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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Prof Barry Cooper

Emeritus Professor in the School of Education
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 48333

Contact Prof Barry Cooper (email at


In October 1998 Barry Cooper moved from the University of Sussex, where he was a Reader in Education, to Durham where he was appointed to a Chair and as Director of Research (1998-2005). Prof. Cooper was co-editor of the British Educational Research Journal (2004-2007, lead editor in 2006). He has also been an adviser to the Commonwealth Scholarships Commission. He taught post-graduate research methods courses for many years at Durham where he is now an Emeritus Professor (though living in Germany). Most recently at Durham he was employed as co-investigator on an ESRC funded project (described below).

He is a social scientist who originally studied maths and science. After undergraduate study in Cambridge, he undertook a PGCE, taught secondary school maths, and then studied at Sussex, with Colin Lacey, for an MA in Sociological Studies and a D.Phil. in the sociology of education. His thesis was published in 1985 as Renegotiating Secondary School Mathematics. This was one of the first attempts to apply sociological perspectives systematically in the study of the maths curriculum.

His research interests have reflected this crossing of disciplinary boundaries. After the 1985 book, he undertook further work in applying sociological perspectives to areas of maths education. For example, he directed two ESRC project in this area focusing on assessment: Understanding Children’s Mathematical Behaviour: Class, Gender & Context (1998/99) and Mathematics Assessment at Key Stages 2 & 3: Pupils’ Interpretation & Performance (1995-97). In these projects, working with Máiréad Dunne, he explored ways in which the ideas of Basil Bernstein and Pierre Bourdieu can be put to use in accounting for socio-cultural differences in children's responses to supposedly realistic maths problems. A prize-winning book on this work, Assessing Children's Mathematical Knowledge: Social Class, Sex and Problem-Solving, was published by the Open University Press in 2000. Between 1989 and 1995 Prof. Cooper was also heavily involved in the evaluation of the state-wide Andhra Pradesh Primary Education Project in India, working with Colin Lacey and Harry Torrance in the UK, and many colleagues in India.

After coming to Durham, Prof. Cooper continued his research in maths education, working with his colleague Tony Harries. He also worked as an evaluation consultant in several developing countries. More recently he has been exploring the use of Charles Ragin’s fs/QCA software (and its associated case-based analytic approach), working with data from the National Child Development Study and other studies. An initial paper using fs/QCA to analyse educational achievement by social class, gender and measured ability was published in Sociological Research Online in 2005. Subsequently he worked with Judith Glaesser (and also his Durham colleagues Richard Gott and Ros Roberts) to explore further the potential of this approach in social and educational research contexts, publishing several papers and a related book on the quantitative/qualitative "divide", with Judith Glaesser, Martyn Hammersley and Roger Gomm. This book, 

Challenging the Qualitative-Quantitative Divide: Explorations in Case-focused Causal Analysis, was selected by the Society for Educational Studies as one of the three best books ("highly commended") of the year 2012. During this period, he collaborated with Judith Glaesser, as her research mentor, while she worked as an ESRC Research Fellow, using QCA in a study of educational transitions in Germany and England. 

From January 2013, he worked as Co-Investigator on a three-year ESRC project, Qualitative Comparative Analysis: Addressing Methodological Challenges, with particular reference to survey data, led by Judith Glaesser as Principal Investigator. Steph Thomson, Cooper’s ex-PhD student, also worked as an assistant on the first year of this project. An illustrative paper from this work is the 2011 paper with Judith Glaesser, Paradoxes and pitfalls in using fuzzy set QCA: illustrations from a critical review of a study of educational inequality (nominated in 2012 by the SRO editors for the Sage prize for Excellence and Innovation). 

Prof. Cooper is continuing to explore some aspects of QCA and more general questions concerning the use of maths in social science. 

The selected publications below represent his range of work. 


Completed Supervisions (since 2008)

A Configurational Analysis of Parental Involvement in Primary School Mathematics

Indicators of Esteem

  • 2014: Research seminar and informal workshops: As leading experts in QCA applied to survey data, Glaesser and Cooper have been invited to give a research seminar and to hold informal workshops at Zurich University in March 2014
  • 2013: Book prize:

    Awarded a Highly Commended prize by Society for Educational Studies for book:

    Cooper, B., Glaesser, J., Gomm, R. and Hammersley, M. (2012) Challenging the Qualitative-Quantitative Divide. Continuum

  • 2010: Board of Examiners: Member of ESRC Board of Examiners re studentships.
  • 2004: Member of organising team: Member of the organising team for Theme B: Mathematics education in society and culture, for the quadrennial International Congress of Mathematics Education held in Copenhagen, 4-11 July 2004.
  • Co-Editor, British Educational Research Journal:

    2004-2007, lead editor in 2006

  • DFID-funded educational development projects: Continuing invitations to work on DFID-funded educational development projects as an evaluation consultant. Taken up most recently for British Council managed DFID projects in Egypt and Nigeria.
  • Member of Panel of Advisers: Member of Panel of Advisers, Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (from 2002 - 2010)
  • Prize awarded: Prize awarded (Nov 2001) by Society for Educational Studies (then named Standing Conference on Studies in Education) for an outstanding contribution to the field, for my (2000) book (with Dunne as second author) Assessing Children's Mathematical Knowledge.

Research Interests

  • Evaluation of educational aid projects overseas
  • Mathematics education
  • National assessment in mathematics
  • Set theoretic methods in the social sciences
  • Sociology of education

Research Projects

Selected Publications

Journal Article

Authored book

Chapter in book

  • Cooper, B. (2012). Set theoretic versus correlational methods: the case of ability and educational achievement. In Challenging the Qualitative-Quantitative Divide: Explorations in Case-focused Causal Analysis. Cooper, B., Glaesser, J., Gomm, R. & Hammersley, M. Continuum. 170-206.
  • Cooper, B. (2009). Authentic testing in mathematics? The boundary between everyday and mathematical knowledge in National Curriculum testing in English schools. In Mathematics education. Bishop, A.J. New York: Routledge. 1 (Mathematics, mathematics education, and the curriculum).
  • Cooper, B. & Glaesser, J. (2009). Educational Expansion and Meritocracy in Britain: a Boolean Analysis. In Expected and unexpected consequences of educational expansion in Europe and the US. Theoretical approaches and empirical findings in comparative perspective. Becker, R. & Hadjar, A. Bern: Haupt. 167-177.
  • Cooper, B. & Harries, A.V. (2009). Realistic contexts, mathematics assessment and social class: lessons for assessment policy from an English research programme. In Words and worlds: modelling verbal descriptions of situations. Verschaffel, L. et al (eds) Sense Publications. 93-110.

Conference Paper

Other (Digital/Visual Media)

Working Paper

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