We are delighted to announce that Kathy Sylva, Emeritus Fellow of Jesus College and Professor Emeritus of Educational Psychology at the University of Oxford, has been elected to the British Academy.

Kathy’s election to the prestigious Academy, an independent fellowship of world-leading scholars and researchers in the humanities and social sciences, is in recognition of her wide-reaching academic research and expertise in the role of learning experiences at home and early childhood centres in shaping children’s development, and the impact of that research on informing early years’ policy and practice. 

Prof Kathy Sylva

She is one of 86 new Fellows elected to the Academy’s world-leading Fellowship this year, of which 46% are women.  The organisation also acts as a funding body for research, nationally and internationally; and a forum for debate and engagement.

After completing her BA, MA and PhD at Harvard, Kathy moved to the UK where she began studies of the contribution of guided play to children’s learning. She is well-known not only for her expertise in the effects of early education and care (including parenting) on children’s development but also for longitudinal studies and robust trials of interventions in both the UK and low-income countries. Her current research, funded by the Sutton Trust, focuses on ways that early childhood settings support language development in children.

Kathy was awarded an OBE for services to children and families in 2008 and the British Education Association’s Nisbett Award for outstanding contribution to educational research in 2014. She is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and was a Specialist Advisor to the House of Lords Enquiry into Affordable Childcare (2014-2015), and to the House of Commons Select Committee on Education (2001-2008).  She also holds honorary degrees from the Open University, Gothenberg University and Oxford Brookes University.


Of her election to the Royal Academy, Kathy says, "It is an honour to be elected to the British Academy at a time when research in the Humanities and Social Sciences is contributing to an inter-disciplinary response to health and social  challenges.  My work lies at the intersection between psychology and education, a no-man’s land characterised by very practical needs and a range of research methods. When I first embarked on applied research, I knew it was a risk to leave well-trodden paths in psychology.  However I try to bring the rigour of psychological methods to interventions that support families and childcare centres as they shape the child’s intellect and imagination. I am delighted that the British Academy has recognised the work of researchers who aim to make a difference, no matter how small, to the lives of children, families and teachers."

Our Principal, Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt FRS, said, “This is a wonderful recognition of Kathy’s work and contribution to the field of preschool development and education. I know I speak for the whole College community in congratulating her on this notable distinction.”

Read more about the British Academy's 86 new Fellows here