Professor Matt O'Leary

Matt O'Leary

Professor of Education, Director of CSPACE & College Academic Lead for REF UoA23 (Education)

School of Education and Social Work
0121 331 7376

Professor Dr Matt O’Leary is Professor of Education at Birmingham City University. His main research interests focus on education policy and practice in further and higher education, particularly in the context of the professional learning of educators and the development of pedagogic practice.

Professor O’Leary is one of the world’s leading experts on the topic of classroom observation. He is internationally renowned for his extensive body of work on the use of classroom/lesson observation in understanding and improving teaching and learning across colleges, schools and universities. His research has had significant impact in the UK and internationally on education policy and the thinking and practice of education leaders, practitioners and researchers working in all education sectors over the last two decades.

He has published over 50 academic articles, research reports and book chapters. He has undertaken research commissioned by the British Council, Department for Education, The Education and Training Foundation, Further Education Trust for Leadership, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the QAA, University and College Union and the World Bank.

Professor O’Leary’s original, groundbreaking research in the further education (FE) sector in England, funded by the University and College Union (UCU), has had and continues to have far reaching impact on education policy and practice nationally (UCU 2013). This body of work has been instrumental in challenging engrained orthodoxies and influencing policy and practice across education sectors. For example, it has shaped the policy of one of the largest unions in the world, with a dedicated web presence created to capture some of its outputs, along with a review of the main teaching unions’ policies on observation across colleges and schools in the UK. The findings from the UCU project report were widely reported in the national media (e.g. Allen 2014; Morrison 2015) and led to a landmark policy change by Ofsted with the removal of graded lesson observations from its inspection framework.

O’Leary’s work on observation over the last decade has also had a direct impact on higher education Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and Masters’ level programmes nationally. ITE departments (from primary to post-compulsory) have used his work to inform modular content and design on their programmes for trainee and experienced teachers.

Over the last decade, Professor O’Leary has continued to develop his work on observation more recently in higher education (e.g. O’Leary & Cui 2023; O’Leary & Cui 2020O’Leary & Savage 2019), with his ongoing research influencing policy, practice, attitudes, awareness and understanding of observation institutionally, regionally, nationally and internationally. His research has helped to inform the development of an innovative scheme of teaching observations that has reconceptualised and reconfigured observation from something traditionally perceived in education as a narrow, performance management mechanism to an expansive, formative and supportive tool of educational inquiry (e.g. O’Leary & Savage 2019O’Leary & Wood 2017).

Professor O’Leary has written widely on classroom observation, teaching excellence and professional development. His books include Reclaiming lesson observation: supporting excellence in teacher learning (Routledge 2016), Teaching Excellence in Higher Education: Challenges, Changes and the Teaching Excellence Framework (Emerald 2017) and the highly acclaimed Classroom Observation: A Guide to the Effective Observation of Teaching and Learning - Second Edition (Routledge 2020). His newest book is Developing Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education through Observation. (Routledge 2023), co-written with his BCU colleague Dr Vanessa Cui.

Recent research projects that Professor O’Leary has led on include:

Enhancing Learning and Teaching Quality through Collaborative Observation (Funded by the QAA – £10,000)

The role of leadership in prioritising and improving the quality of teaching and learning in further education (Funded by the Further Education Trust for Leadership – £59,000)

Understanding, recognising and rewarding teaching quality in higher education: an exploration of the impact and implications of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (Funded by the University and College Union – £40,000)

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