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Dr Sophie Ward

Associate Professor

Associate Professor in the School of Education


Sophie Ward is an Associate Professor of Education. She joined the School of Education in 2011 after completing a BA, MA and PhD in Education at Durham University. Sophie’s research interests include: 

  • the arts in education
  • creativity
  • education policy

Sophie is a Fellow of the RSA and her research contributes to our understanding of the role of the arts in society. In 2022, she conducted research into the impact of the In2 Music Project, funded by ESRC IAA. Sophie evaluated the original In2 Music Project in 2020, which was funded by Darlington Borough Council, Warwick Music and UKRI. This project explored the benefits of music workshop participation for pupils' wellbeing and social capital:

Ward, James, James, Brown, Kokotsaki & Wigham (2021) 

Full article: The benefits of music workshop participation for pupils’ wellbeing and social capital: the In2 music project evaluation (

Sophie is interested in how neoliberal economic policy informs education policy. The most obvious manifestation of neoliberal thinking in contemporary education is the argument that the primary function of education is to equip young people with the skills and knowledge for employment. Sophie considers how and why employability has come to dominate education, and offers Shakespeare’s Renaissance humanism as a corrective to neoliberal ideology, in her book: Ward, S. (2017) Using Shakespeare’s Plays to Explore Education Policy Today: Neoliberalism through the lens of Renaissance humanism. Abingdon: Routledge.

In March 2013 Sophie was invited by Professor Carl Bagley to join the UK work team of the European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNosL). This organisation aims at improving school leadership in Europe through a collaborative network. It yielded two peer-reviewed journal articles (see publications below). In 2014 the UK team secured funding from the EU for the final stage of their research, which was to develop an English Action Plan on School Leadership. Sophie helped transform the current EPNoSL documentation and understandings on School Leadership developments and requirements for further action into a toolkit for teachers focussing on policy response, displayed on the EPNoSL website:

Carl and Sophie gave a webinar on Policy Response:

In order to disseminate their research as widely as possible, Sophie devised and created a stop-motion Lego animation on Policy Response:

In 2011, Sophie formed a research team with colleagues in the School of Education (Dr Sue Beverton and Dr Sean McCusker). In conjunction with a team from the Centre for Evaluation and Measurement (CEM), led by Professor Christine Merrell, they wrote a successful funding bid for a two-year national evaluation of Teach First, on which Sophie was Co-Investigator. Funding came from two grants: Teach First Evaluation (£73021.65 from Teach First); Teach First Impact Assessment (£102258.35 from Teach First). The School of Education’s award was circa £200,000. Project title: Teach First Evaluation.

Completed Supervisions

Primary teachers’ conceptions and approaches to using visual arts in writing in Saudi Arabia.

The experiences of refugee creative writers: An intersectional feminist study.

Lifelong Influences of Being a Chorister: a Phenomenological Study. 

Understanding Japanese students' intercultural learning before, during, and after studying abroad: Using reflective writing as a pedagogic tool.

Exploring The Role Of A Special School Teacher: An Autobiographical Narrative Inquiry.

Exploring student nurses' intercultural care experiences in clinical practice.

The misfit of music in a higher education government institute for Emirati women: An ethnographic study exploring the pursuit of music as an activity in a conventional Islamic setting.

Being WELL in the Neoliberal University:Conceptualising a Whole University Approach to Student Wellbeing and Experiences of Living and Learning at UK Universities in a Neoliberal Higher Education Context.

The Council of Europe’s Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture: Hope for democracy or an allusive Utopia?

The Price of Performing Arts Education in England: Power, Privilege and Social Justice in Drama School Training.


As a member of the UK work team of the European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNoSL), funded by the EU, I co-authored four documents for dissemination amongst our European partners; posted work on a virtual platform and responded to comments, and attended the EPNsol Peer Learning Activity (PLA) social partners’ event under the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the EU, ‘School Leadership as an Impetus to Education Policy Reforms’, 25th-27th November 2013, Vilnius, Lithuania.

Information for prospective doctoral research student supervisions

Sophie would be pleased to hear from potential research students with an interest in the arts in education.

Research interests

  • Neoliberalism and education
  • Creativity
  • The arts in education

Esteem Indicators

  • 2000: Member of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain (PESGB):
  • 2000: Member of Durham University's Curriculum and Pedagogy Research Group:
  • 2000: Fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce):
  • 2000: Fellow of the Higher Education Academy:
  • 2000: Member of the European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNoSL):
  • 2000: Registered as a referee for the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA):


Authored book

Book review

Chapter in book

Journal Article


Supervision students