Professor Bob Burden addressing the International Thinking Skills Conference, June 2013.

Professor Bob Burden

21 January 1940 to 22 March 2014

(Head of School of Education, University of Exeter, 1999-2002)

Bob made a difference. His research in educational psychology covered a wide range of topics but shared a concern with improving the quality of children’s experience of school. His influential ‘Myself as a Learner Scale’ revealed the importance of how children think about and respond to education. Bob’s work on the self-image, as learners, of dyslexic children was cited by the Rose report of 2009 and led to positive change in government policy. Bob’s approach to teaching thinking focused on shifting the attitudes towards learning of children, teachers and schools.

In 2005, when he became a Professor Emeritus, he established the Cognitive Education Centre, which later became the Cognitive Education Development Unit. This promoted his whole school approach to teaching thinking and has had an impact not only in the UK, where there are now many ‘Thinking Schools’ accredited by Bob and his team, but also in countries around the world. Bob’s research focus reflected his personality. He cared about people. His engaged and supportive way of working with colleagues and students exemplified the kind of person-centred education that he advocated. He was always present as a whole person, never hiding behind his official role.

The messages have been flowing in to us and show how many people he touched through his wisdom, generosity and compassion.

If you would like to share your memories (or watch the funeral service) please email Lucy Smith and we will add them to this page.

The Powerful Teddy Bear

A forceful presence with a soft underbelly,
His status was belied by warmth.
A man in authority, as a woman I could have been silenced.
Instead, he gave me a place to speak.

We fought over meaning and truth.
He shouted at me, I shouted at him.
He was honest with me, I was honest with him.
Prof and student, in his office we were equal.

I saw him reel in the opinions of others,
Laughing at foibles, redirecting,
Overturning, persuading.
But also listening, trying to understand.

He hated inactivity. He hated yielding to weakness.
I cannot really believe that cancer could overturn him.
Because of you, Bob, I’m a different person.
Within us, your influence and love remain.

Ruth Gwernan-Jones

He really is why I’m a researcher now, he made a real commitment to me and supported me wholeheartedly, and he was so good at it.

Ruth Gwernan-Jones

I met Bob many years ago when I was doing my training in Feuerstein's methods of Dynamic Assessment. Bob has always been the most passionate supporter and advocate of Feuerstein's theories and their application. He was one of the first people to bring Feuerstein's ideas to the UK, and the very first person to bring Feuerstein and his team here in the early nineties.

From the beginning I was impressed by Bob's ability to bridge the gulf between complex theories and teaching practice, so when I was first thinking about my doctorate it was natural for me to contact Bob. He was Head of School then, and extremely busy, but he agreed to be my supervisor and managed to help me formulate my ideas into a more credible project. His advice, support, wisdom and humour helped make that experience of study a profound joy. We became and remained close friends.  Using Feuerstein’s ideas as its strong theoretical basis Bob established the Cognitive Education Development Unit (formerly the Cognitive Education Unit) in 2007.

Those of us who have had the privilege of working with Bob well know his ability to debunk pomposity and humbug, and get the job done. It never ceased to amaze me the breadth of interests he had and the number of people whose lives he touched. Only last week he was meant to get together for a reunion with a group of school friends from Kilburn Grammar in North London. As Bob could not get up to London they came down to Exeter to see him. He was always a Kilburn lad at heart.

It will take me a very long time not to say to myself, I'll see what Bob thinks. It's become a habit.

I attach here a photo of Bob with me and an ISPA colleague, Bernie Stein, from Israel. Happy days.

Judy Silver

Bob was a colleague and friend whose passion for promoting education in so many different ways was an inspiration to many of us at GSE and indeed internationally. He will be sorely missed.

I don't usually contribute to such forums, but I would like to say something about legacies. After all, perhaps the only positive in the passing of a valued member of a community is the opportunity for those remaining to pause and take stock. And it seems so easy (especially, in highly-pressured times) for a community to lose some of the truly good things that Bob embodied.

On each visit and encounter in the past year or so I was struck by the way he managed a public show of both courage and humour despite desperate illness. He never lost his curiosity or idealism. He continued to talk about the futures of others when he saw none for himself.

After a round of redundancies at GSE some years back, I recall asking Bob how he had dealt with the same situation in his time as Head of School. He told me that he informed people as simply and gently as he could, doing all possible to make those involved feel that it was due only to external factors - and not related to any perceived failings on their part. He said he would sit with them and try to grab at any positives - then when they had left, and the door was closed, he wept.

I will miss his compassion.

Martin Levinson

I was a great fan of Bob's and worked with him closely on the Children's Fund research and other work.

He was always cheerful, encouraging and supportive of colleagues in their endeavours.

Bob - we will all miss you greatly.

Pam Freeman

He was so determined to overcome his illness by working tirelessly to help schoolchildren.

Tricia Nash

Bob was indeed an outstanding colleague and friend to so many of us in GSE and beyond. During his long career at Exeter and reaching out internationally he was passionate about children's learning and changed so many lives through his work. He was indeed an inspiration and those of us who knew and worked with him can all feel very fortunate to have been able to do so.

He will be very much missed.

Anna Craft

Bob's passing is a great loss to education and we remain thankful that he had the time with us in Malaysia. Please send our deepest condolences to his family and that we in Malaysia have him in our thoughts.

May we all remember him as a wonderful contributor in the field of education for about three decades.

May his soul Rest In Peace. Warmest regards.

Education Team @ Agensi Inovasi, Malaysia

He was one of the first people we knew from Exeter when we were still in Dubai, and was instrumental in persuading Salah to apply and eventually get appointed. We won't forget that.

Susan Riley

I am really sorry to hear about Bob. He will be sorely missed. He was my PhD examiner and I always felt a connection to his humanist approach to cog education.

Dr Louis Benjamin, Director of TSSA

I am so sorry. This is a real loss.

A wonderful, creative man, always willing to share his knowledge, to think up new rating scales and to promote his thinking schools objective. He was as much at home with advocating an understanding of dyslexia and the impact it has on affected individual sufferers as with critical thinking and with describing the criteria by which we might identify thinking schools. He will be sorely missed by those of us who shared his passions.

Dr Anita Worrall, Chairperson of TSSA


Our hearts go out to you and your colleagues on the passing of Bob Burden.

He has been an inspiration to many, and we will always remember him with gratitude. He inspired our founding members to create TSSA, and he gave us a road map to develop thinking schools that will continue to impact on education in South Africa for many years to come.

With deep sympathy on your loss.

Jane McIntyre (CEO) and the TSSA Team


I was fortunate enough to meet Bob as part of my EdD studies and even more fortunate to have him as my supervisor. He was a master in the art of challenging thinking in a non-threatening way. An hour with him seemed like two minutes and I always looked forward to our next meeting. My work with Bob continued after my studies as part of the Thinking Schools programme and I was incredibly proud when he referred to me as his friend when he addressed the Thinking Skills Conference in 2013. There are few heroes in education but Bob was certainly mine. I will miss him enormously.

Dave Walters


The first time I met Bob I found him surrounded by mountains of paper in his office, feet on his desk.I needed to ask him for a signature. He seemed to be in the middle of a Very Important Meeting that had somehow morphed into a genial coffee morning.He came across as simultaneously intensely benign and razor sharp. The signature was no small thing. It opened a door.He knew it and I knew it. What power he had was wielded with grace and humour. There are few like him.

Anthony Wilson


So sad to hear this news...I just can't believe it. Bob's book inspired my research in teacher cognition...

Li Li


I am very saddened to hear of Bob's death - he was a lovely man with a big heart as well as a much respected expert and practitioner in his field. I still vividly remember Bob's inaugural address in which he used movie clips - especially from Hope & Glory - to paint a picture of his development and that of his field. I always felt a special kinship with Bob because he grew up in Kilburn and I grew up one mile away in West Hampstead, London NW6

Bob was a larger than life character and his intelligence, charm and warmth will be sadly missed.

Paul Ernest


I worked for Bob for 11 years and continue to do so!  He was a fantastic man always grateful, patient, funny, interested and interesting.  I will miss our time working together.

Lucy Smith


Bob was an unassuming and humble man with a brilliant brain but not very good with the workings of a computer and printer! It was easy to work with him, so amiable and sociable and he treated everyone equally. I have had the pleasure of knowing Bob for over twenty years and my husband and I have had his company on the badminton court as well. He was fiercely competitive and a strong opponent. Even with his poor health he continued to smile, chat, and be positive. His last visit to see his study and St Luke’s for one last time was only ten days before he passed away. I was one of the fortunate ones to be able to give him a hug and without saying anything, we both knew that the clock was ticking. Bob will be greatly missed but his memory will always live on. May he Rest in Peace.

Tamara Snell


I can't imagine life without him and feel so very sad too.

Sue Chedzoy

I have many memories of Bob, but the most powerful memory that stays with me goes back to when I first heard him speak at a conference at London. This is many years ago and I was a newly qualified educational psychologist struggling to make sense of the professional role. Bob was a breath of fresh air who stood up and said without doubts what was wrong with the traditional EdPsych assessment role. I was so impressed. There was an article based on this in a later copy of the AEP journal, which I think this was a classic statement. It revealed what I began to understand about Bob’s perspective to the field and his keen understanding of important fields – the learning environment, dynamic assessment , thinking skills, dyslexia, self image/self concept and motivation. These were areas that he worked in and developed.  Bob’s being at Exeter University was in part a reason for me deciding to come to work here. I found him very supportive when we settled here from London and his support was always much appreciated. There is more that I can say but that is it for now. I will miss him as many others have also said they will.

Brahm Norwich


It is indeed a sad day. Bob was definitely 'one of the the good 'uns' and, will be sorely missed. His wonderful person-centred approach made him a role model for educators everywhere. I enjoyed many joint supervision sessions with him and frequently learned as much from him as our students did. We would often also enjoy a 'Grumpy Old Person's' chat over a coffee afterwards when we would put the world to rights! We continued to meet and correspond from time to time until it was too difficult for him to get out & about or to use the computer. Just before Christmas he was still intending to make it to the Waitrose cafe for a catch-up chat over a tea-cake! His optimistic outlook and great sense of humour made even dark days seem brighter and the world already seems a duller place without him. May he rest in Peace.

All good wishes,

Cheryl Hunt


Like everyone, I was very sad to hear the news about Bob; I found him warm, kind, inclusive, cheerful, witty, principled, wise and immensely knowledgeable. His personal support for my equality and diversity work in the School of Education - when such work was not a university-wide priority -  was timely and  very important to me.

Nick Givens


I first met Bob in about 1980 when he and Mike Golby appeared miraculously to provide stimulating professional development to teachers still struggling to establish the Comprehensive School in Tiverton, where I was head of English. His open, encouraging and generous manner announced him as a potential friend. Much later he became so, and a good one, especially when I was recruited to the School of Education. We shared a belief in universal education and a respect for individual worth. His work focusing on self-conscious thinking skills is very important. He won world wide respect for that and much of his other work.

Bob will also be mourned in Mongolia where he and I ran the last of three EU funded educational projects from 2005 -2008.

We were able to assemble a remarkable small team of volunteer academics from Exeter who first landed there one February morning into a temperature of -33 C, as announced by our pilot. I remember quite clearly Bob's accusing question, 'What did he say!!!?'. I had warned them it might be rather cold.

Though he hated flying Aeroflot, was distressed by the mess that is Ulaanbaatar and the chill of that first landing there, Bob was impressed by the people with whom we  worked and that took him back time after time. He was very taken by the enthusiasm and dedication of the young Mongolian lecturers and by the commitment of school teachers with whom we constructed a professional development programme that far exceeded the exemplar reach for which we had been funded.  They liked him too.

He was a good man, a loyal friend and one who contributed generously to the good of mankind.

Will Taylor 


"I was very saddened to hear the news and have special memories of Bob as a colleague and mentor. He supported my transition into academic life in his usual kind, unassuming and compassionate manner. Bob always had something valuable to add to any discussion and kept me firmly grounded! He will be missed by countless people whose lives he has touched- including me"

Debbie Watson (nee Morgan)


Bob and I had some wonderful times together, many of them with Richard Cummins in the days when we were all getting to grips with David Hyerle's Thinking maps and trying to fit them into his cognitive programme. Bob came to many of our early conferences and was always his happy, positive self. There he was, in the back of the car, at dinner, sitting at a conference table with lots of teachers, always with a cheerful comment and interested in all around him.

I remember so many happy times: fish and chips at Topsham, dinner at Exeter in the lovely modern building, walking around Exeter Uiniversity before he led in the academic procession, talking over and over again about ways to introduce Thinking Maps to schools, the development of the British schools accreditation programme, and the many times I saw him around UK with Richard.

Because of him, I nearly did a doctorate at Exeter, because of him I learnt about places in the world that were interested in education (Mongolia for goodness sake!), because of him I learnt a lot about humility and becoming something else when you have been so much in an earlier life.

I too, like Richard, will never forget Bob.

I'm glad David's book comes out now because it will be yet another thing Bob cared about.

Gill Hubble, Educational Consultant, New Zealand.


I first met Bob in the late sixties when I was teaching and thinking about becoming an educational psychologist.  He was a few years older than me but we both grew up in London and went to schools in the area.  He was a friendly and intelligent individual and always inspiring.  I was a member of the British Psychological Society and I remember an early conference when he, John Acklaw and others debated the then current topics for educational psychologists.  When he went on to set up the Exeter training course in the seventies I became a senior psychologist in Yorkshire.  My wife and I set up holidays for children with disabilities using empty residential schools.  This was to give respite care for parents who had the burden of coping with children with a disability.  Bob kindly persuaded his trainee educational psychologists to volunteer to come on these residential experiences where they learned first-hand the techniques needed for managing children with all kinds of educational and physical problems.  The trainee psychologists were a great help with the task of entertaining these children for a week or a fortnight.  Later when I was Principal Psychologist for Kirklees he kept in touch and again provided support and advice over the years.  Of course we often met up on courses or conferences where apart from the academic inspiration we also enjoyed time in a group sometimes very late into the night.  I was for a time a visiting lecturer for the training course so I visited Exeter on many occasions.   I read every paper he produced which was imaginative, inspiring and thought provoking in a style that not many other psychologists could emulate.  I am so sorry that I have not seen Bob for some years now and I am sad that he has left a gap in the educational psychology field that we all will sadly miss.

Robin Hedderly


I have known Bob for a relatively few years, during which time he guided and informed the work of Thinking Schools International. The way in which he quietly reflected upon the most simple question and gave it value, will remain with me.He provided a substantive authority and legitimacy to our organisation; his passing leaves a vacuum.He was fun, interesting and and a nice person to be with. Just a shame those times were not more frequent. We shall miss him.

Teresa Williams, Thinking Schools International


I was deeply saddened to hear of Bob's passing.  I was fortunate enough to have him supervise my MEd dissertation in 2008/2009 and since then he has been a quiet but inspiring presence in my writing and practice. His signature ensured my place on the EdD programme and he was one of the first handful of people I rang in January when I passed my viva.  He inspired me to question everything in my practice; to know the rules and break them; to challenge everything about my work as a teacher. I am very lucky to have spent hours drinking tea in his cosy little office at St. Luke’s and I will miss him dearly.

Andrea Vasconcelos


I enjoyed working closely with Bob in the last two years.  I was impressed with how engaged and supportive he was despite the struggle with his health. His thinking was clear and insightful. We last met less than a month before his death. He knew that he was not getting better but he did not want to talk about that. He wanted to talk about ideas and about our ongoing work together. We talked for two hours. When I left him I felt more positive about life than when I had arrived. Under the circumstances that was remarkable. He was a great guy.

I can't be at the funeral because of a trip to South Africa taking Bob's work forward but my thoughts will be with him and with everyone there.

Rupert Wegerif


RIP: A beloved friend and adviser

Bob has been a true friend to us over the past 29 years and will be very sadly missed. We have been honoured by his help, advice and support over this time, which has been both considerable and insightful. He was a man of great patience, energy, and foresight; always willing to listen and ready to help.  From beginning to end his counsel has been greatly appreciated and we are both deeply saddened by the loss of our great friend and colleague. Bob seemed to embody the principle of ‘giving psychology away’ in all that he did, in the way he was his memory lives on.

A faithful friend is a source of strength; whoever finds one has found a treasure. (Sirach 6:14)

Anne and Michael Crumpton


Bob was a SPECIAL MAN.

I just don’t have enough words to thank him for what he did for me. Besides being my academic supervisor, he was like a father and a friend. I have been honoured to have known Bob during my time at Exeter,

and have kept our contact till the past few weeks. Thank you Exeter for bringing him into my life, and May he Rest in Peace.

Joseph Matare


Thanks for this sad news. It was Bob who gave me my break onto the Exeter programme and gave me a liberating sense of anything is possible in the EP world. He certainly widened my horizons by his willingness to challenge orthodoxy. He was also fiercely loyal to the EP world and his trainees. He will be much missed by generations of trainees and the profession.

Best wishes

Mark Fox, Programme Director; University of East LondonPROGRAMME


I was really sorry to hear of Bob's death. Please can I offer my sincere sympathies and condolences to Bob's family and friends in Exeter.

What I really valued about Bob, as a psychologist and tutor, was that he was prepared to question and challenge the status quo, whatever that was. He always seemed prepared to consider new and unconventional approaches to delivery of educational psychology to children and young people.

I have Bob to thank for introducing me to Feuerstein's instrumental enrichment/dynamic assessment and working systemically in schools. Two fields of professional practice that have been hugely influential on me and many others.

I also have very fond personal memories of my training year in Exeter under Bob/John's tutelage and my subsequent contact with Bob. I always enjoyed his youthful enthusiasm, mischievous approach and the many accounts of his childhood in London and about the many films he had watched. 

You could always guarantee that when you met Bob he would always greet you with a beaming smile and a pat on the back as a long lost friend. I also recollect the close personal and professional friendship held between him and John and the level of trust/understanding that appeared to be held between them which was crucial to the success of the Exeter programme.

These are all qualities that I shall miss with Bob's passing, but I hope that his professional inheritance will live on through the many trainees, like me, that he influenced.

With best wishes and deepest sympathies to all who new Bob,

Nick Durbin, Programme Director; University of Nottingham


Thank you for letting us know that Bob died on Saturday. I was very sorry to hear this news and would like to send kindest regards to all of you in Exeter who knew Bob well over the years.

Gill Rhydderch, Programme Director; University of Cardiff


Sad news indeed. Bob was a passionate influence on so many. He will be missed.

Best wishes to you all,

Simon Gibbs, Programme Director; University of Newcastle 


I am so sorry to hear this sad news. Bob made a very important contribution to educational psychology and will be greatly missed.

Our thoughts are with you all at this sad time

Best wishes 

Vivian Hill, Programme Director; and IOE team, Institute of Education - University of London


Many thanks for sharing this sad news. Many colleagues here knew Bob well, and all appreciate the enormous contribution he made within and beyond our small, beleaguered profession.

All best wishes from all here to you and the Exeter team,

Sue Morris, Programme Director; University of Birmingham


I got to know Bob in the nineties at a difficult time for me and his inspirational lectures (never a one way event, but always drawing from us MEd students real thinking) lit up my life at that time. He supervised my dissertation with so much patience and positive encouragement; his friendship then was so valuable and changed the way I thought about teaching. It changed my interactions with pupils and then with my family and friends. I owe him the the most immense debt. I last met him at Martin Hughes' memorial gathering in Bristol, when he told me of his cancer. His death still comes as a terrible shock and I mourn him along with so many many others. I hope that his legacy will be found in the educational experiences of children taught by his students and colleagues.

Liz Vizard


Bob and I were same age city boys and I first met him during the mid-late 1970's at St Lukes. I followed immediately behind Bob as a Ph.D. student under the auspices of the marvellous team at St Lukes, Prof Ted Wragg, Dr David Evans, John Thacker, Peter Gurney et al. 

Bob always showed much interest and support in the Self-Voice concept and encouraged several workshops at St Lukes. A few years ago I was in dispute with another University and went to Bob for advice. He put his reputation on line, listened and viewed the evidence and proved a colossus in terms of advice and support. He helped completely change a very difficult situation. 

Bob's funeral was most moving and bore testament to the esteem in which he was held by both family, friends and colleagues. To all organisers and those who participated very many thanks. 

Bob Burden was a very dear friend and colleague. My last conversation with him included the merits of the western 'Shane'. I shall miss him.

Colin Lane Ph.D.


May I offer my deepest sympathy to Professor Bob Burden’s family, friends and colleagues.

I shared with Bob his commitment to research, including with the Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment programme for the teaching of thinking. We were hoping to work together on a publication about methodological issues in implementing and evaluating that programme. He had published key papers relating to that programme, and I also valued his broad perspective on evaluation, including his important contribution of the SPARE wheel model for evaluation of cognitive enhancement programmes, which took into account the learning process and the learning context.

I also valued his kindness and empathy, as a colleague and friend.

Dr Dorothy Howie, Director, Australasian Institute for Learning Enhancement, Auckland, New Zealand.


Bob & friends whitewater rafting in Fraser Hills.


Bob had touched our lives, made the difference wherever he had been and he turned us around with his gracious, humble and passionate self. He has always been a great source of inspiration for us, mentoring, guiding and assisting us in our Phd journey. We were very blessed to have had Bob with us as companion, sharing with us a part of our journey in life, through the many adventurous trips to the Kalimantan forest in Sarawak, the Borobudur in Jogjakarta, the and the Angkor Watt in Kampuchea.  Bob had always pushed himself to the limits, from scaling Mount Merapi (5,600 ft above sea level), an active volcano in Java island, to whitewater rafting in Fraser Hills. Bob was our “God sent Guardian Angel”, who with his wisdom, love and compassion had won many hearts and friends during his numerous visits to Malaysia.

His last words to me were “We will do the craziest feats in my next visit” and “We will always be Best Friends Forever”. Bob will be sadly missed but will affectionately be remembered by all of us. He has left behind a legacy for all of us to enjoy and love what we are doing and to make the impossible, “I M Possible”.

Bob, we all know you will be smiling down on us from Heaven above.
Our love and our hearts go to you, Pauline.
Bob, you will always be “Our best friend forever!”

Oo Pou San
Ng Swee Chin
Kwang Chit Hwa
Piong Teck Wah
Choy Swee Chee

Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Bob scaling the peak of Mount Merapi, a remarkable feat (5,600 ft above sea level).

Bob & Oo, at the ruins of Borobodur, Java, an ancient (9th-century) Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Magelang, Central Java.