PhD projects in the Plymouth Institute of Education

To coincide with the advertising of several new funded Doctoral Teaching Assistant posts in the Faculty, some of our current PhD students, each at different stages in their research, share what they are doing. We aim to follow this up with some longer accounts which explore aspects of these projects in more detail, so look out for future posts.

If you are interested in finding out more about the new funded opportunities then click here and search job reference A7740. And if you want to find out more about doing a PhD with us in general then click here.

Suparna Bagchi

Enacting and Experiencing Multiculturalism in Four Primary Schools: An Exploration of Students’, Teachers’ and Parents’ Perspectives

Following the brutal killing of George Floyd last year in the USA, important questions related to community cohesion and cultural diversity have resurfaced. This issue is particularly pertinent in areas of historically low diversity like Plymouth, which has more recently experienced a two-fold increase in its BAME population. Multicultural education might facilitate the inclusion of these children in the mainstream education system. Multicultural education is based on equity, which is imparted by teachers through various culturally responsive techniques and teaching procedures aimed at facilitating students from diverse backgrounds and all social classes. This is important due to the increasing awareness among BAME students who are interested in a curriculum, which can link to their lived experiences and identities. My research is a unique and holistic exploration of students’, practitioners’, and parents’ attitudes towards multiculturalism by adopting respectful and sensitive research methods, possibly for the first time in Plymouth. Data will be collected through virtual interviews, classroom activities, and documentary analysis. My findings may guide policymakers in Plymouth to identify potential areas where culturally relevant intervention programmes can be directed. Being very topical and directly related to educational concerns; my research may contribute to the ongoing studies supporting a multicultural curriculum. Although set in the local context of Plymouth and the National Curriculum, my research has a wider appeal to a broader audience as it clearly relates to Europe-wide considerations of how respect for different cultures can be enacted in educational settings.

Some references used in the research include:
Banks, James A. (1993). Multicultural Education: Development, Dimensions, and Challenges. Phi Delta Kappa International, 75(1), pp.22-28. Available at: [Accessed on 20 July 2020].
Plymouth Report. (2019). Plymouth: Plymouth City Council. [online]. Available at: [Accessed on 19 December 2019].
Skerrett, A. (2008) Going the race way: Biographical influences on multicultural and antiracist English curriculum practices. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24(7), pp.1813- 1826.
Whitfield, Lynn. (2017). Culturally Specific Interventions to Support Adolescent Immigrant and Refugee Mental Health. School of Social Work. [online]. Retrieved from Sophia, the St. Catherine University repository website:  [Accessed on 23 January 2020].

Claudia Blandon

Exploring the impact of human rights education (HRE) programmes on displaced women of African descent in Colombia 

The premise of this research is to question the one-size fits all Human Rights Education (HRE) programmes delivered to all women living in varied cultural contexts (Bajaj et al., 2017) and the presumption that all HRE programmes have universal positive impact. The overarching research question derives from the idea that ‘the rhetoric of empowerment is disconnected from practice’ (Issersles, 2003, p.34). The study’s hypothesis is that women who have experienced displacement transform universal concepts of human rights into ideas and strategies to fit their particular historical and social contexts (Levitt & Merry, 2009), and that these conceptualisations of rights may contradict universal understandings of rights, empowerment and agency.

The project’s overarching research question explores the impacts of Human Rights Education programmes (HRE) on women who have experienced displacement in Colombia, with a particular focus on women of African descent. Preliminary research questions include:

  • What type of discourses are embedded in designing and delivering HRE programmes?  
  • How do displaced women in Colombia learn, interpret, construct and transform knowledge of human rights?
  • What are the short- and long-term impacts of learning about human rights in displacement?  
  • What lessons can be learnt about HRE programmes design and delivery that can be used in other contexts? 

The project uses an ethnographic and feminist new materialist approaches. Data collection methods include thematic document analysis of key human rights instruments informing HRE, interviews, auto-ethnography and knowledge exchange workshops. In line with a participatory and inclusive approach, this project includes a final debriefing event with participants in Colombia.

Majid Amoori

A post-structural analysis of GCSE English

My thesis intends to problematise stability of meaning in GCSE English and demonstrate, through Deconstruction, which is a post-structural approach to textual analysis, that essay-based exam questions in GCSE English exam paper are susceptible to multiple interpretations contrary to what the policy makers intend to inculcate by valorising certain answers in the Marking Scheme (2018). For a text is characterised as ‘language functioning in a context’ (Halliday,2014,p.3), the GCSE English exam paper as a text is no exception. Thus, the policy makers’ texts will also be analysed to unravel their effort in establishing the presence of fixed meanings in GCSE English. ‘Presence’ (Derrida,1997) is central in this research and it aims to challenge the presence of meaning (metaphysics of presence) in GCSE English from a Derridean perspective. The Derridean strategy undermines the ‘common-sense readings’ and renders them problematic. Any quest for arriving at a fixed meaning and its presence in the text is ‘illusory because there will always be other perspectives from which to interpret the material under review’(Humes & Bryce, 2003, p.180). Ingrained in the language, either in GCSE or the affiliated documents, is a certain type of ‘metaphysics’, an allusion that meaning exists, which has established itself as a fixity, as a form of presence notwithstanding the modifications to GCSEs since its arrival. While this textual enquiry does not wish to draw on the exam’s reliability or validity or to discern a nexus between future life, employability and GCSEs, it intends mainly to display the multiple possibilities of interpretations in GCSE English exam papers. Put differently, the current study intends to challenge the ubiquitous naivety that texts would yield fixed meanings. My contention is that this post-structural approach toward the study of GCSE has been rare in the relevant literature except for a modest research size (Myhill 1999; Isaacs, 2014; Stock 2017). The ideas of this research are developed to raise consciousness on complexities of meaning making in GCSE English amongst interested students and academics in the field of Philosophy of Education.


AQA Marking Scheme, (2018). Paper 2 Writers’ viewpoints and perspectives 8700/2 Insert. GCSE English Language Specimen question paper2, [Online]. Paper2, 2-5. Available at [Accessed 6 January 2020].

Derrida, J., (1997). Of Grammatology. 1st ed. USA: John Hopkins University Press.
Halliday, M.A.K. (2014). Halliday’s Introduction to Functional Grammar. 4th ed. Hodder Education.
Humes, W. & Bryce, T. (2003) Post-structuralism and Policy Research in Education, Journal of Education Policy, 18:2, pp. 175–187.

Isaacs, T. (2014) Curriculum and assessment reform gone wrong: the perfect storm of GCSE English. The Curriculum Journal, [online] 25(1), pp.130-147. Available at: [Accessed 18 May 2019].

Myhill, D. (1999). Writing Matters: Linguistic Characteristics of Writing in GCSE English Examinations. English in Education, 33(3), pp.70–81.

Stock, N. (2017). Deconstructing the Divergence: Unravelling the 2013‐2015 reforms in GCSE English Language and Literature. English in Education, [online] 51(2), pp.143-156. Available at: [Accessed 11 Apr. 2019].

Katherine Gulliver

Children with Williams Syndrome: experiences of mainstream primary schools

My PhD explores the experiences of four young children with Williams Syndrome attending a primary school in the South West of England. Previous research into individuals with Williams Syndrome has been influenced by a deficit view of disability combined with a positivist approach to research. Therefore, this research seeks to explore children’s daily lives from their perspective whilst enabling them to contribute to research about themselves.

A Mosaic Approach was adapted to promote the participation of children with Williams Syndrome aged 5-7 in research. Children led the researcher on a tour of their school, recorded audio conversations, and took photographs of the school to help share their understanding. Activities and conversations around their photographs varied from cutting out pictures, drawing across them, and mapping out their class. Teachers and teaching assistants were audio recorded in semi-structured interviews, and videos were taken of the children working closely with their 1:1 on a task. I spent one week in each school, taking detailed fieldnotes and at times participating in the daily classroom routine. A photobook was made and given to each child participant to share with families, friends and schools showing their contribution to research.

The research uses a strength-based approach to enable children with disabilities to share their experiences as capable ethnographers.

Kathrin Paal

Gardening with children: how a preschool garden can encourage preschoolers’ pro-environmental behaviour

Environmental issues, resulting from global warming, have made care for the environment an increasingly urgent matter. Involving children in environmentally friendly practices in day-care centres can encourage children to engage with and shape their environments. A variety of studies have found that early experiences with outdoor activities and play have a positive influence on children’s attitudes and behaviour towards the environment. In my project, I will take a closer look at preschoolers’ pro-environmental behaviour as well as the potential of a preschool garden to encourage pro-environmental behaviour. Therefore, I will observe children and their caregivers during gardening activities in the preschool garden, while I am taking field notes. Additionally, I will ask the children to draw a picture of their idea of what is good or healthy for our planet and conduct interviews with the children by asking them to describe what they have drawn and how we can help the earth. Through observation as well as children’s statements and drawings I aim to explore and illustrate different ways in which the use of a preschool garden can encourage children’s pro-environmental behaviour. My project investigates the attitudes and behaviour towards the environment of an, in this context, unresearched age group. I will contribute valuable information into the use of participatory methods to gain a holistic view on what children think, experience and learn when engaging with a preschool garden.

Jackie Barry

Brain-based Learning Interventions: using a critical discourse analysis to explore implementation in English secondary schools

I am focussing on science-backed teaching interventions in secondary schools. Given the Covid catch-up funding the government is providing to all schools, this topic has become especially relevant.

I was a secondary English teacher in a school in which science-backed packaged products were bought in to aid in the development of student resilience. Finding some of the ways in which this science was implemented into pedagogy problematic, I have set out to gain a better understanding of how scientific research becomes evidence-based interventions and how these interventions are used in English secondary schools. To do this, I am conducting a critical discourse analysis to explore the route from lab to classroom, examining which evidence is most valued, how it becomes a product, how these products are marketed and how and why a school implements them. I will also be conducting key informant interviews and would like to gain a better understanding of perceptions around these interventions. Key informants will include a curriculum lead, a teacher, a learning support assistant and a governor. In some ways, I am being inspired by Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophical exploration of rhizomes in that I am trying to capture the complex interconnectedness of science, policy, educational entrepreneurs, and teacher pedagogy. That said my research is mainly informed by the work of sociologist Basil Bernstein, particularly as it relates to pedagogic discourse.

Agatha (Lan-Fang Liu)

Philosophy for Children (P4C) and critical thinking: comparative case studies from England and Taiwan

I am researching the values that underpin teachers’ implementation of P4C and how their different cultural values might impact their classroom practice. This study also addresses how the children in two cultural contexts express their philosophical reasoning, critical thinking and enquiry.

During my study, I have undertaken training sessions in P4C with the Society for Advancing Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE) and Socratic Dialogue (SD) at the Society for the Furtherance of Critical Philosophy (SFCP) to extend my knowledge of practical philosophy. This year my focus is on Philosophical Consultation, which is also a form of philosophical enquiry to explore questions with individuals. This method is significant in terms of potential benefits for wellbeing, which is intrinsically worthwhile, particularly during recovery from this crisis period. Together with practitioners from various countries, I will be involved in the organisation of a group (Philosophical Practice Hub). The hub will provide information about different approaches to practical philosophy and a link to services for people to access.

Philosophical enquiry merging into education is a profound issue with which we can guide students to think of the environment, friendship, family, love, and even wellbeing issues. I am willing to share my knowledge in terms of P4C, SD and Philosophical Consultation.

Kerissa Nelson

Understanding the psycho-emotional experiences of students with dyslexia (SWD) in mainstream classrooms

The goal of this research is to create knowledge and promote understanding of the psycho-emotional experiences of students with dyslexia (SWD) in mainstream classrooms and to offer an opportunity to teachers to consider SWD’s perspectives in informing their teaching practices.  I have chosen this topic because as an educator, mentor and international student from Jamaica I want to enhance the psycho-emotional experiences of SWD by expanding the knowledge of educators, including strategies available to them for use in a dyslexia-friendly classroom. Fostering dyslexia-friendly classrooms means increasing access, inclusion and opportunity in schools for SWD which is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 of providing quality education for all. To achieve the aims, I will address three questions:

  • What do SWD say about their psycho-emotional experiences in mainstream classrooms in South West England?
  • What do SWD who are now attending university say about their past psycho-emotional experiences in mainstream classrooms in South West England?
  • How might these findings support teachers to develop their practice?

My research draws on multiple perspectives as well as multi-temporal case study as such participants will be selected using purposeful sampling, with data analysed using thematic data analysis. The main outcome of this research is to generate several potential classroom strategies to improve the psycho-emotional experience and academic attainment of future SWD.

Ali Beaman

Understanding how we can better support Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) as teachers of early reading

The aim of my PhD research is to contribute to our understanding of how we can better support Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) as teachers of early reading.

Over the last 40 years, a vast amount of evidence shows that a phonological awareness deficit is a primary risk factor for reading difficulties (Wagner and Torgesen, 1978; Kilpatrick, 2012, 2016, 2019). According to the Teachers’ Standards (2012), NQTs are expected to demonstrate effective teaching of early reading, including a clear understanding of Systematic Synthetic Phonics. This includes children having phonological awareness as a prerequisite for successful early reading development, as defined by Rose (2006) and the Department for Education and Employment (1998a). Whilst Education Policy presents a clear picture of the desirable teaching practices for teaching early reading, which includes phonological awareness skills (Rose, 2006; Department for Education, 2013), there is a lack of consensus in the academic literature regarding the development of NQTs’  knowledge, understanding and practice of this necessary skill.

Over the period of an NQT’s induction year, I will explore what is known about the way five NQTs develop their knowledge, understanding and teaching of early reading, exposing changes, uncovering contradictions, highlighting tensions or illumining problems.


Department for Education (2012) Teachers’ standards. Guidance for school leaders, school staff and governing bodies. [Online] Available from [accessed 18 March 2021].

Department for Education (2013) English programmes of study: key stages 1 and 2 National Curriculum in England [online] Available from: [Accessed 18 March 2021].

Department for Education and Employment. (1998a) The National Literacy Strategy Framework for Teaching. Sudbury: DfEE Publications [accessed 18 March 2021].

Kilpatrick, D. (2012) Phonological Segmentation Assessment Is Not Enough: A Comparison of Three Phonological Awareness Tests with First and Second Graders. Canadian Journal of School Psychology. Vol. 27, No. 2: 150-165.

Kilpatrick, D. (2016) Equipped for Reading Success. (1st ed.) New York: Casey and Kirsch Publishers.

Kilpatrick, D. A. (2019) Recent Advances in Understanding Word-Level Reading Skills [Online] Available from:

Rose, J. (2006) Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading: Final Report (The Rose Review). London: Department for Education and Skills.

Wagner, R. K., and Torgesen, J. K. (1978). The nature of phonological process and its causal role in the acquisition of reading skills. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 101, No. 2: 192-212.

Sally Charlesworth

Addressing gaps in the approach to arts education within small coastal primary schools in Devon

This research study aims to identify and address the gaps in how arts education is approached within small coastal primary schools in Devon. By devising practitioner-led sessions that collaborate with teachers, it is my intention that primary school students will have access to a more holistic, well-rounded approach to visual art and its inclusion in their time at school and lives going forward.

A series of personal experiences in art lessons as a secondary pupil led to me feeling failed by the education system. I became a parent and started to see the same problems perpetuating and my want to break that cycle has led me to this point in my research.

Methodologically, I will be spending time in sample schools and learning how their art curriculum is delivered and where teachers feel the current curriculum does and doesn’t support them. The lived experience of both teachers and pupils is incredibly important in this process, and the research as a whole. Using an action research approach of evaluating qualitative data, testing sessions and re-evaluating I aim to refine the sessions to form an approach that is deliverable to teachers as part of their continuing professional development that differs from the didactic approach that currently exists.  

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