Professor Matt O'Leary


Professor in Education

School of Education and Social Work
0121 331 7376

Professor Matt O’Leary is Professor of Education and co-director of the education research centre CSPACE at Birmingham City University. His main research interests focus on the impact of education policy on teaching and learning and the interface between the two, especially in the context of professional learning and the development of pedagogic practice.

He is internationally renowned for his extensive body of work on the use of classroom/lesson observation in understanding and improving teaching and learning. 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 decade.

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.

Since his move to Birmingham City University in 2015, Professor O’Leary has continued to develop his work on observation more recently in higher education (e.g. O’Leary & Cui 2018; O’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 2019; O’Leary & Wood 2017).

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

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)

Improving learning and teaching through collaborative observation (Funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England - (£48,727)

Professor O’Leary is also the founder of #ReimagineFE, a grassroots movement that has made a significant contribution to and impact on the thinking and practice of practitioners, policy makers and professional bodies across further education since its creation in 2016. Supported by two of the largest bodies representing members across these sectors, the University and College Union and the Education and Training Foundation, its annual #ReimaginingFE conference has become a leading national event for policy makers, leaders and practitioners.

Professor O’Leary is a member of the Ofsted Further Education and Skills Research Reference Group, a group of leading academics who inform and advise concerning research relevant to the Ofsted inspection framework for the Further Education and Skills sector. He has also advised Ofsted on lesson observation since 2014. He is the co-convenor of the British Educational Research Association’s Special Interest Group for Post-Compulsory and Lifelong Learning.

Professor O’Leary’s 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 Classroom Observation: A Guide to the Effective Observation of Teaching and Learning - Second Edition (Routledge 2020).

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