Research Centre for Learning and Teaching

Staff Profile

Ulrike Thomas

CfLaT Research Associate




 I initially joined the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching in 2007 as the part-time Co-ordinating editor of the Learning and Teaching Update - a publication for secondary school teachers which was published by Optimus Education and which included articles written by a wide range of contributors from teachers around the country, to academics ( including Dylan Wiliam, Neil Mercer, Gordon Wells, Guy Claxton and Maurice Galton). 

My role as Co-ordinating editor introduced me to a wealth of innovative practice and theory in the field of Education and it is this work that has inspired my current research.


Research Interests (see 'Research' for more detail):


  • Innovative curriculum and pedagogy

I am currently working with Professor David Leat on research projects  which are exploring how teachers/schools and their partner organisations innovate (in terms of curriculum and pedagogical developments) in an era of high accountability. I am particularly interested in the support ( relationships)  and infrastructure required to create sustainable innovation.


  • Interviewing 

In my capacity as a researcher I have been developing my role as an interviewer on a wide range of projects. I am particularly interested in developing techniques and tools for interviewing which encourage a more ethical, participatory and meaningful exchange. I have focussed particularly on the use of mediating activities, including the use of visual methods, in order to explore how to encourage greater participation in both the interview itself and the interview analysis.


  • Physical Learning Environments 

My interests in innovative curriculum and pedagogy and interviewing have converged in recent research that I have undertaken with Dr Pamela Woolner as we have begun to explore the role of the physical learning environment on teaching,learning and school change. Using a range of participatory methods we have been working with teachers and pupils to develop their awareness and understanding of physical space in order to encourage them to make appropriate improvements to their environment.



Enquiry-Based Learning / Project -Based Learning Research project

The Enquiry-Based Learning / Project -Based Learning Research project which I am working on with Professor David Leat, is intended to support schools and teachers who wish to offer more enquiry/project based learning to their students, where possible drawing upon the people, resources and issues in the locality. The aim is to generate a positive reputation for enquiry in NE England and have a positive impact on the educational experience of learners in any phase or sector.

This project is best described as Research and Development.  It is iterative and periods of innovation and idea development will be interspersed with trialling and investigating practice, through collaboration with local stakeholders. 

We are currently working on an ESRC Impact Acceleration Account project in which we are working with a range of partners to create a model of Community Curriculum Making. This project will end with a dissemination event in July 2016.


Skype Grannies Research Project (completed)

This research project explored the logistics/practicalities of engaging Skype mediators in a variety of curriculum contexts and investigated early indications of pedagogical and curriculum impact, through interviews, written evidence and the recording of Skype sessions. The project was a partnership with the Digital Interaction Group, Culture Lab and participating schools  (two primary schools and three secondary schools). Initial findings from the research were presented at the British Educational Research Association Conference (BERA) 2014.



Physical Learning environments 

During recent consultancy work with a local Primary school I worked as part of a CfLaT team in which we worked collaboratively with the school staff to help them explore their school space and the changes that were needed in light of increasing pupil numbers. This led to a successful application for funding from the Institute for Social Renewal in which Dr Pam Woolner and I  built on the consultancy work undertaken with the teachers and extended it to include the participation of the pupils. We developed both new techniques for mediated interviewing using ipads and photography and also involved the teachers in more detailed work which included studying school plans and visits to other school premises to help build understanding.

Pam Woolner and I are currently working on a research project funded by the Estates Department here at Newcastle University. This research is exploring the views of academics and students with regard to the teaching and learning spaces they encounter and their fitness for purpose. We are also evaluating a range of furniture and technology options which are being trialled across campus and which have been designed to create greater flexibilty. This project is due to end in July 2016.