Research showcase

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.

Research projects

Transforming Lives Transforming Places

The Transforming Lives research centres on Teaching Assistant and Education Support graduates at three post-92 English universities in the South West of England:

  • UWE Bristol
  • Bath Spa University and
  • University of Plymouth.

Surveys were sent to all students who had completed a Foundation Degree in Education Support since early 2000, and for which contact details were held. One-to-one interviews were conducted with a sub set of 20 respondents.

The research explores the professional pathways that the predominantly mature, first generation female students embark upon once graduated from the top-up BA Hons. Barriers and enablements; structure and agency inform this project. The ways in which the students act as change agents in their own communities, liminal spaces between para and professional, and activation of agency are further guiding ideas for the research.

Co-researchers on this project are Dr Helen Bovill (Project Lead; UWE Bristol); Dr Neil Harrison; Viki Bennett (Bath Spa University); Hilary Smith (Bath Spa University) and Dr Liz McKenzie (University of Plymouth).

Further reading: Bovill, H, Harrison, N, Smith, H, Bennett, V and McKenzie, L (2019) Mature female learners activating agency after completion of an education foundation degree: Professional progression and the teacher shortage crisis. Research Papers in Education. ISSN 0267-1522.

Project duration: December 2016 to December 2018
Project contact: Dr Helen Bovill

Accessing higher education: The experiences of 'estranged students' beyond entry point.

This collaborative research project with Professor Yvette Taylor (University of Strathclyde) explored the experiences of ‘estranged’ students in Scottish HE institutions that have endorsed the Stand Alone initiative. In doing so, the project drew on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice as a framework that is malleable enough to consider an intersectional understanding of the phenomenon being explored.

More specifically, the project examined the role of HE in supporting estranged students and explored wider issues of estranged students’ experiences of marginalisation through dimensions of class, gender and ethical background.

Project duration: 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2018.

Project contact: Dr Cristina Costa
Funder: Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland

Exploring 'estrangement' in higher education: Standing alone or settling in?

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). Estranged students can be defined as a group of young adults who have unstable, minimal or no contact with either of their biological parents and/or their wider family networks (Blake, 2015).

In the context of Scotland, estrangement status of HE students was only recognised in 2016. This project aims to address a clear need for in-depth knowledge about estranged students in Higher Education and to identify key issues regarding estranged students’ identity, attitudes to and expectations of HE, whilst addressing the following research questions:

  1. How effective are policies in addressing the integration of estranged students in Scottish Higher Education?
  2. What role does Higher Education have in integrating estranged students in a contemporary society? 

Project duration: 1 March 2018 to 28 February 2019.

Project contact: Dr Cristina Costa
Funder: Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE)

Student Bursaries

Project contact: Dr Neil Harrison
Funder: Office for Fair Access (OFFA)

Higher Education: Researching Around Care Leavers Entry and Success in higher education (HERACLES)

The purpose of this project (September 2016 to November 2017) was to identify the extent to which care leavers are disadvantaged in terms of access to higher education. Dr Neil Harrison hoped to identify whether they need additional university support and the nature of the need.

The outcome was to provide practitioners with new knowledge that will help to improve the services that they offer to young people, foster carers and local authorities.

Project strands

Neil used a two-strand approach:

  • Strand 1 was a multivariate statistical analysis of linked data available from the National Pupil Database and the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
  • Strand 2 was an online questionnaire with current students who are care leavers.

Read the final report Moving on Up.

View the launch presentation slides at the House of Commons, 29 November 2017.

Watch via YouTube the Moving on Up research report summary.

Project contact: Dr Neil Harrison
Funder: National Network for the Education of Care Leavers (NNECL)

Assessing Impact and Measuring Success in Widening Participation

In 2013, this project examined the effectiveness of the Department of Education and Childhood's efforts to recruit and retain students, in particular, groups poorly represented in teaching, such as those from a BME background.

We assessed our current strategies to understand how we enhance their experience of studying at UWE Bristol.

Project contact: Dr Neil Harrison
Funder: Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE)

Money Matters: A comparative study of students' financial literacy and attitudes to debt in the UK, US and New Zealand

This project was a comparative study of the UK's, United States' and New Zealand's student finance systems from 2013 to 2014. Their systems vary in key ways, providing students with a different experience of indebtedness.

We used quantitative techniques to examine students within these systems. Learning how they affect their attitudes, understanding and behaviours. We also used a blend of theoretical concepts from the fields of economics, psychology and sociology, including financial literacy, personality theory and social class.

Data was collected from 600 full-time first year undergraduates in social science and business via an online questionnaire. Read more about the project via the Interim Report – July 2014.

Project contact: Dr Neil Harrison
Funder: Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE)

Paired Peers

Paired Peers was a joint project with the University of Bristol, from 2010 to 2013. The project assessed the impact of a cohort of undergraduates' social class on their experience at university.

Consequently, there was a major dissemination day conference. Attendees were politicians, civil servants, the media and educational interest groups including those from the higher education sector.

Dr Richard Waller led the project. Professor Harriet Bradley from University of Bristol was Principal Investigator.

See further information about Paired Peers.

Project contact: Dr Richard Waller
Funder: The Leverhulme Trust

Theme members

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

For further information about the theme, please contact any of the members listed above via their staff profile links.


Debates in Geography Education

Mark Jones, Senior Lecturer in Geography Education at the Department of Education and Childhood, and Professor David Lambert (UCL, Institute of Education) have received a national award for their second edition of the co-edited book ‘Debates in Geography Education ’published with Routledge.

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