School of Education

Staff Supervision Areas

Within the school's research centres there are specific project areas for which supervisors would particularly welcome applications.

Applications are not limited to the below list of topics and applicants 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.

Staff supervision areas
Research centre Staff member 

Research topics

Centre for International Education Research (CIER)

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.

Centre for International Education Research (CIER)

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 (e. 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 (eg questions about aspirations and their fulfilment)

Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy (CRACL)

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.

Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy (CRACL)

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.

I am 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'

Centre for Research in Educational Leadership and Management (CRELM)

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.

Centre for Research in Human Flourishing (CRHF)

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.

I am 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. I am particularly interested in the person-centred approach developed by Carl Rogers as providing a theory of therapy and positive education to underpin projects.

PhD projects will:

  • investigate if therapy leads to greater authenticity
  • examine the relationship between authenticity and well-being
  • develop new tools with which to assess authenticity and well-being.
  • understand what factors lead to greater well-being
  • explore how authenticity helps children and young people to learn and develop well-being
  • analyse how person-centred education facilitates learning and personal development

Doctoral researchers could use either qualitative or quantitative methods to approach these topics or a combination of methods. 

Centre for Research in Human Flourishing (CRHF)

Dr Gary Winship Self-harm in educational settings

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. There are pressing concerns regarding young people's mental health today.

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 which will contribute to a school community which is optimal for well-being.

Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI)

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 (eg. by drawing with fingers on a tablet) change the process and outcomes of drawing to learn.

Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI)

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.

Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI)

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.


School of Education

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

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