educated at George Watson's College in Edinburgh, subsequently studied Maths and Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University and took a master's degree in Education. He then taught at Dunfermline High School, had a brief spell at Hull and lectured at Moray House College in Edinburgh.

His classroom experiences provided him with a set of litmus tests for his subsequent research. The newly founded Stirling department was already beginning to establish a reputation as a centre for radical innovation when McIntyre joined in 1969. It is striking how far his first major book, Teachers and Teaching (1969), co-authored with Arnold Morrison of Stirling, still resonates today.

In Making Sense of Teaching (1993), co-authored with Sally Brown, he developed the concept of professional "craft knowledge". In order to change teachers, one must get inside their heads, nurture their professional interest in developing and, crucially, forge partnerships with them. These insights were to form the basis for a series of pioneering initiatives.

McIntyre's commitment to developing the UK's capacity for high-quality research went well beyond the boundaries of the universities which employed him or the interests of the many research students he supported. His career spans the development of educational research from an embryonic area of enquiry to a fully fledged social science. The first conference of the British Educational Research Association was held in Stirling in 1975 and, two decades later, McIntyre was to serve as its president. He was much in demand as a "critical friend" to other universities. He supported major reforms to the provision of research training, an area in which his wife Anne, in her own quiet way, had already initiated developments through her job at the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). His continuing contributions to the infrastructure of Scottish research were recognised through the award of honorary doctorates from both Edinburgh and Dundee.

McIntyre recently addressed Cambridge's research students on the various lessons he had learnt during his career. Delivered with characteristically wry humour, his sub-text communicated that one should do as he said, not as he had done. The first lesson? "Find good colleagues."

In this instance, he clearly followed his own advice. His numerous collaborators testify to his wisdom, generosity and the productivity of their relationships. The only downside was the lengthy delay that typically occurred between the completion of a project and its publication. However, relieved from the burdens of Cambridge politics, his muse started to flow again – his name has appeared on the cover of no less than five books in the last three years.

Perhaps his most powerful legacy will emerge from his work with the late Jean Rudduck. Sent off to the publishers just three weeks before she died in March, Improving Learning Through Consulting Pupils (2007) will come out next month. It is a tour de force which combines McIntyre's unswerving instinct for supporting teachers with Rudduck's unstinting respect for "pupil voice". Their collaboration reveals the massive potential sitting in the nation's classrooms waiting to be unlocked.

McIntyre was demanding of himself and of others; he thrived on hard work and never really retired. He died of a heart attack after returning from a visit to Africa where he was engaged in strengthening teacher education.

John Gray