School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

Staff Profiles

Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith

Research Excellence Academy Fellow



My initial degree was in Anthropology at University College London. I then completed a Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and taught EFL in the UK and South East Asia. On returning to the UK I completed a Master’s Degree in Gender, Literature and Modernity at the University of Warwick, where I subsequently worked in university management. I was seconded to the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) as a Project Manager, developing out-of-school extension and enrichment provision for students labelled as gifted and talented under the national strategy. I then moved to NAGTY’s Research Centre as a Research Fellow.

My PhD (2010), funded by a University of Warwick Postgraduate Scholarship, drew on narrative methods to consider lived experiences of ‘giftedness’ in the context of policy espousing both equity and excellence. In conjunction with Professor Jim Campbell I have published a book based on my thesis entitled Families, Education and Giftedness: Case studies in the construction of high achievement (Sense, 2012).

I have been a Visiting Fellow at the University of Warwick's Institute of Education and Honorary Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education, University of Cumbria. I have also worked as an education consultant for organisations including Nord Anglia Education Ltd., Rural Learning, The Big Sofa, Oxford Learning Partnership and the Gifted Students Academy.


  • Scientific Committee, Life History and Biography Network, European Society for Research on the Education of Adults
  • British Educational Research Association
  • Society for Educational Studies
  • Core Member, Research Centre for Learning and Teaching, Newcastle University


Research Interests

My research lies within what can be broadly thought of as the sociology of education. I am interested in better understanding the relationship of out-of-school processes to academic achievement, particularly in relation to the contradiction which lies at the heart of an ostensibly meritocratic system that disproportionately and consistently rewards the most privileged groups of learners. I have an on-going interest in conceptions of ability and how academic development is best fostered if we take seriously the implications of understanding giftedness as a socially constructed concept. Linked to this is an interest in a range of contested areas broadly thought of as connected to academic identity, including research on aspirations, social class and social mobility in particular.

I am interested in innovative qualitative methodologies, particularly the use of narrative and biographical methods, to explore processes underpinning the formation of academic identity and I have devised a narrative method for working with family groups (see Mazzoli Smith, 2014: Sage).

Recent research with care-experienced students and on poverty and schooling are discussed in these short videos for practitioners and teachers in training:


2016 - 2017 ESRC Impact Accelerator Account: Changing Stories - narrative and relational agency in widening participation (PI)

2016 Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal: Changing Stories scoping and pilot (PI)

2016 Nuffield Foundation: Out of School Activities and the Education Gap

2016 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Early Career Fund: Systematic review of interventions that have been successful with disadvantaged able/gifted learners (PI)

2015 - 2016 Children North-East: Evaluation of the Poverty Proofing Initiative

2015 Gateshead Council: Evaluation of the Multi Agency Safe-guarding Hub (MASH)

2014 - 2015,Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Early Career Fund: Investigating whether and how Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) enable pupils to perform outside of normal academic roles and identities (PI)

2013 - 2014 Catherine Cookson Foundation: Supporting the Progression of Looked After Young People to University: Evaluating the work of the North-East Raising Aspirations Partnership in the context of analysing differing pathways to university progression for looked after young people (PI)

2013 Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal: Fairness in Education (PI)





EDU8207 Thinking Critically about Research Methodology (module leader)

EDU8095 Research Strategies and Methods

HSS8004 Qualitative Methodology in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

HASS PGT Skills Enhancement Programme

Individual supervision of Masters level student dissertations

I am currently supervising the following doctoral students:

  • Helen Woodley (EdD)
  • Andrew Ashley (PhD)
  • Shirley (Mei Ling) Chan (EdD)
  • Norah Alqarni (PhD)
  • Helen Allis (EdD)
  • Elizabeth Trattles (EdD)