Research theme and strands

In the Department for Education and Childhood


Research within the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE Bristol operates within a broad concept of social justice and its inter-connected strands of 'researching with children and young people', 'digital education' and 'research in global and sustainable education'.

Social justice

Theme conveners

Social justice is a central organising principle for the research within the Department which investigates:
How can research contribute to the production of a more inclusive, diverse, equitable and just society?

Members of this inter-disciplinary team share a common interest in researching the inequalities that persist in societies through critical enquiry. The research expertise of the theme explores a range of areas including, but not limited to:

  • Education policy
  • Sociology of education
  • Widening participation
  • Intersectionality
  • Social class
  • Gender
  • Student experiences and decision-making
  • Pedagogy
  • Global citizenship and knowledge creation
  • Professional identity and teacher training routes

Our staff have experience in examining and supervising research students in the area of social justice. We welcome new postgraduate students to conduct research with us.

Current research projects

Details of some current projects for the research theme 'social justice' are summarised below.

Implementing a representative curriculum with a greater emphasis on Black, Asian and minority ethnic voices

The 2012 Equality Duty and 2019 Ofsted Education Inspection Framework have raised the profile of schools to ensure Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is a ‘golden thread’ in schools’ approach to teaching and learning.

This research project aims to explore the positive action that schools take to incorporate issues of colour, nationality and ethnic origins through the curriculum. It will further examine the opportunities and challenges faced by schools in devising and delivering their curriculum with a greater emphasis on Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation based on the sociocultural needs of the community. This may include cultural awareness, stereotyping, the colonised curriculum, as well as unconscious and conscious bias. It recognises that the city of Bristol consists of a vast range of Black, Asian and minority ethnic demographics, characterised by different beliefs, values and experiences.

Despite the multicultural nature of the many communities within the UK, the interpretations of the National Curriculum have not kept pace with the communities it serves. The Runnymede Trust report for Bristol 2017 highlights ethnic minority disadvantages in education, which continue to have a knock-on effect in employment and lifestyle. It says of the curriculum “The current curriculum is drawn up by people who are not able to create a learning framework which caters for children from different upbringings and cultures. The standard school curriculum therefore favours children from a white mainly middle-class background.”

This project reflects the principles and strategic aims of Bristol One City (Goal 53), to strategise, share and critique the untold voices of Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals.

Project commences 2020 and is funded by UWE Bristol and affiliated with Bristol City Council Race Equality in Education Group.

Project contacts: Sarah Whitehouse and Justin Vafadari.

The impact of language and culture on gender salience

This research rests upon the Whorfian hypothesis, a prominent idea in cognitive science, which maintains that because languages vary in the information they require speakers to convey, the language(s) a person speaks shapes their cognitive processes (eg, perception, memory).

More specifically, we will test the effect of culture and native language (Study 1) and second language learned later in life (Study 2) on people's cognitive processes. We will look at the influence of gender marking in various languages on language users' perceptions of gender. This research will test this by measuring (a) eye-fixations and (b) memory recall in experimental settings with English, Finnish and Polish adults (N= 210). These three languages provide an ideal test-case for Whorfian effects due to cross-linguistic differences between the three languages.

The key objectives of this research are to determine if:

  • (a) native language, (b) second language learned later in life and/or (c) speaker's culture affect gender salience, and thus inform whether we can encourage inclusivity and reduce gender bias through language use, and ways that this could be achieved.
  • To use our results to inform policy-making and educational practices.

Project commences August 2020 and is funded by UWE Bristol via the Vice Chancellor's Challenge Fund.

The project team comprises:

UWE Bristol group members

External group members

Project contact: Dr Helen Bovill.
Funder: UWE Bristol Vice-Chancellor's Challenge Fund.

After the crisis: Migration, education and work-life in interdisciplinary light

This network of scholars from across Sweden, Finland, England, and the USA are aiming to explore the treatment of migrants in Sweden, a situation that has been described as crisis for a country that has a history of humanitarianism. The focus is on unaccompanied minors, who are placed in limbo by the Swedish authorities – unable to work, fully access welfare, nor to return to their ‘home’ country. The network will embark on a series of work packages drawing from a multiplicity of disciplines and methods to co-construct knowledge with the migrants themselves.

Project duration: 2019 to 2021.
Project contact: Dr Alpesh Maisuria.
Funder: Forte: Swedish Research Council for Health, Working, Life and Welfare.

Development of the National Education Service (NES)

This research agenda seeks to develop series of work packages to explore the necessity and feasibility of creating a nationalised and unified system of education in England.

There are two working projects ongoing. The first is a project with the NEU, exploring the perceptions and views of teachers about what faces teachers on a daily basis, the roots of problems, and their input on ways to address these. The second is work with the Private School Policy Reform (PSPR) group on how to approach the private provision in the NES proposal.

Project contact: Dr Alpesh Maisuria.

Past research projects

View more examples of related projects on the Education and Childhood past research projects page.

Researching with children and young people

The Department undertakes research into children’s experiences, rights, voices, perspectives, and practices. In researching children’s lives and learning, the group uses a variety of social science perspectives and explores local, national and global challenges.

Strand conveners

The research expertise of the strand encompasses a range of areas, including, but not limited to:

  • Early education and learning
  • Teaching, early childhood pedagogy and curriculum
  • Education policy
  • Professional development and learning for educators
  • Language development
  • Researching multilingually
  • Parental engagement in children’s learning
  • Literacies, learning and identities
  • Sociology of childhood
  • Ethical and methodological approaches of research with children


There is ongoing research cooperation between our Department and other departments across UWE Bristol.

Our staff have experience in examining and supervising research students in the area of research with children and young people. We welcome new postgraduate research students to conduct research with us.

Current research projects

Details of some current projects for the research strand 'researching with children and young people' are summarised below.

An evaluation and impact study of the Bristol Reading Partner (BRP) intervention on Initial Teacher Training students (ITE), children's reading and partnership schools' reading attainment

'Being a reader' has a significant impact on a child’s future social and economic success. This project builds on work over the last six years which has involved the training of second year ITE students in the Bristol Reading Partner (BRP) intervention programme. It has targeted over 1,200 underachieving children.

Students work with two identified children over a period of five weeks, implementing the intervention programme for 20 minutes twice a week. Teachers assess children before and after BRP using the British Ability Scales test (BAS), generating a standardised score and reading age. Children typically make an average of four months' progress over the five weeks of the intervention.

This research will focus on the nature of the student interaction with children during the intervention and try to identify the factors that contribute to the success of the programme in relation to children’s progress.

Project duration: July 2018 to July 2019.
Project contact: Dr Jane Carter.

An illuminative evaluation of the Phonics Screening Check: Listening to the voices of children and their teachers

The Phonics Screening Check (PSC) was introduced in England in 2012 for Year One children. There have been criticisms of the check in relation to its reliability and appropriateness as an assessment for early reading, although supporters see it as a valuable tool in securing early reading progress. However, the government’s own evaluation (2015 p8) concluded that it “did not find any evidence of improvements in pupils’ literacy performance, or in progress, that could be clearly attributed to the introduction of the PSC”.

With this in mind, this study seeks to illuminate through evaluation, the intended and possible unintended consequences of the PSC foregrounding the voices of those most affected by the PSC: children and their teachers. The study focuses on a range of schools in the City of Bristol, selected for their diversity in relation to attainment data (PSC and reading) and socio-economic status. Available from the UWE Bristol Research Repository


Project contact: Dr Jane Carter.

Oracy and storytelling in schools

Inspired by the work of Bob Lister, formerly of Cambridge Schools Classics Project, I have explored storytelling pedagogy with trainee teachers in our partnership schools in the region. Finding ways to share challenging but important stories has allowed us to discover ways into teaching Ovid and classical tales in secondary English classrooms.

In the early stages of the project, we worked with University of Bristol colleagues and students to explore perceptions about storytelling as a pedagogic tool which led to articles in Changing English and NATE’s Teaching English Magazine in 2015.

The focus since 2017 is developing schemes of work as part of the secondary English curriculum and encouraging school students to become storytellers themselves in the now annual Ovid in the West Country competition run in collaboration with Bristol’s Classics Department.

Links to outputs:

Project duration: 2012- (ongoing).
Project contact: Joan Foley.

Sounds Bristolian: From talk to writing at Fonthill Primary School

The Sounds Bristolian initiative, launched in 2015 by the UWE Bristol Centre for Linguistics (BCL), led by Dr Kate Beeching sets out to chart and celebrate the range of different languages and language varieties spoken in Bristol, including Bristolian.

This project brings together researchers in BCL, eight student volunteers from both the Departments of Linguistics and Education, primary teachers and pupils to develop activities around the languages, dialects and accents of Bristol, and how these can be translated into written English. Insights from research and publications by academics in BCL will be drawn upon to inform materials development.

Student volunteers will support teachers in helping pupils to value their own variety, to recognise register and how it changes according to context and mode of delivery (eg informal spoken, formal spoken, text message, written document), and to develop their writing in standard English.

Outcomes from the project will include a colourful poster celebrating register differences and learning activities which will be piloted in primary classrooms, revised and published in hard copy format and online.

Project contacts: Dr Kate Beeching with Karan Vickers-Hulse and Laura Manison Shore.

Past research projects

View more examples of related projects on the Education and Childhood past research projects page.

Digital education

Digital education is an umbrella term that aims to convey the study of digital technologies in relation to educational, cultural and policy-making practices.

The digital education research strand focuses on intersecting areas of knowledge and practice that are of particular relevance to a contemporary society as well as a growing digital economy. It aims to respond to key local, national and international challenges.

Strand conveners

The research expertise of the strand covers a range of research areas, including, but not limited to:

  • Digital inequalities 
  • Digital literacies and competences
  • Digital cultures and practices
  • Digital research methods
  • Curriculum innovation
  • Virtual reality technologies (VRTs)
  • Applied use of technologies for groups with special needs
  • Social theory. 

Our staff have experience in examining and supervising research students in the broad area of digital education and technologies. We welcome new postgraduate research students to conduct research with us.


For further information about the strand, please contact members above by following their staff profile links.

Current research projects

Details of some current projects for the research strand 'digital education' are summarised below.

Autism and virtual reality

A recently funded project 'Autism and Virtual Reality' led by Dr Nigel Newbutt has seen the development of technologies (specifically virtual reality and head-mounted displays) applied to autistic groups. This work has brought together practitioners, parents, young people, researchers and technology companies to collaborate on the use of virtual reality in schools. This line of enquiry has seen Nigel work in the US and the UK across disciplines.

His EPSRC-funded work at Michigan State University uncovered findings related to acceptability, presence, immersion and possible issues with VR and HMDs for autistic adults. This work was expanded through collaboration with practitioners in and around Bristol and the UK to younger groups in schools. This was Faculty-funded and included publishing a state of the art review, a networking event and other outputs.

Further information about this research project can be found below:

Project contact: Dr Nigel Newbutt.
Funder: EPSRC.

Digital CPD for Early Childhood professionals

This two year project involves working in collaboration with a regionally-based technology company to research the continuing professional experiences and preferences of early childhood professionals in England and Wales to inform the development of app-based digital learning platforms for the early childhood workforce. The project involves working closely with professionals to assess their needs and gather their views on the pilot rollout of the digital learning platforms.

Project contact: Joe Brown.

Immersive virtual reality as a tool for autistic pupils and teachers

Running from September 2019, this two-year project will develop, disseminate, and assess an Immersive Virtual Reality educational tool for teaching students on the autism spectrum and learning difficulties how to 'learn to learn'. It will incorporate all the necessary elements of an Individual Work System (IWS), together with the powerful supports provided by means of virtual reality. This project is funded by the European Commission’s Erasmus+ Programme.

The Immersive Virtual Reality as a Tool for Autistic Pupils and Teachers project (IVRAP) is based on the combination of one of the most extended models of autism intervention on education (named Individual Work System- IWS-) with the power of Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) and Hand-Tracking sensors to manipulated virtual environments.

The participating partner entities are:

  • Universitat de València (Spain)
  • UWE Bristol (UK)
  • Clover (Spain)
  • Koynos (Spain) 
  • Cambian (UK)
  • SOBE (Turkey)
  • CEFIRE of inclusive education (Spain)
  • Konya Il Mem (Turkey)
  • Autism Europe (Belgium)
  • Adapta Foundation (Spain)

Visit the IVRAP website.

Project contact: Dr Nigel Newbutt.
Funder: Erasmus + (Spain).

Timely formative feedback on assessment: Using webinars to engage students

University students’ perceptions of assessment and feedback are regularly reported as being less positive than their perceptions of teaching and learning, across the HE sector.

Our project focuses on how we can improve students’ experiences of assessment and feedback using webinars prior to an assessment deadline to offer opportunities for “deep learning” through formative feedback and peer interaction. The project will examine the benefits of the audio/visual format of formative feedback delivered via webinars. The research will also be attentive to issues of inclusivity afforded by webinars due to the level of flexibility and accessibility of webinars available to students.

The project team comprises:

  • Dr Jane Andrews (Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education; Department of Education and Childhood)  
  • Tom Baldry (Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education; Department of Education and Childhood)
  • Dr Ciaran Burke (Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education; Department of Education and Childhood)
  • Dr Verity Jones (Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education; Department of Education and Childhood)
  • Dr Sally Reardon (Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education; Department of Film and Journalism)
  • Libby Thompson (Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences; School of Health and Social Wellbeing)

Project contact: Dr Jane Andrews.
Funder: UWE Bristol Academic Practice Directorate Pedagogic Project, 2020-2021.

Past research projects

View more examples of related projects on the Education and Childhood past research projects page.

Research in global and sustainable education

The Department’s research on sustainable development creates knowledge and influences practices to shape sustainable futures.

The strand members’ research incorporates sustainable development questions about diverse local, national and global contexts. For example: how can society approach responsible and ethical consumption; why are there inequalities in global education; what approaches can counter sexual violence?

UWE Bristol recognises the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The core purpose of this research strand is advancing knowledge in three dimensions (the economic, social and environmental), to solve future challenges, create opportunities and shape our communities across the region and beyond as set out in the UWE Bristol Strategy 2030.

Strand conveners

The research expertise of the strand covers a range of research areas including, but not limited to:

  • Sustainable futures
  • Science education
  • Food production and consumption in schools
  • Anti-sexual violence on campus
  • Responsible and ethical production and consumption
  • Global educational practices.


For further information about the strand, please contact any members above by following their staff profile links.

Our staff have experience in examining and supervising research students in the area of global and sustainable education. We welcome new postgraduate research students to conduct research with us.

Current research projects

Details of some current projects for the research strand 'research in global and sustainable education' are summarised below.

Approaches to filling the STEM gap in Wales

The gap between number of students taking science and the need for STEM employees is growing. Working with a family of schools in Pembrokeshire, this four year project looks at how a long term commitment to STEM by public, private and charity sectors might be used as a future model; one which will enable both pupils and teachers to grow in confidence, skills, understanding and enjoyment of STEM.

Project contact: Dr Verity Jones.
Funder: Dragon LNG and Pembrokeshire County Council.

Immersive virtual reality as a tool for autistic pupils and teachers

Project contact: Dr Verity Jones.
Funder: SBRI and Innovative UK.

Exploring children and parents’ changing perceptions of entomophagy (or, how do we get kids to eat insects)

The aim of this initial project is to:

  • identify the key mechanisms which impact on children’s food choices when faced with new novel foods in order to plan for sustainable futures
  • design and review pedagogical strategies and tools to develop a healthier, more sustainable future population through teaching and lJearning in the primary and secondary school context.

In 2016, the UK government launched their first Childhood Obesity Plan in order to combat the growing numbers of overweight and obese young people. In 2017, the Government noted that sustainable change will only be achieved through the active engagement of schools, communities and families (UK Government 2017). Meanwhile, there has been recurring calls for us to reconsider what we eat with concerns about the environmental impact of beef and other meat production. Insects have been considered a possible alternative.

In light of this, Bug Farm Foods have proposed that a shift to the use of insect based proteins in school meals, coupled with targeted learning in schools may offer a positive, long term outcome to achieve these goals. This research aims to evaluate this programme and consider the future for entomophagy in UK schools.


Project contact: Dr Verity Jones.
Funder: Welsh Assembly Government.

Project Zulu

Project Zulu is a charitable educational development initiative run by UWE Bristol in support of schools in and around Madadeni township in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. The University currently works in partnership with ten schools in the region, running a range of educational projects including teaching and learning, ICT development, physical infrastructure and sports coaching.

Projects involve UWE Bristol student volunteers and academic staff working jointly with pupils, teachers and school leaders to improve facilities, share innovative practice and develop resources and strategies to improve educational opportunities. Project Zulu also facilitates a biennial UK fundraising tour for children's choirs from these partner schools.

The research arm of Project Zulu aims to evaluate the impact of these initiatives, eliciting the views of all stakeholders, including those of the local education department. Researching with partners on the ground in Madadeni, we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses, benefits and drawbacks for UK and South African partners in order to develop the quality and usefulness of the projects.

Examples of this include:

Project Zulu 'Reading in English Acceleration Project' (REAP).
Dr Jane Carter, Karan Vickers-Hulse and Ben Knight are collaborating with colleagues from the Departments of Computer Science and Creative Technologies, and Psychology at UWE Bristol and Education faculty colleagues at the University of Zululand in South Africa to develop and pilot a mobile application for assisting in the classification of school reading books based on text complexity indicators. Combining knowledge about the teaching and learning of reading, artificial intelligence machine learning and local expertise, the project aims to support teachers in township, rural and remote regions to create graded schemes from the discrete range of books in schools.

Project Zulu ICT Champions action research project.
Dr David Wyatt from UWE Bristol's Department of Computer Science and Creative Technologies has been running an ICT action research project among a cluster of township primary schools since 2017. The project has involved training of ICT Champions among the school staff, digital literacy for staff and pupils and infrastructure development. The project has evolved to create a community of practice made up of ICT Champions from six schools. Data has been gathered and analysed on the impact of the project from the perspective of the Champions and other school staff, and is being written up by Dr Wyatt along with Ben Knight (UWE Bristol) and Dr Mshyeni Gina (University of Zululand). It is hoped that findings from this work will illuminate new pathways to develop teacher confidence and expertise in the teaching of ICT in rural and township settings.

Project Zulu Township Teaching research.
Dr Marcus Witt, Dr Fay Lewis and Ben Knight (UWE Bristol, Department of Education and Childhood) have been analysing data from second year UWE Bristol undergraduate teacher education students about their experiences of professional development arising from their volunteer teaching work in Project Zulu township schools between 2016 and 2019. The aim of this research is to determine whether, how and to what extent overseas teaching placements in contrasting contexts support professional development in ways that domestic UK school placements do not, and if there are any transferable lessons.

Project Zulu Maths Teaching research.
Dr Marcus Witt and Dr Fay Lewis have been exploring the experiences of UWE Bristol undergraduate teacher education students when teaching maths in a context where mathematical learning resources are not readily available. The research aims to examine the impact that this has on the educational choices that the students make in the classroom, how this influences their thoughts about the use and purpose of resources and how these experiences influence their longer term thinking and practice once back in the UK.

Project contact: Ben Knight.
Funder: UWE Bristol Global Centre.

Using MOOCs for social change

The Who Made My Clothes? Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) has been running for the last two years. In the three week periods that it runs each summer, over 16,000 people have taken part. Supported by Exeter University and international charity Fashion Revolution, this free course aims to inspire and enable people to take a closer look at the supply chains involved with their clothes and consider ways they can actively support garment workers around the world. The research looks at how the MOOC does this and the impact it has on learners understandings and practices.


Project duration: Three years.
Project contact: Dr Verity Jones.
Funder: University of Exeter and in collaboration with Fashion Revolution.

Past research projects

View more examples of related projects on the Education and Childhood past research projects page.