Personal profile

Research interests

There are two main strands to my research activity, though these mostly come together in the work I’ve carried out. My commitment to Inclusive Education characterises most of my reported work, though its sites vary widely from early years settings to the prison estate; similarly, I have attracted support from larger agencies (such as ESRC) to LA, NGO and Charity bodies. Most importantly, however, a unifying focus of all my work without exception has been the exploration of voice in the lives and moral careers of individuals in a variety of social policy contexts. As a way of reporting my work in Inclusive Education, I have developed a distinct research position in Qualitative Research Methodologies, and in particular the use of narratives and fictions in critical Life Story enquiry.

Scholarly biography

Having trained to be a teacher in London, I taught English and Drama in the 1970’s in a London Comprehensive School, and later in a number of special schools where I took an early interest in the ways in which schools failed children, often in the name of children failing schooling. Thus demonised, such children were given labels reifying their ‘difficulty’ in a culture of categorisation and failure.

My academic studies led me into the realms of trying to understand how children’s language is an important determinant of their ability to develop resilience in a frequently hostile schooling system. That eventually led to a Doctoral project and a subsequent move to the role of PGCE tutor – and later, a CPD and HD tutor - at the University of Sheffield.

My career at the University of Sheffield, and then as Professor of Inclusive Education at Queen’s Belfast, Liverpool Hope University and a Research Fellow at the University of Chester has had at its centre a concern about what the term inclusion can mean when we go beyond the simple rhetoric of where pupils are educated, to its reality in the complex and difficult lives of pupils and their families; this having a new poignance in the light of government voices.

Approach to teaching

I have taught across many of the higher degree courses offered in the Universities where I have worked, making major contributions to Inclusive Education, and Research Methodology  programmes in both the UK and Overseas programmes (Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Malta and the Caribbean). Additionally I have been responsible for the creation and direction of a number of courses and pathways – including taught doctorates – both EdD and PhD.

Supervisory Interests

Amongst others, I have supervised studies dealing with:

  • Issues of Race and Ethnicity
  • Students (of all ages) designated with Learning and/or Disability 'Difficulties'
  • Imprisoned and otherwise institutionally alienated learners
  • The situation of Early Childhood difficulties
  • The experiences of gay learners and teachers
  • Dysfunctional Leaders/Institutions 
  • The Life Study of Professional Educators
  • Leadership in 'Faith' Schools
  • Arts-Based Enquiry in the Social Sciences

I have examined in excess of sixty full doctoral theses within my specialist area and I welcome enquires from prospective candidates wishing to study with me for a doctorate in the field of Education. 

Knowledge exchange

Within the broad concerns of social inclusion, my research reflects some thirty years of enquiry into learning and learning difficulties at individual, institutional and policy levels. In doing this I have focussed on the lives of those living and learning with difficulty, and the impact of policy on the personal and professional lives of teachers and pupils. My teaching, writing and research has centred around my notion of an agnostic inclusion whereby:

Inclusion has an operational rather than conceptual focus;

There are as many versions of inclusion as there are people to be included – and the people who are to include them;

Inclusion is not the exclusive property of any one domain, be that political, academic, professional, cultural or otherwise;

Inclusion must not be imposed from without, but developed in partnership with those who seek inclusion;

Cultures (and curricula) are by definition exclusive;

Certain individuals and groups find their identity in exclusion;

Inclusion can/must only be known by its outcomes – not its rhetoric; there is a need for evidence.

There is a methodological integrity here, where the issues call not for counting and measuring learners’ difficulties but for continually developing forms of educational curricula and enquiry which recognise the realities of lived experience.

I developed my research focus in the area of attitudes and practices towards inclusion in the area of preschool education in the UK and other European countries (Clough and Nutbrown 2004; Nutbrown and Clough 2004). Most recently my research has focused on marginalised and excluded parents who are in prison; Fathers’ Literacy in Prison (FLiP) is an innovative project which aims to initiate and sustain fathers’ active participation in their children’s literacy whilst in prison, and support it on their release.


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