University of Sheffield
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Reference number: SHEFF-80867
Background to the study
Addressing the increased risk of educational failure associated with social disadvantage is a continuing concern within research (Fergusson et al 2008) and policy (The Centre for Social Justice 2013). In addition the association between social disadvantage and young children’s increased risk of language difficulties is also well documented both within the fields of speech and language therapy and psychology (Roulstone et al 2011). A revived interest in the role of language in explaining the increased risk of educational failure in contexts of social disadvantage is reflected in policy and government reviews (All Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties 2013). Much of this research and policy focuses on children within early years and primary school education. Less is known about the associations between language and social disadvantage among adolescents (Spencer et al 2012). This PhD studentship will address this research gap, by investigating the associations between adolescent language skills and risk of educational failure.
The PhD study
This PhD studentship will work in collaboration with a mainstream secondary school in an area of social disadvantage. It aims to:
a) Understand the mechanisms by which language skills impact on pupils’ engagement with
learning in secondary school classrooms;
b) Investigate teachers’ perceptions of how language skills impact on pupils’ engagement with
learning in secondary school classrooms;
c) Examine the role of language skills in explaining educational attainment within a
mainstream secondary school in an area of social disadvantage.
These aims will be addressed by applying a mixed qualitative and quantitative method design. Aim A will be addressed by conducting and analysing a series of structured classroom observations across curriculum areas within the partner school. Aim B will be addressed by collecting focus group data from teachers. Aim C will be addressed by quantitative analysis of data already collected by the partner school (e.g. attainment data, reading age scores, Cognitive Abilities Test scores), in addition to language assessment results.
This project has both theoretical and applied implications: Findings will further understanding of adolescent language in contexts of social disadvantage, and how this relates to educational outcomes. This will impact on secondary schools’ provision for adolescents at risk of educational failure. The findings will inform a school-level approach to supporting language skills across the secondary curriculum.
How to apply
Please apply through our online postgraduate application system including the Scholarship section where you need to tick the ’University Scholarships’ box. The form will ask you to summarise your research proposal in less than 800 words. If you are unsure about what to put in this section, please contact your prospective supervisor. Please name your supervisor and select their department Human Communication Sciences through the online form.
Deadline: 5pm 1st February 2017
Candidates must have a first or upper second class honors degree or significant research experience. This project is well suited to a candidate with an academic background in speech and language therapy, education, psychology or sociolinguistics, along with some experience of working with secondary schools. The successful candidate will be able to shape the focus of the project, incorporating additional research questions and contributing to the study design and methods.
The Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Doctoral Academy Scholarships cover Home/EU fee and RCUK rate stipend for three years. Overseas students may apply but will need to fund the difference between the Home and Overseas fee from another source.
Proposed start date: October 2017
Please go to the University Website and search for the keywords: Supporting adolescent language skills in order to prevent educational failure in contexts of social disadvantage
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