Photograph of student in IC

PhD Research Specialisms

The School of Education welcomes applications for PhD research in any area of education. The research interests of staff are broad and interdisciplinary and, as leading researchers in the field, we are actively engaged in educational issues at the cutting edge of change.

Research specialism in the School of Education is organised around four Research Clusters:

  • Critical Psychology and Education Cluster
  • Early Childhood Research Cluster
  • Higher Education Research Cluster
  • Literacy Research Cluster

Students should look in detail at these before applying in order to see if we have the expertise and experience to supervise their chosen area of study.

Our doctoral programmes are very popular, and as a result, we have one of the largest doctoral communities nationally. The School also receives a large number of applications, however our supervisors have limited availability, so we can only offer a limited number of places to study with us.

The research interests and publication profiles of individual staff in the School can also be found here. More information about our Research Clusters can be found here.

Research Clusters

Critical Psychology and Education Cluster

Critical Psychology and Education Cluster (CPEC)


Education and psychology have had a historically strong reliance upon one another yet our understandings of both areas are changing. These changes reflect new thinking in bioscience, biomedicine and biotechnology across all areas of policy, from family and welfare to formal and informal education, the legal system and overseas aid. Psychological and neuro-scientific knowledge are used increasingly to govern the behaviour, psychology and emotions of individuals and populations, and in new ways. Psychological knowledge is also expanding across cultures and communities into everyday life.

Learn more about the CPEC

Research Priorities:

  • To develop new models, concepts and theories ofhuman attributes and behaviour that draw on the social sciences/humanities
  • To challenge and rethink philosophical, political and psychological assumptions about personhood and the types of formal and formal psycho-emotional interventions that emerge from them
  • To examine policy & everyday images of the human subject as a target for educational intervention from early years to higher education and from formal to informal community-based settings
  • To challenge: who has the power to define what counts as a valued person, and social, economic and political inequalities through which claims to personhood are made.

Recent Projects in the CPEC

Transforming DisabilityTransforming Disability, Culture and Childhood: Local, Global and Transdisciplinary Responses

Our project brings together University of Sheffield researchers from the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities and Medicine to consider the ways in which difference and disability are being globally and locally conceptualised; how disability discourses are articulated alongside a discourse of ableism and the extent to which difference is required as a key component of contemporary society.

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DementiaPerceptions and experiences of children and young people with a parent with dementia

The assumption has tended to be that when someone has and is eventually diagnosed with dementia, the family members most affected will be partners or middle-aged children and there is a growing body of research that has looked at these people's experiences and needs, particularly with regard to caring responsibilities. The aim of this study is to focus on the perceptions and experiences of these children and young people with particular attention to any impact on their education and schooling.

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Heavenly ActsHeavenly Acts: Aspects of performance through an interdisciplinary lens

Heavenly Acts is an international and interdisciplinary network of scholars, practitioners and performers exploring meaning through the multidimensional world of religious performance. It brings together ethnomusicologists, sociolinguists, educationalists, theatre studies academics, Biblical Studies scholars, anthropologists and social psychologists.

Learn more

See all School of Education Projects

Early Childhood Research Cluster

Early Childhood Research Cluster (ECRC)

Early ChildhoodOur research draws on a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives, with no particular orthodoxy, but with common concerns regarding education and social justice, a commitment to criticality and a desire to drive methodological innovation, particularly engaging children and young people in and with research. This is evident in our shared commitment to research that embraces innovative approaches to co-production visual and arts-based methods, and ethically responsive research.

Learn more about the ECRC

Research Themes:

  • Learning, pedagogy, curriculum, assessment
  • Play – traditional and digital: blending on-line and off-lineplay
  • Children’s lives, perspectives and experiences
  • Professionalism and professional knowledge

In each of these themes, our research creates pathways for impact and engagement where we work with many different groups, communities and organisations.

Recent Projects in the ECRC

Reading ProjectUnderstanding the motivations and barriers to shared reading with young children

This project explores how parents feel about reading with young children at home. We know from existing research that reading with children before they start school can help their language development. A number of other associations – from learning to read to the development of a positive emotional relationship between parents and children – have also been highlighted.

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PLEYS ProjectProfessional Love in Early Years Settings (PLEYS)

The PLEYS project focuses on professional relationships with very young children. The project will examine the issues faced by professionals acting in loco parentis in expressing the affectionate and caring behaviours which very young children need for the development of healthy attachments. The intention is to develop guidelines and a ‘tookit’ for use in early years settings.

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REAL ProjectThe Sheffield REAL Project: Opportunities, Recognition, Interaction, Model

The Sheffield REAL (Raising Early Achievement in Literacy) Project began in 1995 and has identified an innovative approach to working with family stop promote young children's early literacy development. Since the early days of the Project the ORIM Framework has been used by major charities, National Children's Bureau, Peeple, and Booktrust, to develop new work with families and their young children.

Learn more

See all School of Education Projects

Higher Education Research Cluster

Higher Education Research Cluster (HERC)

Higher EducationWe undertake conceptual, empirical, historical and policy research in the field of higher education, nationally and internationally. Higher education is defined broadly to encompass all the main settings of tertiary education, including colleges, universities, the workplace and the virtual world.

Learn more about the HERC

Research Themes:

  • System change and policy reform
  • College and private higher education
  • Internationalisation and student mobility
  • Social justice, capability and human development
  • Curriculum, pedagogy and academic practice
  • Professional and vocational higher education
  • Historical method and the history of the sciences and humanities

Higher EducationESRC Centre for Global Higher Education @ Sheffield

We lead one of the programme areas in this new social science research centre dedicated to the study of higher education and its future. Funded for five years and directed by Professor Simon Marginson of the University College London Institute of Education, the centre is a partnership including the University of Sheffield, Lancaster University and eight international universities.

Learn more

See all School of Education Projects

Literacy Research Cluster

Literacy Research Cluster (LRC)

LiteraciesThe Literacy Research Cluster comes from a perspective that literacy practices are embedded within everyday life. The Research Cluster is designed to support and enable research that draws on that perspective. Our work engages with interdisciplinary research, including material cultural studies, cultural geography, sociology and the humanities to look at literacy in everyday life and learning contexts. The Literacy Research Cluster addresses issues such as post-colonialism, diaspora identities, migration and new emerging identities within contemporary society in relation to texts, practices and communication.

Learn more about the LRC

Research Themes:

  • Interdisciplinary research
  • Literacy in everyday life, communities, homes, schools
  • Methodological innovation
  • A vibrant research culture with doctoral and post doctoral researchers
  • Making a difference in educational contexts

Recent Projects in the CSL

DigiLitEYThe digital literacy and multimodal practices of young children

Young children are growing up in highly technologized societies across Europe. The aim of this COST Action is to develop an interdisciplinary network that enables researchers to synthesise existing research and identify gaps in knowledge in this area.

Learn more

Imagine ProjectImagine: Connecting Communities through Research

Working in partnership with local communities, we are exploring the social, historical, cultural and democratic context of civic engagement to imagine better futures and make them happen.

This five-year ESRC funded project brings together a range of different research projects working together across universities and communities.

Learn more

See all School of Education Projects

* Please note that successful applicants will be informed from October 2019.