Research Centre for Learning and Teaching

Staff Profile

Dr Pamela Woolner

Reader in Use and Design of Educational Space



My initial degree was psychology, with the first year as a mathematics/psychology joint honours student. After an MA (Philosophical Issues in Psychology), I completed a PGCE in secondary mathematics and taught in various north-east schools. My PhD (2004) brought together my background in psychology with my experiences of teaching and learning mathematics. I considered the potential of teaching approaches which emphasise either visual or verbal understanding and the impact on learners who might favour one or other mode.

I now research educational environments, in schools, universities and elsewhere, contributing to the interdisciplinary work that underpins this area. My research includes investigations of underlying issues for learning space design, and examinations of the use and development of space in British schools. These projects range from reviewing the evidence base for the impact of school premises on learning to working collaboratively with schools to improve their learning environments. This work has enabled me to understand the potential for school premises to support change and improvement.

My interest in investigating and developing educational environments centres on the more active participation of users (including students, teachers, non-teaching staff and the wider community). Participatory research approaches, which I have developed with colleagues in CfLaT (Community for Learning and Teaching), use a range of visual and spatial activities to both engage and empower participants in sharing their experiences and knowledge.  

Currently I am Degree Programme Director for the EdD and teach on a range of ECLS and HaSS modules, mostly centred on research methods. In this role, I draw on my on-going research experience as a member of CfLaT.

Area of expertise

Understanding and developing learning environments

Google scholar: Click here.


Resources to support collaborative planning of school space: 

This website and free resources were developed through a major European research project:

Collaborative Re-Design with Schools – CoReD - 2019-2022

For a key publication, please see:

Available as 'Online First' and 'Open Access here:


Research Interests

My research interests centre on understanding and developing the physical learning environment. This includes examining the historical and research background to recent developments in school buildings, and investigating the participation of users (including students, teachers, non-teaching staff and the wider community) in the design process. I have become increasingly interested in how visual techniques, including photo elicitation and mapping activities, can facilitate such participation.

Other Expertise

I help to support action research undertaken in CfLaT partner schools and by teachers involved with a number of current projects. My background is that of a quantitative researcher, and one of my roles is to provide assistance with quantitative methods and analysis.

Current and Recent Work

Developing a method for obtaining pupil insight for Building in Use reviews: the use and value of external school space – exploratory research by the funded Department for Education, UK 2022 - 2023

Collaborative Re-Design with Schools – CoReD, working with colleagues from universities (and, through them, schools) in Iceland, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden and Italy (funded by Erasmus ):

Constructing Education (funded by Council of Europe Development Bank) developing a framework for collaboration to enhance the effectiveness of investment in learning infrastructure and innovation:

CEB proposes an innovative framework for investments in education | CEB (

Art and SOLE (funded by British Academy)

Experience of support staff and students through a school rebuild under the Priority School Building Programme (funded by PVC discretionary fund)

HE Learning Environments Research and Development Project (funded by Newcastle University ESS)

Classroom space: investigating and cataloguing primary school classroom space in north east England (funded by Winifred Smith Fund)

Learning for Change: Review of Rickleton Primary School’s premises (funded by NISR)

Evaluation of Open Futures 2011-2013 (for the Helen Hamlyn Trust) 

Postgraduate Supervision


Nadia Ahmed (IPhD) Assessment in Fine Art

Saarah Abu-Nijaila (EdD) Coaching towards Competency: A descriptive case study exploring effects of an imposed coaching model within a contextually challenging urban school.

Sally McDonald (EdD) What are the costs and benefits of Teach First’s participant placement strategy at individual, school and policy levels? 

Nagham El Elani (PhD in School of APL) SPACE, a Bridge connecting Online and Offline Learning 

William Gray (EdD) How does pre-teaching affect students' attainment, participation and attitudes in primary mathematics?

Stuart Walker (EdD) How do governors perceive their own effectiveness in their role as a member of a governing body and as a school leader? 

Debbie Myers (EdD) 'I Speak for the Trees: Developing Children's Environmental Advocacy through Innovative Curriculum-making 

James Youdale (PhD) Understanding the connections between flexible learning spaces and pedagogy in contemporary UK higher education.

Nick Tones (EdD) The emergence of educational ‘best practices’ in an independent training provider: What makes them best?

Previous supervisions:

Sheila McCarter (DAppEdPsy) How Conceptualisations of Learning are revealed by the use of Carpet Space in Primary Schools

Hajah Haji Bungsu (IPhD) Threshold concepts in learning in agriculture

Carl Towler (PhD) Paper Based Rapid Prototyping of a Dilemmatic Pedagogy for the Interpretation of Narrative Texts in Classrooms

Nguyen Du (EdD) Factors influencing teaching for critical thinking in Vietnamese lower secondary schools: a mixed method study focussed on history

Hannah Nichols (DAppEdPsy) ‘It’s like we are getting involved with their world’: an exploration of the environment that supports active learning with 2-3 year olds.

Jill Clark (PhD) The Journey of researching on to researching with –theoretical and methodological challenges within educational research

Lesley Scott (EdD) To what extent does policy and guidance impact on engagement with teaching and learning in a medical context?

Roger Handyside (PhD) A design based research approach to an educational challenge: Developing independent learners using a blended learning environment

Sarah Whyte (EdD) Thinking about our feelings': A pedagogical innovation centred on the skills of emotional intelligence with Third Culture Kids

Jaswinder Jutla (EdD) Becoming a secondary science teacher: An exploration of key personal, professional and situated experiences, and how these shape science teacher identities: a multiple case study

Tania Watson (IPhD) Disability and Challenging Behaviour in Schools: the necessity for a Culpability Model of Disability.

Abd Khalik Khassunah Bin Muzir (PhD) School buildings maintenance in Malaysia: Current practices, key challenges and implications

Helen Burns (EdD) Imagining Better Learning: an exploration of our understanding of imagination, its role in developing our learning and metacognition and how it can be nurtured through the visual arts 

Alison Whelan (EdD) Agent of change: what is the impact of identifying as a teacher-researcher?

Rebecca Clavell-Bate (EdD) An exploration of the experience and impact of Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) on a group of Year 5 children in a mainstream primary school 

Noelia Cacheiro Quintas (PhD) Understanding Student Discontinuation in Online Language Courses in Corporate Training 

Fatma Otain (PhD) The Future of Learning: Implementation of SOLE in a Saudi Primary School 

Jonny Hall (EdD) “What Links an Eight-Year Old’s ‘Journey to the Moon’ and a Law Student Going to Court for their Client? Orchestrating Experiences Conducive to Student Learning in a Law Clinic”

Clare Burt (DAppEdPsy) Exploring Secondary Students’ Wellbeing: How relationships and contextual factors influence wellbeing

Sameer Khormi (EdD) Integrating GeoGebra into a primary mathematics teaching intervention: impact on students’ learning processes and outcomes

Oonagh McGee (EdD) Support, belonging and access: Examining Funded Doctoral Centres and the Postgraduate Student Experience

Esteem Indicators

• Invited expert participant in a private seminar organised by the Capital Analysis Unit at the Department for Education addressing the question, 'What is the impact of the condition and suitability of school buildings on pupil and teacher outcomes (attainment, behaviour, teacher retention etc.)?' (London, Aug 2016). Invited to present expert evidence to the BCSE Great Schools Inquiry, addressing the question ‘What evidence is there of the link between school buildings/environments and educational achievement and broader outcomes for young people?’ (London, Nov 2009). Invited to make presentations about school design to Local Authority Education Committee (Northumberland County Council, 2005), CABE (London, 2006), inter-disciplinary conferences of policy-makers, professionals and academics (Westminster Education Forum: The Future of School Buildings, London, 2021, 2020, 2017 and 2013; RSA: Designing and Managing Learning Environments, London, 2007) and to architects and educationalists as part of a series of interdisciplinary lectures (Nottingham Univeristy, 2009).

• Invited speaker for international conferences: "School, Space and Territory: British and French perspectives" organised by the LARHRA (Laboratoire de Recherche Historique Rhône-Alpes) and held at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Lyon, Nov 2013); "Schools for the Future" organised by Universität Koblenz-Landau (Koblenz, July 2014); “School policies and young people's use of places at school” University of Geneva, funded by Swiss national Science Foundation (Geneva, Oct 2014); 'School design and Pedagogy' organised by the University of Iceland (Reykjavik, May 2015); ‘Institutional Buildings and their Connection through the Community’, Free University of Bolzano at Brixen – Bressanone (Italy, March 2016); ‘Designing Schools: Considering Matters of Time and Context’ funded by The Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Copenhagen, Denmark, May 2018); ‘Learning Environments – Looking to the Future - What is important in the design of modern school and higher education buildings?’ organised by Education Futures with Learning Environments Australasia (Monash University, Melbourne, April, 2019); 'Collaborative ReDesign with Schools', University of Coimbra (Portugal, July 2022)

•Keynote speaker at ‘Talking Spaces 8: Geographies, Practices, Societies’, University of Melbourne, Australia, Feb 2018; Keynote speaker at 'Rede Escolar – 20 anos de Transformação’, Instituto Politécnico de Viseu, Portugal, May 2023.

• Invited reviewer of research grants proposals for ESRC, Newton Fund, Swiss National Science Foundation and the Estonian Research Council 

• Invited reviewer for a wide range of UK and international journals, including British Educational Research Journal; Learning Environments Research; International Journal of Research and Method in Education; Teaching and Teacher Education; Pedagogy, Culture and Society; Cambridge Journal of Education; CoDesign; Education Inquiry; Environment and Behavior.

• Advisory Group member for EPSRC funded project, ‘Designing New Schools – putting people at the heart of the process’, based at the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield, directed by Dr Rosie Parnell. Steering Group member for HEFCE funded project ‘Innovative, effective, enjoyable? Creating the evidence base to deliver productive academic workplaces’, based at the Department of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University, directed by Prof Simon Austin.

External Funding

Evaluating the Role of the Artist in Building Schools for the Future, Sept 2005 to July 2006: £7,000 (Arts Council England North East).

Facilitating participation in the design process at Seaham College, Feb 2007 to April 2008: £5,000 (Durham County Council)

Exploring the fitting of practice to context at Oakfields Community College, Feb 2011 to June 2011: £10,000 (Creative Partnerships)

Evaluation of Open Futures 2011-2013, June 2012 to Dec 2013: £29,000 (Open Futures Trust)

Thinking about school space October 2013: £1,062 (Rickleton Primary School, Sunderland)

Art and SOLE: British Academy Rising Stars Engagement Award (Principal investigator): March 2016 to March 2017: £15,000: investigating how SOLEs (Self- Organised Learning Environments), arts education and gallery space can be brought together to enhance learning and teaching.

Constructing Education July 2019-July2020: €5,000 (Council of Europe Development Bank) Developing a framework for collaboration to enhance the effectiveness of investment in learning infrastructure and innovation. 

Collaborative Re-Design with Schools – CoReD October 2019, August 2022: €254,580 (Erasmus ) Developing user-friendly tools for school communities to use to understand and change the design and use of their school space; 

Developing a method for obtaining pupil insight for Building in Use reviews: the use and value of external school space, Nov 2022 - May 2023: £31 386 (Department for Education, UK)



Postgraduate Teaching

I am Module Leader for the research methods module taken by postgraduate students on a range of programmes in Education, 'Research Strategies and Methods' (EDU8095). This provides an introduction to the wide range of methodology and methods used in researching education, enabling them to plan their own dissertation research project. I also lead the first of the compulsory research methods modules taken by EdD students, Practices of Inquiry (EDU8010) and am actively involved in the other two compulsory doctoral methods modules (EDU8011; EDU8207). My teaching input within all these modules has varied but often includes mixed methods design, quantitative methods and visual methods. I also contribute to the HaSS module 'Qualitative Methods and Critical Analysis in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS8004), leading a session on mixed methods research and a session on visual methods. In addition, I draw on my research of learning environments to contribute to other modules through sessions relating to pedagogical innovation and international views of school space.

Undergraduate Teaching

I contribute teaching to some Stage 1 and 2 modules, drawing on my knowledge of visual research methods and the design and use of British schools.


At the 2019 Teaching Excellence Awards (TEAs), I was delighted to receive the Student Choice award for my role as Degree Programme Director for the EdD.