Professor W. D. Wall

Gifted educational psychologist
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William Douglas Wall, educationist and psychologist: born Carshalton, Surrey 22 August 1913; staff, Department of Education, Birmingham University 1945-53, Reader 1948-53; Head, Education and Child Development Unit, Unesco 1951-56; Director, National Foundation for Educational Research in England and Wales 1956-68; Dean, Institute of Education, London University 1968-73, Professor of Educational Psychology 1973-78 (Emeritus); Scientific Adviser, Bernard van Leer Foundation 1978-82; married 1935 Doris Satchell (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1960), 1960 Ursula Gallusser (one son); died Burnham Beeches, Buckinghamshire 7 October 2003.

There is not much that can be described as advantage arising from the severe economic depression of the 1930s in Britain. Neither is there much to be said for the Second World War as cure for some of the economic ills of the time. One thing, however, can be claimed as gain. In W. D. Wall, the combined influence of these events produced a leading expert on educational research, an educational consultant of international standing and an entrepreneur ever active on behalf of children in Britain and across the world.

Moreover, this expertise was informed by a close grasp of the cognitive and emotional processes underlying human development and the psychological difficulties posed daily for many children and adults.

William Douglas Wall was born in Carshalton, Surrey, in 1913 and attended Purley Grammar School. At 16 he left to train as an architect but when qualified he never practised. The Depression led to the closure of the architect's office where he worked, with almost no other work around in that field. He decided to return to full-time education and read English at University College London. There he gained a first class honours degree and was John Oliver Hobbes Scholar.

Thereafter followed a period teaching English, first in Sussex at the Grammar School, Steyning, then at Bede Collegiate School in Sunderland, Co Durham. War service as an instructor in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps then intervened and this proved a trigger for Wall's move into psychology.

Faced with a high level of illiteracy among conscripts, he recognised that many had also experienced problems in adolescence. With the aid of colleagues in the Education Corps, he founded the first centre for remedial education for illiterate men and women. Simultaneously he set about obtaining psychology qualifications at University College and after demobilisation gained his PhD in Psychology at Birmingham University. By then he had been appointed to the teaching staff there. Within a short time he founded a new journal, The Educational Review, and rose in 1948 to become Reader in Education.

In 1951 Wall moved to Paris as Head of the Unit for Education and Child Development at Unesco. For five years he devoted his enormous energy and psychological knowledge to creating a series of international expert studies of problems relating to the establishment of school psychological services, the organisation of nursery school education, investigation of failure in school, school examinations and the development of alternative means of guidance and evaluation in education.

At Unesco Wall forged links with other UN agencies, governments and non- governmental organisations across the world. In Britain he served the BBC Advisory Group on the Social Effects of Television, the Police Training Council and the General Nursing Council, in each case as long-term educational adviser. Through his membership of the British Psychological Society (BPS) Wall played a role in the development of LEA Educational Psychology Services, whilst the American Psychological Association sought his help over the training of school psychologists in the US.

Among many books Bill Wall wrote or edited, one of the best known is an early publication, The Adolescent Child (1956). It contains chapters on the development of the self that are still quoted today. Another book worthy of special mention was Constructive Education for Children (1975) which, with its companion volume on special education, assembled a wide-ranging review of research findings that he hoped specially would be helpful to teacher training courses in developing countries where library resources are scarce.

The international links established through Unesco were to prove of great value to the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) when Wall joined them as Director in 1956. The ensuing period has been acknowledged as crucial for this organisation's early development as an educational resource of outstanding repute. It was at this time, at a meeting of European Centres of Educational Research, that a decision was taken to set up the International Project for the Evaluation of Educational Attainment. From 1958 to 1962 Wall served as its first chairman. Simultaneously he became chairman of the UK National Child Development Study and continued in this post until 1978.

In 1967 Jean Piaget, one of the most eminent psychological researchers of the 20th century, invited Wall to become Professor of Education and Co-Director with himself of his Institute at Geneva. Although fluent in French and easily able to teach psychology in that language, Wall declined. Instead in 1968 he became Dean of the University of London Institute of Education, where his former close colleague at Unesco Professor H.L. Elvin was by then Director.

In 1972, he took the opportunity to attend more to his academic interests and was appointed to the Chair of Educational Psychology at the Institute. For six years he served as Head of the Department of Child Development and Educational Psychology until in 1978 he resigned to take up the post of Scientific Adviser to the Bernard van Leer Foundation in The Hague.

The scope of Wall's achievements is both diverse and impressive. Piaget's assessment of him as the "complete educator, who combines the qualities of the psychologist with that of the teacher, and who reconciles a high idealism with rare administrative and diplomatic gifts" offers no exaggeration. Not that Bill Wall would ever have owned up to any moral high ground for himself. Throughout his career he never forgot that the success of his efforts was in the final analysis to be judged in terms of benefits actually achieved for children and adolescents, and help given to support their teachers - face to face at local grass-roots level whenever possible. According to this criterion, his impact was seminal.

Derek May