FindAPhD Weekly PhD Newsletter | JOIN NOW FindAPhD Weekly PhD Newsletter | JOIN NOW

Understanding the myths and stories which shape the looked after – and previously looked after – child’s journey through the education system in England (Ref: RDF22/HLS/SWECW/HOULT)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Prof Elizabeth Hoult  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This is an opportunity to study in the exciting, cross-disciplinary research environment in the Department of Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing at the University of Northumbria, where improving the experiences of disadvantaged and marginalised people is at the heart of our integrated research strategy. We are particularly interested in receiving applications from candidates who have experience of the care system, either as being looked after or previously looked after themselves, or as foster carers, adoptive parents or similar role.


The education outcomes of looked after – and previously looked after – children (LAC) in England are well behind the average for their age (Sinclair et al, 2019). Internationally, these children are among the lowest performing groups of all (Dill, 2012, Rees, 2012 and Sebba et al, 2015). There is a disproportionate representation of care-experienced people in prisons, mental health settings, as well as among homeless and unemployed populations (O’Higgins et al, 2015). This study will complement ongoing evaluation of interventions designed to address these inequalities (Harrison et al, 2020). It will provide a missing element of the research: a clear understanding of how teacher beliefs and tacit understandings contribute to learner identity formation in schools in England. Research into the way that children’s identities are formed (MacLure, 2013) has demonstrated that the acquisition of the identity of the ‘failing’ or ‘delinquent’ student happens rapidly and that such identities are forged in the professional and informal discourses at play in the school community. Ongoing evaluation work into the impact of trauma and attachment awareness training on school practice (Harrison et al, 2020) applies triangulated data on changes on ‘micro-practices’. The project will attempt to provide robust data on cultural understandings of looked after children and how these impact on teachers’ psychosocial responses to children in their care. It is an opportunity to bring unhelpful stereotypes to light and to interrupt the cycle of rejection, exclusion and disruption.


The research project will investigate how cultural stereotypes and archetypes influence the formation of learner identities in LAC in mainstream classrooms. Working with Professor Elizabeth Hoult and Dr Lynette Shotton, the successful candidate will draw on the multi-disciplinary evidence base about the experiences of LAC from Health and Social Care and Education, and the methodologies of English and Media Studies (see Hoult, 2012 and Hoult, Mort, Pahl and Rasool, 2020 for examples of applications) to  consider the mechanics involved the discursive framing of LAC as ‘problems’ in the Early Years classroom (MacLure et al, 2013). Close reading of  literary, cinematic and popular culture texts which represent the LAC (see Sissay’s, 2011 exhaustive work on foundlings in literature) will lead to the construction of a theoretical framework or schema of archetypes  which will be deployed as a lens through which to read empirical data gathered through narrative interviews (drawing Shotton’s methodology developed with care leavers) with teachers and teaching assistants about their experiences of teaching looked after children in their care.  The aim will be to illuminate the stories and myths which underpin the cultural understandings of LAC and thus to interrupt the process of ‘problematisation’ of LAC and thus allow a healthier identity to be formed which might prevent exclusions and underachievement later in the school career.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Informal enquiries to Prof Elizabeth Hoult ([Email Address Removed]).

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Further reading
Hoult, E.C. (2021), ‘Doing time and reading for resilience: working with temporal methodologies in transformative humanities and social sciences’ in Facer, K., Siebers, J. and Smith, B. (2021) Working with time in qualitative research: case studies, theory and practice, London: Routledge
Hoult, E.C. (March, 2021) Reading the educational experiences of looked after and previously looked after children: literature as ways in and ways out of the process of ‘becoming a problem’ invited seminar to Manchester Metropolitan University Education and Social Research Institute
Hoult, E.C., Mort, H., Pahl, K and Rasool, Z (2020) ‘Poetry as Method: Trying to See the World Differently’, Research for All, 4 (1): 87-101
Hoult, E.C. (2018) 'The Social Uses of the Alien: An Account of a Science Fiction Film Project in a UK Men's Prison', Foundation: International Review of Science Fiction, Vol. 47.1, number 129, 2018, pp. 51-63
Hoult, E.C. (2016). 'A Place Free From Compromise: Literary Studies and Resilient Learning' in The Use of English (Autumn, 2016), vol 68, number 1) pp. 49-55
Hoult, E.C. (2015) ‘Re-thinking Vulnerability and Resilience through a Psychosocial Reading of
Shakespeare’, pp. 105-125, in Frosh. S. (ed., with introduction by Judith Butler) Psychosocial Imaginaries: Perspectives on Temporality, Subjectivities and Activism, London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan
Hoult, E.C. (2012) Adult Learning and La Recherche Féminine: Reading Resilience and Hélène Cixous New York: Palgrave Macmillan (monograph)
Supervisor 2:
Shotton, L. (2021, in press) From care to caring. Using Bourdieu to explore care experienced students journeys into and through nurse education. Research in Post-Complusory education. DOIs: 10.1080/13596748.2021.1980662
Shotton, L (2019) PhD (unpublished),Graduating from care: A narrative study of care leavers’ journeys into and through university.
PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs