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School of Environment, Education and Development

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ESRC CASE studentship (Educational Disadvantage)


Lessons from ‘odds-beating’ schools: understanding how schools serving disadvantaged areas achieve good outcomes.

Project description

This full time 3 year PhD studentship, starting in September 2019, is fully funded by the ESRC CASE studentship scheme together with the Manchester Institute of Education at The University of Manchester and St Patrick’s Teaching School in Salford.

CASE studentships involve a PhD student working in partnership with a professional organisation to undertake a study which has been designed to enhance the organisation’s work. This creates an exciting opportunity for students to undertake a PhD which bridges between academic and professional concerns, having a direct impact in a professional context while also producing a PhD thesis.  

The PhD will require the successful candidate to become an ‘embedded researcher’ based at St Patrick’s Teaching School. The appointed student will work with a trio of schools, led by St Patrick’s, all of which are achieving good outcomes in disadvantaged areas. The student will:

  • undertake detailed in-depth qualitative research in each school to explore how the schools understand and are responding to disadvantage in their local contexts and pupil populations;
  • facilitate a process of cross-school learning, supporting the trio of schools to share and deepen their understandings and practices in response to emerging findings;
  • work with St Patrick’s Teaching School to explore how it might draw on the research findings to develop its offer to schools.

The PhD will be supervised by Dr Kirstin Kerr and Dr Laura Black from The Manchester Institute of Education, and closely supported by Barbara Rogers CBE, a National Leader of Education and head of St Patrick’s Teaching School.

The studentship project

This study has been co-designed with St Patrick’s Teaching School, which is committed to developing high-quality research-informed support for schools.  

It seeks to understand how schools serving disadvantaged areas, and working with pupil populations which reflect local levels of disadvantage, ‘beat the odds’ by consistently achieving good outcomes, through equitable practices. Specifically, it will explore how these schools:

  • understand disadvantages in their local contexts and student populations;
  • respond to these in practice;
  • what it is about the nature of their response that supports their success.

To do this, the successful candidate will pursue an ethnographic-style case-study design, which involves St Patrick’s forming and leading a ‘learning trio’ by partnering two other secondary schools from Greater Manchester which appear ‘odds-beating’. Individually and collectively, the student will work with the schools to:

  • surface, scrutinise and share their understandings and practices in relation to different aspects of schooling and their local contexts;
  • explore and articulate any synergies between these;
  • explore how learning from this can directly inform St Patrick’s Teaching School offer and the trio’s wider work.

Person specification

Applicants must hold a Master’s degree at merit level or above in a relevant social science or humanities discipline, such as education, social anthropology, social policy, or sociology. They must demonstrate a keen awareness of issues relating to the impacts of disadvantage on education and life chances, and of school-focused efforts to address these. Teaching experience, or experience of working in schools in other pupil-focused capacities (e.g. in pastoral support), in Local Authority school improvement services, or in similar contexts, is highly desirable. A high level of competence in qualitative data generation and analysis is essential as the study will involve the development of ethnographic style case studies.

The successful candidate must be DBS cleared.

The successful candidate must also be based in the Manchester area. This is to allow the student to work closely with St Patrick’s and the other schools in the trio and to access the university’s full range of services. 

Candidates must satisfy the ESRC's academic and residential eligibility requirements and be UK (full award) or EU citizens (fees only). Find out more about eligibility here (see p4).

Financial support

The studentship covers academic fees, provides an annual Maintenance Stipend (£14,777 in 2018, the exact rate for 2019 subject to confirmation from the RCUK), and access to a Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) for reimbursement of research-related expenses including, but not limited to: conference attendance, training courses and UK fieldwork.

Further information

Further details about the project the successful candidate will be required to undertake can be found in the ‘further details’ document.  

Applicants are strongly recommended to discuss their application with Dr Kirstin Kerr in advance of submission. Dr Kerr’s contact details are

The deadline for applications is 13.02.19. Interviews will be held at St Patrick’s RC High School and Teaching School, Salford. The provisional date for interviews is the morning of Wednesday, 27 February.  

Candidates invited for interview are expected to cover their own expenses.


Apply by Monday, 13 February 2019 5pm GMT by emailing the following, using ‘St Patrick’s Teaching School ESRC CASE Studentship’ as the email subject.

  • A full CV.
  • A personal statement outlining the applicant's suitability and interest to undertake the proposed project, paying particular attention to the proposal's substantive and methodological aspects.
  • An example of a piece of academic writing produced by the applicant of 5,000-10,000 words. (Applicants may consider submitting two shorter pieces of c.5,000 if these deal separately with conceptual and empirical analyses.) This may be a chapter(s) from a Master’s dissertation, in which case, an abstract or introduction outlining the context/aims/research questions of the study must also be included.
  • The names and contact details of two academic referees who are able to comment on the applicant’s suitability for PhD study and to undertake the advertised project.
  • The name and contact details of an additional referee who can comment on the applicant’s professional suitability to undertake the project in partnership with St Patrick’s Teaching School.

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