School of Education

Staff Supervision Areas

Within the school's research centres there are specific project areas for which supervisors would particularly welcome applications. Please click each name to see more information and topics that our supervisors are interested in. Applications are not limited to these topics and you may suggest an alternative research topic provided you meet the following: 

  • The suggested topic is focused on one of the school's research centres and 
  • There are staff appropriate to supervise the topic. Where this is the case, applicants are strongly encouraged to identify and make contact with a potential supervisor prior to submitting an application.

Learning Sciences Research Institute

Professor Shaaron Ainsworth

Drawing to Learn

When children and adults are learning complicated new ideas, research suggests that drawing can be an effective and engaging way to learn. 

PhD projects in this area could research how drawing can support learning across the curriculum and in a range of age groups. They could explore how drawing supports observation, how it can be used to learn representational conventions and whether it can be used as learning strategy. They can explore if there are individual differences that moderate the effectiveness of drawing to learn and whether training can help people draw to learn better. Finally, PhD projects could explore how technology mediated drawing (for example by drawing with fingers on a tablet) change the process and outcomes of drawing to learn.

Please contact Shaaron if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Dr Mary Oliver 

Learning in and through science 

Scientific literacy in schools is at the front of political debate about the teaching and learning of science in schools. We are interested in working with doctoral students in science education associated with cognitive acceleration (CASE or Let's Think), the development of reasoning in and through science, and developing understanding in science. The enthusiasm for inquiry based learning warrants greater research to inform practice as our data show that only the cognitive components are important in promoting understanding. 

Whether you are interested in finding out more about the effective aspects of inquiry-based learning, or the impact of classroom talk in developing understanding in science, using PISA data to learn more about 'successful' learning, or experimental case study in science education, you are welcome. Outside the immediate science in classroom work, we are also interested in other aspects that impact on individuals and society, such as the Big 5 personality factors, girls in science and moral reasoning.

Please contact Mary if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Dr Jane Medwell 

Literacy Learning

Learning literacy in schools and homes remains a key topic in education. Moreover, it is a topic which only becomes more compelling as new research emerges and as literacy changes in response to new societal demands. We are interested in ways children learn aspects of writing and reading processes and how we can intervene to support individuals and classes. This important field should be considered in the contexts of schooling and home life and is accessible through a number of methodologies.

If you are interested in experimental work in literacy, case studies of practices or exploration of new pedagogies, you have the potential to make a contribution to the field.

Please contact Jane if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Professor Sarah Speight

Pedagogy, policy and strategy in higher education

The experiences and outcomes of students in higher education are directly impacted by institutional policies and practices, and the agility of teaching staff in making changes to teaching practice based upon a range of data-sets. There are challenges to deal with as the higher education sector pursues innovation, most often through technology, but also strives to deliver a consistent experience for all students and to build the confidence and capability of teachers. Doctoral-level studies can make a valuable contribution to developing our understanding of how institutional policies affect the lived experience of students, what the role of technology should or can be, how we develop effective evaluation mechanisms for both student satisfaction and learning, and how we devise inclusive curricula that enable all students to achieve positive outcomes.

Sarah is interested in research proposals that focus upon staff and student experiences  of teaching and learning in higher education, and upon the impact of institutional strategies and policies upon both the quality and the enhancement agendas.

Please contact Sarah if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.



Centre for Research in Human Flourishing 

Professor Stephen Joseph 

Authenticity and well-being

Research shows that the more we are able to live an authentic life, the happier and healthier we are. It is thought that this is because when we are true to ourselves we are using our strengths, we feel intrinsically motivated, and we have a sense of meaning and purpose in life. As such we are motivated to learn and to develop personally.

Stephen is interested in how authenticity research can be applied to education, counselling, psychotherapy, and coaching. Such studies might be based in schools, higher education, or the clinic. He is particularly interested in the person-centred approach developed by Carl Rogers as providing a theory of therapy and positive education to underpin projects.

Please contact Stephen if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Dr Gary Winship 

Education and Mental Health 

Mental health is an on-going global concern and we need to learn more about the way in education can be understood and delivered in a way that optimises well-being, and the way in which systems of education (schools, universities, life-time education) can be developed with an integrated mental health agenda.  This field of education praxis can be understood as Orthopedagogy. Schools can act as therapeutic communities in the development of pupil well-being through the group and social dynamics of democratic citizenship, social games, play and sport. But many of the processes that impact on the development of well-being, and those events that lead to distress are not well understood. We don't know enough about the effect of birth order, and there are ongoing challenges to develop better understanding of patterns of attachment (both from the perspective of young people as well as teachers), including how group dynamics (and bullying) impact on well-being, confidence, character building and anxiety.

Schools and HE institutions are now expected to function as primary mental health settings where concerns can be identified and early interventions can be delivered, including prevention strategies. We need to know more about how schools (primary and secondary) can identify and tackle issues such as suicide, self-harm and substance misuse (including alcohol and drugs, or addiction to games), trauma, eating difficulties and other mental health concerns (including some concerns at the sharper end of things such as fire starting, psychosis, impulse control). What are the constituents of a milieu that is safe, contained and emotionally attuned? What are the contributions and skills of the various practitioners, including counsellors, teachers and others who work in Schools and HE who might be developing psychoeducation approaches with the aim of helping children and young people understand themselves, and developing the necessary emotional resilience and interpersonal capabilities to overcome adversity.

Please contact Gary if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Dr Max Biddulph 

Max's research supervision areas include: Affective experience and education:

  • experiential learning
  • lifelong personal development
  • personal, social, health, citizenship education

Communities as social spaces:

  • identity, social space and sexuality
  • school ethos and micro-politics

Gender, masculinities and identity:

  • working class masculinities and education
  • masculinity and sexuality
  • intimacy and men's relationships

Queer identities:

  • homosexuality, heterosexism, homophobia, heteronormativity and education
  • LGBT teachers and students in educational settings

Qualitative research:

  • activism
  • arts-based methods
  • visual methods
  • autoethnography
  • ethnography
  • performance narrative
  • validity
  • verisimilitude and trustworthiness

Sex and Relationships education:

  • practice, context and culture
  • HIV/AIDS education

Research topics of current and recent students include:

  • Emotional experience as a developmental process in the training of language teachers

Please contact Max if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Dr Anne Emerson

Anne is particularly interested in supervising projects in the following areas:

  • The role of neuroscience in understanding the learning and support needs of children with special educational needs and teacher skill development
  • The impact of disabled children on families, trauma, post-traumatic stress and growth and trauma-informed practice
  • Promoting engagement in children who struggle to learn, particularly non-verbal children

Please contact Anne if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Dr Belinda Harris 

Belinda's research supervision areas include:

  • cultural issues in communication and counselling
  • experiential learning
  • personal development
  • professional development
  • promoting emotional development in organisations

Please contact Belinda if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.


Centre for Research in Educational Leadership

Professor Howard Stevenson

Teachers' work, teacher professionalism and education policy

Teachers' work is changing. Although classrooms continue to look much like they have done for decades there are real signs that the basic nature of teaching is changing. New routes into teaching, shifting demographic profiles within teaching, new modes of managing teachers' labour and the possibility of technology having a significant impact on the teaching process are common experiences in many parts of the world. These shared experiences in part reflect the growing influence of transnational edu-businesses as educational ideas, innovations and policies circulate around the globe with increasing rapidity.

There is therefore a need to understand the changing nature of teaching. Are changes we see further incremental change in an on-going evolution of the role, or are we at a point when a number of factors may genuinely transform teaching, and what it means to be a teacher? What will the educational workforce of the future look like? What will teaching as work look like, and how might the professional identities of education workers be shifting?

PhD studies in these areas may take a range of different methodological approaches, but offer the possibility of helping analyse and understand significant developments in the work of teachers and the teaching profession. Quite how significant is what we need to better understand and highlights the need for new work in this area.

Please contact Howard if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Professor Tony Bush

 School Leadership and Management

Tony's research supervision areas include:

  • School leadership and management
  • Leadership development
  • Leadership theory
  • Leadership for learning
  • Mentoring and coaching
  • Diversity and school leadership
  • International and comparative school leadership

Please contact Tony if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Dr Andrew Townsend 

Principal areas of interest for research supervision include:

  • The management and leadership of education
  • Participatory approaches to change and research including: action research, participant voice and practitioner research
  • Professional, practitioner and institutional networks
  • Individual and organisational development and change
  • School improvement

Please contact Andy if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.


Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy

Professor Pat Thomson 

Learning in, through and with the arts and creative pedagogies 

The arts are often seen as a luxury, dispensable, elitist and/or unintelligible. Today, under austerity politics, policy commitment to formal arts learning in schools, colleges and universities is waning, and funding for arts organisations - big and small - has been dramatically reduced and rationalised. Creative pedagogies, most of which use artistic practices in conversation with pedagogical content, are regarded as empty headed, backwards and devoid of content.

Pat is interested in talking back to these narrow and instrumentalist views, working with doctoral researchers who conduct careful and lively studies of arts and creative pedagogical practices. Such studies might be based in schools, colleges, universities, communities, theatres, museums or galleries. The studies will be underpinned by commitments to social justice, seeing participation in arts and cultural pursuits as a human right.

Research projects will:

  • aim to show the ways in which the arts and creative practices are platforms for exploring ideas
  • challenge narrowly conceived ways of knowing and communicating
  • offer highly nuanced and persuasive accounts of pedagogies and learning

Doctoral researcher may work in ethnographic or action research traditions, incorporating visual research methods, but could equally use mixed methods or life histories. There are numerous gaps in current knowledge including research which examines:

  • the pedagogical practices of, and learning benefits that are offered by, artists working in community settings, and in galleries and museums
  • the ways in which the arts and creative pedagogies can support learning about sustainability
  • the ways in which arts and creative practices support the 'being and becoming' of young people 
  • the ways in which formal and informal arts 'training' connect with working lives in the 'cultural industries'

Please contact Pat if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Professor Christine Hall 

Changing literacy practices in and out of school 

New technologies are enabling us to communicate in different ways and to different audiences. There is much that is unknown or unpredicted in the field of literacy: new forms and genres are emerging and new literacy practices are developing, often sitting alongside more traditional reading and writing behaviours. Meanwhile - and perhaps in response to these changes - school literacy practices are becoming more tightly circumscribed.

PhD projects could usefully add to knowledge about this hybrid and rapidly changing landscape. Ethnographic or interview-based studies might focus on literacy learning either in or out of school, or across home and institutional settings. The focus might be on the literacy practices of particular groups as defined by, for example, age, location, gender. Pedagogic studies might be focussed on aspects of literacy teaching and learning, through textual or discourse analysis.

There are interesting philosophical questions to explore, for example about notions of creativity and about the function of the arts in education, and literary critical and cultural questions to take up about, for example, what children read and the changing nature of children’s literature.

Please contact Chris if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.


Centre for International Education Research

Professor Simon McGrath 

Vocational education and training for sustainable human development

The current VET orthodoxy assumes that economic rationality is everything and focuses narrowly on immediate employability. Yet, development theory increases accepts the need to think about broader human development and sustainability. Are vocational learners, often already relatively marginalised and poor, to be deemed unworthy of benefitting from broader human development?

Do the poor only have an economic rationale? How can the immediate challenges of employability and poverty reduction be balanced against the need for sustainability and the claims of future generations? What do rights-based approaches contribute to thinking about VET and human development?

PhD projects in this area would explore aspects of a counter-position through one or more of the following approaches:

  1. Work on alternative indicators for measuring VET success and  evaluating VET institutions (whether through rights or capabilities lenses
  2. Ethnographic study of learners, teachers and or institutions in the VET sector
  3. Life histories of workers from groups neglected by the dominant discourse (women, informal sector workers, people living with disabilities, ex slaves)
  4.  Philosophical work on aspects of a theory of vocational learning for human development or sustainable development (for example questions about aspirations and their fulfilment)

Please contact Simon if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Professor John Holford 

Adult and lifelong education: policies, practices, histories

Across the world, policies now stress the importance of lifelong learning. How are policies and practices in adult and lifelong education made? Where have they come from and why? How they are carried out? Who is most involved? Which social actors and forces have the most influence? Who gains and who loses?

Examples of PhD projects could be: how policies are made in the European Union, and how this affects member states and different social actors; how national histories, institutions and cultures shape the development of policies; the role of particular policy instruments such as indicators and "policy learning"; adult learning in particular institutional settings, such as higher education; the role of social movements in shaping adult and lifelong education. Projects may be historical or contemporary, focus on public, private or not-for-profit sectors, and use a range of methodologies.

Please contact John if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.


Dr Mary Bailey 

Mary's research supervision areas include:

  • teacher education and professional development in different contexts (including internationally and online)
  • education policy
  • secondary school English media curriculum and pedagogy

Please contact Mary if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Dr Juliet Thondhlana

Education and Migration

Education and Migration are intertwined in many dimensions. For example, Education and skill development are considered critical during an individual’s migration trajectory and a migrant’s economic success in the host country is largely determined by their educational background and the extent to which their skills are transferable to the host country labor market as well as how effectively they narrativise them on arrival. Also, increasingly, people are moving in search of an international education experience and education is considered a significant driver of migration. At the same time those who do not migrate are also seeking an international experience at home as universities are moving more towards internationalising their practices.

PhD projects in this area would explore these and other issues key areas that connect education and migration:

  1. Theoretical perspectives (old and new from the Global North and Global South)
  2. The intersection of education, migration and employability
  3. Internationalisation of higher education   
  4. Dynamics of refugee education

Please contact Juliet if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.

Dr Sarah Amsler

My research addresses the politics of knowledge, education and hope as dimensions of movements for epistemic, social and ecological justice in a period of global crisis. It involves theoretical and practical inquiries into affective and relational pedagogies of being and becoming otherwise; methods for working with expanded forms of reality that include absent and emergent possibilities; learning and organising anti-colonial practices of hope; and the possibilities and limits of critical educational responses to political and environmental crisis. 

I welcome enquiries from prospective doctoral students in the following areas: 

  • systemic critiques of educational injustice and inequality
  • critical theories of hope and hopelessness
  • post-capitalist, feminist and decolonial approaches to educational politics
  • relational and ontological pedagogies and methodologies
  • affective and embodied dimensions of learning
  • education of/for ‘the otherwise’
  • non-mainstream forms of adult and higher education
  • new materialist perspectives on educational politics
  • sociologies of absence and emergence
  • utopian and possibility-enabling curricula, pedagogies and research methodologies

Please contact Sarah if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.


Centre for Research in Mathematics Education  

Professor Andy Noyes 

Andy's research supervision areas include:

  • mathematics curriculum, assessment and pedagogy
  • 14-19 mathematics education and transitions into university
  • learner choices, pathways and transitions
  • initial teacher education and teacher development
  • education policy
  • quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods studies

Please contact Andy if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of your research.




School of Education

University of Nottingham
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

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