In picking a first LEGO Professor of Play in Education, Development and Learning, Cambridge University opted for a world-leading researcher.
Prof Paul Ramchandani, who will take on what has been described as the most coveted job in education in January, according to the Cambridge Evening News .
He beat off competition from a 10-year-old boy from Buckinghamshire, to land the dream job.
The move comes after the university’s Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning (PEDAL) was established in 2015 with a £4 million grant from the LEGO Foundation.
The money also covers the appointment of a professor, and Prof Ramchandani will leave his role as head of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Research Unit at Imperial College to slot into the Cambridge job.
The new centre is examining the importance of play in education, so that children are “equipped with 21st century skills like problem solving, teamwork and self-control”.
The work of the centre, based at the university’s Faculty of Education, is currently focused on how home and school life promotes children’s playfulness, understanding the brain processes involved in play.
Prof Geoff Hayward, head of the Faculty of Education, said: “Prof Ramchandani has an outstanding research record of international stature. He has the vision, leadership, experience and enthusiasm that PEDAL needs, and we are delighted that he is joining us.
“This is an exciting area of research, which we feel will throw new light on the importance of play in early education.”
Prof Ramchandani said: “Everyone has an opinion about what role play should have in early education and there is some wonderful research, but there are also big gaps in our knowledge.
“We need the best evidence possible in order to inform the vital decisions that are made about children’s education and development and I look forward to taking that work forward together with colleagues at Cambridge.”
Prof Anna Vignoles, acting head of PEDAL until Prof Ramchandani takes up the new post, said: “The value of play is relatively under-researched. You have people who are claiming that it enhances learning, that it’s important, that it’s good for children’s wellbeing. All of that might be true, but actually there’s remarkably little evidence for that.
“The aim of the PEDAL centre is to conduct rigorous research into the importance of play and how playful learning can be used to improve students’ outcomes.”