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Sara Baker


  • Professor of Developmental Psychology and Education, Faculty of Education
  • Vice Master, Darwin College
  • Senior Fellow in the Science of Learning UNESCO-IBE/ IBRO (2022)

E-mail, Twitter, Phone


+44 (0)1223 767531

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Sara specialises in the science of learning. Her academic research aims to improve children’s lives by identifying factors at home and school that can support their agency over their own learning, in particular by developing their executive functions and self-regulation. Sara uses lab-based experiments and works with educators to translate research from cognitive science into educational contexts. Sara was a 2022 Senior Fellow in the Science of Learning with UNESCO-IBE/ IBRO. She consults on the science of learning and early years education for external organisations. Her projects have been funded by the Newton Trust, a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant, the Economic and Social Research Council, the LEGO Foundation, the Nuffield Foundation and the Office for Students/ Research England.

Alongside her academic research and teaching, Sara holds various leadership roles in the University. In addition to leading the doctoral program in the Faculty of Education and acting as an Academic Project Director in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, she is Vice Master at Darwin College, where she leads the Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity Steering Group. Sara is also the Cambridge academic lead on the Close the Gap partnership between Cambridge and Oxford.


Sara's research interests are based in cognitive science. She studied for her Maîtrise in psychology and cognitive neuroscience at the University of Paris 8 while on placement at the Salpêtrière Hospital's Brain Imaging Unit. Sara then gained her Masters and PhD at the Rutgers University Center for Cognitive Science working with preschool children in schools throughout New Jersey. This led on to a three-year ESRC-funded postdoctoral research position within the University of Bristol's Cognitive Development Centre. Between 2007 and 2010 she was an invited lecturer at the Royal College of Psychiatrists teaching basic psychology. Sara held a lectureship in Developmental Psychology at the University of Salford for one year before joining the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education as a University Lecturer in October 2011. In 2021 she became a Professor in Developmental Psychology and Education. Sara is currently a PI in the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning.


Topics and collaborators

  • Contextual influences on young children's executive functions and self-regulation
  • Programs to improve executive functions and self-regulation in young children
  • Communities of practice, working with educators as co-researchers to develop and test evidence-based pedagogy
  • Collaborators and PhD student projects based in UK, USA, Mexico, Denmark, Slovakia, South Korea, Ghana, Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya

Prospective Masters and PhD Applications

Sara is looking for a number of highly motivated, creative and independent doctoral students to start their studies in October 2024. Please get in touch early (ideally in August, September or October 2023) to discuss a potential project before submitting your application. Applicants are encouraged to outline a set of potential research questions linked to the themes above when making first contact.

The funding deadline is in December 2023. I will make the majority of my doctoral offers by the middle of January 2024. If you wait until 2024 to submit your application, I may no longer have any spaces available.

For Masters applications, it is not necessary to have identified a specific set of research questions when making first contact. Indeed, it is not necessary for Masters applicants to identify a supervisor before they apply.

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Selected Publications

Fajardo-Tovar, D.D., Graber, K.M., Alwani, S.E., Kirby, N., Oxley, L., Baker, S. & Ramchandani, P. (2023) Playing with change: insights and lessons from researching play during the COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Play. DOI: 10.1080/21594937.2023.2209237

Bailey, J., Parsons, O. E., Baron-Cohen, S., & Baker, S. T. (2022). A pilot study of autistic and non-autistic adults’ systemizing in a learning task using observational measures of attention, misunderstanding, and reasoning. Cambridge Education Research Journal, 9, 1-16.

Eberhart, J., Koepp, A. E., Howard, S. J., Kok, R., McCoy, D. C., & Baker, S. T. (2022). Advancing Educational Research on Children’s Self-Regulation With Observational Measures. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment,

Avornyo, E., & Baker, S. (2022). ‘He will play because it is play’. Exploring Ghanaian early years parents’ ethno-theories about play and learning. Early Years.

Baker, S., & Perry, N. (2022). Multiple influences on parental scaffolding for young children’s self-regulation. In (Eds). In M. McCaslin and T. Good (Eds). Encyclopedia of Education. Routledge.

Baker, S., & Le Courtois, S. (2022). Agency, children's voice and adults' responsibility. Special issue editorial: Developing children's agency in theory and practice. Education 3-13.

Baker, S., Le Courtois, S., & Eberhart, J. (2021). Making space for children’s agency with playful learning. International Journal of Early Years Education, 1-13.

Bellaera, L., Weinstein-Jones, Y., Ilie, S., & Baker, S. (2021).  Critical thinking in practice: The priorities and practices of instructors teaching in higher education. Thinking skills and creativity, 41.

Kazanina, N., Baker, S., & Seddon, H. (2020). Actuality bias in verb learning: The case of sublexically modal transfer verbs. Linguistics. , 000010151520200183. doi:

Bailey, J., & Baker, S. (2020). A synthesis of the quantitative literature on autistic pupils' experience of barriers to inclusion in mainstream schools. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 20 (4), 291-307.

Baker, S. (2019). Adult-child interactions in playful early science learning. In M. Peters and R. Heraud (Eds). Encyclopedia of Educational Innovation. Springer.

Marulis, L., Baker, S., & Whitebread, D. (2019). Integrating metacognition and executive function to enhance children's perception of and agency in their learning. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. Special Issue.

T. Krude and S. Baker (Eds.) Development: Mechanisms of Change. (2018). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellefson, M., Baker, S., & Gibson, J. (2018). Lessons for successful cognitive developmental science in educational settings: The Case of executive functions.  Journal of Cognition and Development, 1-25.

Cotton, J., & Baker, S. (2018). A Data mining and item response mixture modelling method to retrospectively measure DSM-5 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in the 1970 British Cohort Study. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 28(1).

Baker, S. (May, 2018). Cognitive skills for active learning in the early years. Impact: The Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching. online here

Avornyo, E. A., & Baker, S. (2018). The role of play in children’s learning: The Perspective of Ghanaian early years stakeholders. Early Years, 1-16.

Lee, M. K., Baker, S., & Whitebread, D. (2018). Cultureā€specific links between maternal executive function, parenting, and preschool children's executive function in South Korea. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 88(2), 216-235.

Burra, N., Baker, S., & George, N. (2017). Processing of gaze direction within the N170/M170 time window: A combined EEG/MEG study. Neuropsychologia, 100, 207-219.

Baker, S.T., Leslie, A.M., Gallistel, C.R., & Hood, B. (2016). Bayesian Change-Point Analysis Reveals Developmental Change in a Classic Theory of Mind Task. Cognitive Psychology, 91, 124-149.

Cotton, J., Baker, S.T., & Wilson, J. (2015). An Exploratory case study of three children with ADHD and social difficulties: Child and parent responses to an educational intervention designed to facilitate self-regulation and deep learning. The Psychology and Education Review, 39, 3-8.

Baker, S.T., Gjersoe, N.L., Sibielska-Woch, K., Leslie, A.M., & Hood, B. (2011). Inhibitory control interacts with core knowledge in toddlers’ manual search for an occluded object. Developmental Science, 14, 270-279.

Baker, S.T., Friedman, O., & Leslie, A.M. (2010). The Opposites task: Using general rules to test cognitive flexibility in preschoolers. Journal of Cognition and Development, 11, 240-254.



Masters in Psychology and Education; PhD in Education


Bachelor's in Education, Psychology and Learning



Dr Audrey Kittredge – Postdoc 2015-2018 - Consultant for UNICEF in 2019; current Senior Learning Scientist, Duolingo USA

Dr Lauren Bellaera – Postdoc 2014-2016 - Fulbright Fellow in 2019; current Director of Monitoring and Evaluation at The Brilliant Club UK

Dr Dee Rutgers - Postdoc 2020-2021; current Research Fellow in Education at Sheffield Hallam University

Dr Sophia Gowers - Postdoc 2021; current Advisor to Irish government on inclusive education and children's voice

PhD students

Soizic Le Courtois - PhD 2022 entitled Fostering and capturing children’s inner motivation to learn in the early primary classroom in England, Reception (= Kindergarden) teacher starting in Sept 2023

Janina Eberhart - PhD 2020 entitled "Young Children's Executive Functions in Context: Classroom Experiences and Measurement Approaches", current postdoc in Tubingen, Germany

Joanne Cotton - PhD 2020 entitled "How do Childhood ADHD and Stress Relate to Adult Wellbeing and Educational Attainment? A Data Science Investigation Using the 1970 British Cohort Study", current ESRC postdoc at MRC-CBU, Cambridge

Min Kyung Lee – PhD 2018 entitled “Associations between Maternal Executive Function, Parenting, and Preschool Children’s Executive Function in the South Korean Context”, current teacher in South Korea

Elaine Gray – PhD 2018 entitled “The Role of Executive Function, Metacognition, and Support Type in Children’s Ability to Solve Physics Tasks”, current postdoc at University of Edinburgh

Esinam Avornyo – PhD 2018 entitled "Investigating Play and Learning in the Ghanaian Early Years Classroom: A Mixed Methods Study", current research fellow at University of Cape Coast, Ghana

Yishu Qin - PhD 2018 entitled "Developing an Implicit Association Test to Explore Implicit and Explicit Stereotypes of Empathy in Scientists among University Students in England", current Lecturer at Yangzhou University


Launch of Early Years Library

Podcast on using play to support self-regulation

Animation on children's agency (related to our publication: Baker, Le Courtois & Eberhart, 2021)

Video interview on children's agency and myths about learning through play in the early years

Blog on Oppression, Agency, Play and Education

Coverage of Bayesian change point work on the learning curve

Coverage of my research on executive functions in young children

Times Higher Education profile piece on playful learning approaches in young children

Podcast discussing play and the learning sciences