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Jon Ogborn (2011)

Joan Bliss obituary

Miscellaneous publication, The Guardian newspaper.

(full text)

My wife, Joan Bliss, who has died aged 74, was remarkable for the sheer determination with which she made a successful and happy life out of very dismal early prospects, a story told in her 2009 memoir, A Path Made By Walking.

She was born into a working-class family in Fulham, south-west London, who were bombed out in the blitz. Her father caught mumps and died when Joan was six. Despite missing much primary schooling, she won a grammar school place, but her mother then withdrew her at the age of 16.

Joan left home and took a few secretarial jobs, but wished to travel and hoped for better opportunities. Aged 19, she went to France with £20 in her pocket, and in one year passed all the exams needed to enter the University of Geneva, where she studied child development with the psychologist Jean Piaget.

Piaget appointed Joan to his staff while she was only a second-year undergraduate, and she worked with him until he retired, in 1971. In the late 1960s she also helped to set up the Centre for Child Development and Education in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), a country she came to love dearly.

After Piaget's retirement, she moved back to Britain to work at the centre for science and mathematics education at Chelsea College, south-west London. Her three books, Checking Up I, II and III (published 1971-73) were early examples of "formative assessment" aimed at helping teachers to see what children next needed to do in order to learn.

In the 1980s Joan founded the interdisciplinary and inter-institutional London Mental Models Group, bringing together science educators, psychologists, linguists and computer scientists to learn from one another. It was her enthusiasm and fascination with people and ideas that held this unusual group together for more than a decade, and helped it to win funding in the UK and in Europe.

In 1996 she became professor and dean of education at Sussex University, retiring in 2005. Joan lectured and taught research methods around the world.

It is for her personal qualities that Joan will chiefly be remembered. She combined warmth, joyousness and enthusiasm for life with great directness and strength of character. Always to be found helping someone, she knew exactly what she felt, and never concealed it from anyone.

She is survived by me, three stepchildren and her sister.

Richard's PhD

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