Dr Thomas Kellaghan (1933-2017): An Appreciation

Tom Kellaghan, founding Director of the Educational Research Centre, has died aged 83 years on March 10 after a short illness.  Born in Mullingar, he lived in Tralee for several years before returning to Mullingar to complete his secondary schooling.  He spent time as a seminarian in the African Society of Missions before studying at Queen’s University, Belfast.  He then spent two years in Nigeria where he began his working life as a Research Assistant in the Department of Education at the University of Ibadan.  After completing his doctoral work, he returned to Queen’s as Lecturer in Psychology from 1962 to 1965.

Tom’s association with St Patrick’s College in Drumcondra began in 1962 when he became a part-time lecturer in Special Education.  He was appointed Director of the Educational Research Centre, on its establishment in 1966, a position he held until his retirement at the age of 75 in 2009.  Sharing the grounds of the Teacher Training College, the Centre began with a small library and a few rooms but by the mid-1990s was a purpose-built modern research facility.  Strong links between the College and the Centre developed from the outset.  Resources and expertise were regularly exchanged while student teachers could avail of opportunities to work on research and test-development studies. Tom had a particularly close association with former Vincentian Presidents of the College, Fathers Donal Cregan and Sam Clyne. He was part-time Head of the College’s Education Department from 1971 to 1973 and served for many years on the College Governing Body.

In the earliest years of the Centre’s existence, Tom commenced the evaluation of the landmark Rutland Street preschool project (the first of its kind in Europe), a study which prompted his long-held interest in the relationship between home and school influences on student outcomes. He spearheaded a major international study on the effects of standardised tests with George Madaus of Boston College, also recently deceased, with whom he had a great working and personal relationship. This body of work enhanced the Centre’s international reputation particularly in quantitative measurement and led to the introduction of standardised tests in primary and post-primary schools in Ireland – a development that would later pave the way for extensive use of test results to guide school planning and inform parents about student progress.  He also began a longitudinal study on educational opportunity in Irish schools.

Tom is recognised internationally as a leading educational researcher of his generation.  His publications cover a wide range of topics, mainly in the areas of assessment, evaluation and educational disadvantage but also on school effectiveness, gender inequality and special needs. He authored over 40 books, at least 50 formal research reports and about 150 journal articles some of which were published in major international journals including the Harvard Educational Review and the Journal of Educational Measurement. He was co-editor of the International Handbook of Educational Evaluation and Evaluation Models. This was in addition to his work as the sole and very active critical editor of the Irish Journal of Education from 1967 to 2015 to which he devoted countless hours, sometimes involving multiple rounds of review.

Arising from a combination of his research and other public service, Tom became an authoritative source of advice for civil servants and other policy makers.  As well as serving on the governing bodies of many educational institutions, he was centrally involved in the consultation process, Your Education System, initiated by Minister Noel Dempsey in 2004 and he was principal author of a report on that process in 2005.  He also chaired the Working Group on preparing primary teachers for the 21st century and the Expert Group on Certificate Examinations.  Previously he was a member of the Curriculum and Examinations Board, he chaired the Assessment Committee of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and was a member of the Secretariat for the 1994 National Education Convention.  In 2004, he was conferred with an honorary doctorate of laws by the National University of Ireland.

A fellow of the International Academy of Education, Tom served as President of the International Association for Educational Assessment from 1997 to 2001.  He also served on committees of the Council of Europe and the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development that dealt with educational matters.  Another aspect of his international career was his life-long interest in Africa.  He worked in Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Senegal, Swaziland, Uganda and Zambia and in other developing countries in Asia, South America and Eastern Europe where he was engaged as consultant to governments, the World Bank, Ireland Aid and individual universities advising on examination systems and assessment practices.  In retirement, Tom continued to write and edit extensively.  He co-edited (with Vincent Greaney, formerly of the Educational Research Centre and long-standing colleague) a five-volume World Bank series on how to conduct national assessments of student achievement levels that has now been translated into several languages. His final, unpublished, work on public examinations includes an in-depth analysis of the origins of examinations in ancient China.

Tom was a private person.  Although sometimes shy in social settings, he had a wicked sense of humour and was a formidable opponent in intellectual arguments.  At times, he could be deliberately provocative. He had strong logical reasoning skills and was a meticulous writer.  He expected equally high standards from those around him. To those who worked or studied with him, he will be remembered as a mentor and, often critical, friend who was willing to offer advice and support, and was open to new ideas. He will also be remembered by those who knew him well as a generous individual whose many acts of kindness included financially supporting several people through their education careers, helping young graduates with their theses and career paths, hosting researchers from developing countries, and sharing authorship.  Finally, the staff and former staff of the Educational Research Centre are indebted to him for a job well done. His contributions, which shed a critical light on many of the key educational issues of our times, were immense in Ireland and elsewhere.


For a short trip down memory lane with Tom and broadcaster John Bowman follow the link http://www.rte.ie/archives/2014/0306/600492-learning-for-life/

See also, http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/obituary-tom-kellaghan-1.3055068