Past research projects in the Education and Childhood Research Group (ECRG)

Read more about the research projects undertaken by members of our Group below.

Assessing and enhancing the impact of widening participation initiatives on UWE Bristol's ITE programmes

In 2013, this project examined the effectiveness of the Department of Education and Childhood's  (now known as School of Education and Childhood's) efforts to recruit and retain students, in particular, groups poorly represented in teaching, such as those from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic background. We assessed our current strategies to understand how we enhance their experience of studying at UWE Bristol.

Assessing impact and measuring success AIMS in widening participation research

This project was undertaken whilst Dr Neil Harrison was Associate Professor at UWE Bristol.

This project (February 2014 to September 2015) aimed to create new research approaches to assess the impact and success of widening participation initiatives within higher education for groups that are under-represented or mainly absent.

We explored differences in the conceptualisation of success for different types of initiative, respecting the different modes of delivery. This would highlight issues with the statistical ‘markers’ used to identify the groups of interest and suggest means of reconciling these.

We also investigated which methodologies and methods were most likely to yield results that were useful to researchers, practitioners, university managers and policymakers.

The research questions addressed were:

  • What principles should underpin the collection of data to evidence the impact and success of WP activities? Is there a single epistemological paradigm that should be dominant?
  • How are the links between awareness, attitudes, aspirations and behaviour to best be constructed among prospective applicants to higher education? What are the implications for concepts of success?
  • How can the tensions between, and shortcomings within, different markers of widening participation be reconciled?
  • Why do some popular widening participation activities appear to have little impact on behaviour? What are features of successful activities and how might these be measured?

Find out more about the project strands:

Project funder: SRHE

Project team: Dr Neil Harrison (lead), Dr Richard WallerKathryn Last

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 College-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:

Funder: EPSRC

Project contact: Dr Nigel Newbutt

Awareness and confidence to intervene of first year undergraduates in relation to sexual and domestic abuse on campus

This research involved closed surveys being sent to all first year students in a UK university at the start of semester one and then again at the start of semester two. It received n = 1,604 responses across the two surveys which used evidence based scales of awareness, confidence to intervene, and intervention opportunities and action regarding sexual and domestic abuse on campus. It also included an evaluation survey for first year students who received a two hour bystander programme, receiving 86 responses.

The research took place between 2018 and 2019 and was conducted by Dr Helen Bovill. The research received no external funding, and was funded internally through a research support scheme and conducted through this combined with scholarly leave.


Project contact: Dr Helen Bovill.

BrEaking New Ground IN the SciencE Education Realm (ENGINEER)

ENGINEER supports the adoption in Europe of innovative science teaching methods and provides extensive teacher training on inquiry-based methods.

ENGINEER is developing ten engineering design challenge units suited to European environments. Each unit focuses on one engineering field and uses inexpensive materials for student-led design problem solving. In addition, creating teacher-training materials linked to the project.

Science museums lead the outreach effort that targets schools, teachers and science museums. The school/museum activities will reach 27,000 students during outreach.

Professor Penelope Harnett is leading the Evaluation Work Package with Juliet Edmonds and Ben Knight.

Changing perceptions of Roald Dahl in the primary school sector and beyond: Dahl family reading project

The next aspect of the project seeks to inspire parents as well as children to read Roald Dahl critically and to extend parental engagement with reading (themselves and with their children). All the research shows that reading for pleasure as a household has a strong impact, not just on school results, but on the life chances of children and thus we feel that this project will be of distinct significance.

Children tend to relate to Dahl's anarchic themes, the slapstick and humour in the texts and, thus, these stories have the potential to mark an important first step in many people's reading journeys. This study ensures that this opportunity is not lost.

Through going into schools, training teachers and teaching parents we emphasise that by reading Roald Dahl's literature for pleasure, we can also mark out patterns significant in literature; we aim not just to make literary critics of all our children, teachers and parents, but to impart a love of reading, a confidence in reading and the desire to read other texts after Dahl.

The project will focus initially on Fonthill Primary School. The school is in an area of high socio-economic need and has identified engagement with parents as a focus as a key strategy in raising reading attainment. The school has strong partnership links with UWE Bristol's School of Education and Childhood and with the Project Lead, Dr Jane Carter, who worked with this group of children in January 2018, and has a number of projects established in the school and local area.

Project aims

  • To inspire parents to read alongside their children.
  • To create families who read together for pleasure.
  • To develop more sophisticated readers who are able trace pattern in text and so enhance pleasure and engagement with reading.
  • To promote extended partnership relationships: children; teachers; schools; academics; parents and HEI students.


  • Establish a parents' reading group at Fonthill Primary.
  • To run four sessions of the parents' reading group focusing on reading, engaging with Dahl stories (text and film).
  • To support parents in sharing books with their children (including reading aloud and story tapes).
  • To establish processes for parents to continue to explore children's literature to share with their children beyond the project end.
  • To produce a number of journal articles with an English Literature focus and an Education focus.
  • To share findings at the United Kingdom Literacy Association conference (July 2019).

This project has now completed. View resources from this project at the This Is Why We Read website.

Project contacts: Dr Ann Alston with Dr Jane Carter.

Children as engineers

Children as Engineers, a four-year project led by Dr Fay Lewis and Juliet Edmonds, paired undergraduate Initial Teacher Education students with undergraduate engineering students, training them in the use of engineering challenge materials which they then delivered in upper key stage two classrooms.

The impact of participation in the project for these students was evaluated and indicated that for the pre-service teachers there were significant benefits in terms of their science and engineering subject knowledge and the confidence in their ability to teach these subjects (a key factor in ensuring positive outcomes for children).

This positive pedagogical practice has now been embedded within engineering and educational undergraduate programmes to ensure that all students can experience such work rather than just volunteers.

Project contacts: Laura Fogg Rogers with Dr Fay Lewis and Juliet Edmonds.
Funder: HEFCE.

Creating welcoming learning environments: Disseminating arts-based approaches to including all learners (CWLE)

This project was a follow-on grant from the AHRC large grant Researching Multilingually at Borders (2014-2017) in which arts-based methods were used to research interpreting, translation and multilingual practices in contexts at the borders of language, the body, the law and the state. The CWLE project brought together artists and teachers in four workshops and a practitioner conference to exchange ideas on how arts-based methods can be woven into teaching and learning and into the generation of a welcoming ethos in schools.

Outcomes included tried and tested activities in primary, secondary and special schools such as:

  • pupil-to-pupil interviews about home languages as part of a whole school film
  • collage and crafting used in facilitating assessment of pupils' English language development
  • art work-based around Adinkra symbols to facilitate language work.

Project contacts: Dr Jane Andrews and Dr Maryam Almohammad.
Funder: AHRC.

European healthy pupils and skilled educators via integrated school food systems

Evaluation of how schools successfully integrate food into the school system. Completed September 2020.

Funder: Erasmus+

Project team: Dr Verity Jones; Dr Mat Jones (College of Health, Science and Society), European academics and Food for Life (the Soil Association)

Expert practitioners working in the Baby Room

Project contact: Helen Butcher.

How are students and staff on education programmes navigating different digital policy contexts?

Underpinning the current project is Katz's (2003) proposition that our digital devices may be integrated into our professional and personal lives to the extent that they "become us". Teacher education courses involve trainee teachers moving between sites (university seminars rooms, school classrooms) and taking on different roles (university student, trainee class teacher). This movement presents potential challenges and tensions as they negotiate their multiple identities (Burke & Stets, 2009) and demonstrate their alignment with each institution's practices and regulations (Ball, 2003).

The use of digital technologies and mobile devices in institutional contexts, both schools and universities, can raise diverse, compartmentalised and strongly-felt attitudes and preferences (see Andrews and Jones, 2015).The tensions between personal preference in learning using technology and institutional policy and practice can conflict further with the wider goals of education and teacher education.

This mixed methods study of two cohorts of trainee teachers and teacher educators in one university in England in 2014 and 2018. Thematic analysis of the data is based on concepts from Katz's work (2003) including integration, separation, group membership and social identity as expressed through preferences and practices in uses of technology in learning.


  • Article: Andrews, J and Jones, M (2015) What's happening in 'their space'? Exploring the borders of formal and informal learning with undergraduate students of Education in the age of mobile technologies. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2015 (1),16.
  • Presentation at Learning and Teaching Conference 2018 - Building Learning Communities held at UWE Bristol, 7 June 2018.
  • Presentation at BERA Annual Conference held at Northumbria University, 12 September 2018.

Funder: Research Progression Time (RPT) scheme (internal funding) in May 2017

Project contact: Dr Jane Andrews

Imagining the future after Brexit: Academics tell their stories

This project was undertaken whilst Dr Cristina Costa was Associate Professor at UWE Bristol.

A collaborative project with Dr Mark Murphy (University of Glasgow), Dr Rille Raaper (University of Durham); Dr Jenna Condie (Western Sydney University) and Dr Cristina Costa (UWE Bristol).

Duration: 4 June 2018 to 3 June 2019

Project contact: Dr Cristina Costa

Immersive virtual reality as a tool for autistic pupils and teachers

Funder: SBRI and Innovative UK

Project contact: Dr Verity Jones

Immersive virtual reality as a tool for autistic pupils and teachers

Running from September 2019, this two-year project developed, disseminated, and assessed an Immersive Virtual Reality educational tool for teaching students on the autism spectrum and learning difficulties how to 'learn to learn'. It incorporated 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 were:

  • 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.

Funder: Erasmus + (Spain).

Inclusive Campus #SpeakUp @ UWE Bristol anti-sexual violence social norms campaign

Inclusive Campus #SpeakUp @ UWE Bristol anti-sexual violence social norms campaign

This 18 month inter-disciplinary academic project (April 2017 to October 2018) comprises two projects:

Project 1: Bystander initiative evaluation and development

Methods: Evaluate Bystander through pre/post questionnaires to 86 students followed by focus groups with 15 students.

Aim: Produce modified Bystander initiative training programme materials and academic papers.

Project 2: Bystander social norms campaign

Methods: Work collaboratively with staff and students to embed the outputs from Project 1 evaluation into a university social norms campaign.

Aim: Develop pro-social norms refined from Project 1 evaluation and ensure these are embedded in the University's #SpeakUp marketing campaign to be launched from September 2018. The pro-social norms would be evident in the elements of the campaign including an animated film, posters and webpages.

Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Catalyst Funding: £50,000

The project team comprises of UWE Bristol staff and external experts.

UWE Bristol staff:

External experts:

  • Lisa Benjamin, Somerset & Avon Rape & Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS)
  • Rueben Chatterjee, Stand Against Racism and Inequality (SARI)
  • Charlotte Gage (Bristol Zero Tolerance)

Funder: HEFCE

Project contacts: Dr Helen Bovill with Dr Richard Waller and Professor Kieran McCartan

Investigating the use of children’s literature in classrooms across Europe

This Comenius-funded project, which was reported in 2012, involved four countries - Iceland, England, Turkey and Spain with over 6,000 children and 250 teachers completing an online survey about their reading habits, preferences and details of the learning and teaching of children's literature in each country. About 150 children and their teachers were part of focus groups in each country.

The project aimed to support cross national comparisons of the use of children's literature - reading, learning and teaching, and then to develop and disseminate practical and effective pedagogical strategies. The project also aimed to encourage diversity and respect for cultural difference.

Some of the headline findings across all participating countries were:

  • In concurrence with many other studies, the number of family books in the home had a strong impact on a range of reading activities and attitudes and that socio economic background was a strong indicator of reading attitudes and activity
  • The decline of the bedtime story (or equivalent)
  • Children and teachers' perceptions of purposes of classroom reading activities are often different - what teachers thought they had communicated about reading was interpreted by children in a different way.
  • Children from across countries thought the funny book was supreme!

The research was disseminated in each of the participating countries. In Bristol, events were held for teachers to hear about the research and its findings. A CPD was produced. The pack had three main parts:

  • Part 1 presented some key data from the project to children - the aim was to find out children's responses, analysis and recommendations.
  • Part 2 was a pack of ideas for teachers to use based on a shared text (The Tinderbox).
  • Part 3 was a pack of generic ideas for using and promoting children's literature for teachers based on areas identified by teachers in the survey as 'low confidence' areas

The full report and CPD packs (previously available on the project website) can now be accessed by emailing Dr Jane Carter at

Project contact: Dr Jane Carter.

Learning Layers

The Learning Layers project investigated how informal learning in the workplace could be supported by new technologies like mobile phone and tablet apps. Twenty partners from across Europe supported this project, in regional clusters of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

We trialled the project in two sectors that were hesitant to take up learning technologies: health care in the North East of England and building and construction in North Germany.

The challenges were how to embed support and learning in meaningful working practices and to redesign work environments to support learning. For example, our system will put you in contact with people and resources to solve a work problem or task.

One focus of the project was to support workplace practices in SMEs that unlock peer production and hence scaffold learning in networks of SMEs. For example, we see learning materials being generated through the work process and then shared though networks of individuals and organisations as important. However, most importantly for BRILLE's contribution will be the scaffolding of interactions with networks people.

We hoped to reshape both workplace design and designs for learning in networks. For more details, visit Learning Layers.

Project summary

  • Top ranked 14.5 out of 15 against European bidding criteria.
  • Scaling up Lifelong Learning using Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) in large clusters of SMEs in the health professions and building industry.

Navigating climate anxiety and environmental stewardship through immersive narrative: The Global Goals Centre case study

A brief description about this project, completed in July 2021:

  • young people’s understanding of climate change in the UK and India
  • critical reading of cli-fi (climate fiction) for younger readers
  • comparative study of young people’s understanding of fast fashion

Funder: UWE Bristol's Vice-Chancellor Early Career Researcher Award

Project lead: Dr Verity Jones in partnership with Global Goals Centre (UK) and Disappearing Dialogues (India)

Open the door to reading

‘Open the Door to Reading’ is an Erasmus plus funded project. It involves five European cities: Bristol, Gothenburg; Turku; Brussels and Milan. Each city has an interest in finding and sharing ways to promote reading in their city. The project was initiated by Gothenburg: "The City Where We Read for our Children".

There is overwhelming research that indicates the importance of children developing as readers. Reading impacts on children’s vocabulary use and knowledge; their access to the wider curriculum in school and beyond; their future economic success and importantly, their health and well-being. For these reasons, Bristol, as a city has a desire to find ways to promote, support and develop reading across the city and in particular in areas of the city where families have been considered to be ‘harder to reach’ and with the greatest disadvantage and challenges.

The Bristol team working on the project is led by Debbie Miles, the Reading Recovery Teacher Leader in the city along with Cerys Stevens (also a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader); Kate Murray (head of libraries) and Dr Jane Carter (UWE Bristol). The learning from the project is being used to develop a manual for practitioners engaged with families, for example, health workers; early years support workers; librarians and family workers. This will be disseminated across the five cities. 

The Open the Door to Reading Project has now been completed with the publication of the final report and guidance for practitioners, along with all of the reports from the different stages of the project.

Project contact: Dr Jane Carter.

Professional childminders working in South Gloucestershire

Helen Butcher and Dr Richard Eke drew on research and innovation funding arising from a successful bid for funding to provide education and training leading to the recognition of individual trainees of Early Years Professional Status for successful candidates. The funding was targeted on issues related to training to teach the EYFS with a twin focus on kindness and professional education.

Project duration: 2014 to 2018.
Project contact: Helen Butcher.

Researching multilingually

Researching Multilingually was a network project (December 2011 to November 2012) which explored processes and practices of researching in contexts where more than one language is involved.

Sounds Bristolian: From talk to writing at Fonthill Primary School

The Sounds Bristolian initiative, launched in 2015 by the 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, 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.

Timely formative feedback on assessment: Using webinars to engage students

Evaluating the benefits of using digital platforms to support Higher Education students in preparation for assignments using online platforms. Completed July 2021.

Funder: Pedagogic Projects at UWE Bristol.

Project team: Dr Verity Jones; Dr Jane Andrews; Tom Baldry; Dr Ciaran Burke; and the cross-College team.

Tutoring and mentoring

Dr Andrew Mathers and Dr Richard Waller ran a widening participation outreach project. This involved undergraduate sociology students teaching Advanced Subsidiary level Sociology at schools and colleges where few students go on to university. Trainee Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) sociology students also taught to gain valuable teaching experience.

Student bursaries

This project was undertaken whilst Dr Neil Harrison was Associate Professor at UWE Bristol.

This project was commissioned by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) from an multi-university team led by Sheffield Hallam University. The purpose was to produce resources to allow institutions to evaluate the additional financial support that they provide to disadvantaged students – most commonly in the form of means-tested or other targetted bursaries. The final report was published in December 2016.

UWE Bristol led on the development of an analytical approach (based around a discontinuity logistic regression design) to allow institutions to explore whether bursaries had been successful in ‘levelling the playing field’ for disadvantaged students, drawing on their own student records data around retention, completion, degree results and graduate employment. This was converted into an easy-to-use toolkit that is now being used by most English universities. An independent evaluation found that this has been very highly regarded by universities as it is easy-to-use and allows them to answer understand the impact of funding on disadvantaged students.

The project also led to a journal article exploring the epistemology of 'impact' as it applies to needs-based interventions designed to support disadvantaged groups, where there is no scope for counterfactual analysis and complex lines of causality at work.

Funder: OFFA.
Project contact: Dr Neil Harrison.

Understanding how the Certificate of Personal Effectiveness acts to improve GCSE outcomes

This project followed on from a previous report, which demonstrated completing the Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network (ASDAN)’s Certificate of Personal Effectiveness (CoPE) is associated with improved GCSEs.

This project aimed to understand the mechanisms by which CoPE might have this positive impact. We focused on concepts such as motivation, confidence and self-esteem, using a repeated measures survey with year ten pupils in three schools to examine how their attitudes change over time.

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