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


Implementing a representative curriculum with a greater emphasis on BAME 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 BAME 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 BAME 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 BAME 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.

Recently completed

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.

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:

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 project was undertaken whilst Dr Cristina Costa was Associate Professor at UWE Bristol. She has since joined Durham University.

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?

This project was undertaken whilst Dr Cristina Costa was Associate Professor at UWE Bristol. She has since joined Durham University.

A collaborative project with Dr Mark Murphy (University of Glasgow); Dr Rille Raaper (Durham University); 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: SRHE.

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

This project was undertaken whilst Dr Neil Harrison was Associate Professor at UWE Bristol. He is now a Visiting Fellow of UWE Bristol from the University of Oxford.

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

Dr Harrison 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, which took place on 29 November 2017.

Watch the Moving on Up research report summary via YouTube.

Project contact: Dr Neil Harrison.
Funder: NNECL.


Student bursaries

This project was undertaken whilst Dr Neil Harrison was Associate Professor at UWE Bristol. He is now a Visiting Fellow of UWE Bristol from the University of Oxford.

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.

Project contact: Dr Neil Harrison.
Funder: OFFA.

Assessing impact and measuring success in widening participation

This project was undertaken whilst Dr Neil Harrison was Associate Professor at UWE Bristol. He is now a Visiting Fellow of UWE Bristol from the University of Oxford.

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: SRHE.

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

This project was undertaken whilst Dr Neil Harrison was Associate Professor at UWE Bristol. He is now a Visiting Fellow of UWE Bristol from the University of Oxford.

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 the Money Matters Interim Report – July 2014.

Project contact: Dr Neil Harrison.
Funder: SRHE.

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.


Life For the Academic in the Neoliberal University book cover
Co-authored by Dr Alpesh Maisuria, this publication investigates the impact of neoliberalism on academics in today's universities.


Graduate Careers in Context book cover

Co-edited by Dr Ciaran Burke, this book addresses the problems surrounding the graduate labour market and its relationship to higher education and public policy from varied perspectives.

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