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School of Education

Prof Alison Black

Prof Alison Black

Associate Professor of Inclusive and Special Education


 +44 (0) 1392 724938

 Baring Court BC109


Baring Court, University of Exeter St Luke's Campus, Heavitree Road, Exeter, EX1 2LU, UK


Alison is an Associate Professor in the School of Education, working on a range of programmes the school offers.  She is specialism lead for the MA Education SEN.

Alison is a researcher and teacher with much experience.  She has been involved in a wide range of research projects and publications, in the areas of diversity and inclusion.  She has conducted quantitative research in the area of the placement of pupils with SEN in her doctoral study and subsequently in trends analysis.  She analysed government data on pupils with SEN and their trajectories through schools.  She also utilises mixed methods research, with expertise in semi-structured interviews, observations, survey research, thematic analysis, descriptive and inferential statistical analysis.  She supervises PGR students in the area of special educational needs and inclusive education.

The bulk of her teaching since her employment as a lecturer is Postgraduate Masters of Education programmes. She teaches on the online MA Education, and Campus MA Education in Special Educational Needs, and the primary and secondary PGCE. She is also responsible for coordinating provision for teaching our trainee teachers about inclusion and special educational needs.  In their most recent inspection of our provision OfSTED reported that “[teacher trainees] learn extremely well how to identify and support pupils with SEND and pupils who speak EAL. By the end of the course, trainees have a deep knowledge and understanding of teaching adaptations they can make to meet the needs of pupils” (OfSTED, 2023, Alison is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Alison gained her PhD here at Exeter in 2012, the title: Future secondary schools for diversity : where are we now and where could we be?'  She analysed government statistics to reveal an unexplored phenomenon (over-representation of secondary aged students in special schools in England).  In addition she developed, carried out and analysed semi-structured interviews and an on-line survey instrument, involving open-ended questions and rating scales.  This led to the creation and development of a scenario describing a school of the future (futures studies methodologies), which were subject to the scrutiny of educational experts in number of focus groups, which were used to evaluate and develop the scenario further.

She graduated from Edge Hill University College with Qualified Teacher Status in 2001,and has taught as a year 4 teacher in primary school (with experience as a Science coordinator). She then took up position as Year 7 teacher (and year 9 science teacher) in a new secondary school, gaining promotion to head of year seven. 


Doctor of Philosophy, Inclusive Education, University of Exeter, October 2009 – March 2013 (degree awarded May 2013)

Masters in Education, Special Educational Needs (Distinction), University of Exeter, Sept 2008 - October 2009

BSc (Hons) in Natural and Applied Science and Primary Education with QTS, (2.1) Edge Hill University College, Sept 1997 - June 2001

  • Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. August 2020. (Reg. number PR191061).
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. January 2017. (Reg. number PR121476).
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice. (University of Exeter). November 2016.
  • Learning to Teach in Higher Education. Awarded Associate of Higher Education Academy. September 2011.

Research group links

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Research interests

I am an educational researcher who believes that using research to understand education and inclusive/exclusive practices is key to improving the educational experiences of all learners. A key focus of my research (and teaching) is in inclusive education, with particular regards to students with special educational needs and disabilities. I am particularly interested identifying the barriers to inclusive education (and inclusion more generally) and exploring creative ways to resolve those barriers. I explore this from the perspective of children, parents, teachers, and other experts. I use mixed methods in my research, drawing on critical realist approaches to understand the inclusion of children in schools, and disproportionality in exclusion – both in the sense of where a child attends school, but also in exclusion in a disciplinary sense. I conduct quantitative research exploring the placement of pupils with SEN and other at risk groups, analysing government data on pupils and their trajectories through schools. I also adopt creative approaches, such as those used in futures studies, for example, scenario planning.

My research profile is linked to my teaching profile, with interest in equity, diversity and inclusion; inclusive education/schooling; school population trends; disproportionality; special educational needs and disability; stakeholder voice; futures studies, scenario planning and evaluation; mixed methods; personalised learning; educational policy development; curriculum development; teacher education. I have expertise in semi-structured interviews, observations, survey research, thematic analysis, descriptive and inferential statistical analysis.

Research projects

Alison is a researcher on a number of projects at the University of Exeter:

"Inclusion and the academisation of English secondary schools: trends in the placement of pupils with significant SEN and those permanently excluded" ESRC June 2017-2021. This ESRC funded project aimmed to analyse secondary data from the National Pupil Database (NPD) about pupils vulnerable to exclusion from ordinary schools in England, both those with Special Educational Needs (SEN) that enter secondary schools at year 7 and all pupils permanently excluded from secondary schools. This will examine changing proportions of entry and exit since 2003 (when NPD records began) for these pupils in relation to the increasing autonomy of secondary schools from local authorities (LAs). The specific aim is to examine whether greater school autonomy from LAs is related to lower placements in ordinary secondary schools and thus greater separate special school and alternative provision placements.This study will be the first to examine the relationships between changes in the SEN system in its relation to changes in the wider school organisation and policy system using national data trends in England.

"Lesson Planning for Diversity" Society for Educational Studies May - November 2014. This project set out to explore the processes involved in planning and reviewing lessons in relation to teachers' understandings of learner difference and diversity.  By examining the practices, thoughts and beliefs of teachers whose lesson planning is judged to be of a high quality, the research project will reveal ways in which policy standards of catering for diversity (as seen in the Teachers' Standards) can be met.

'Empowering Partnerships: Enabling Engagement' EPSRC January 2013 - December 2017. Work with subject experts, education experts, schools and Early Career Researchers to communicate research to enhance the school curriculum and to raise aspirations of young people from diverse backgrounds. Manage and facilitate project and project themes/ strands, develop project evaluation strategy.

Research grants

  • 2017 ESRC
    Inclusion and the academisation of English secondary schools:trends in the placement of pupils with significant SEN and those permanently excluded
  • 2014 Society for Educational Studies
    An examination of how teachers plan for and manage diversity in their lesson plans.


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Journal articles

Black AE (In Press). A picture of special educational needs in England – an overview. Frontiers in Education
Black A, Lawson HA, Norwich B (In Press). Lesson planning for diversity. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs
Black A (2023). ‘But what do the statistics say?’ an overview of permanent school exclusions in England. Emotional & Behavioural Difficulties, 27
Liu Y, Bessudnov A, Black A, Norwich B (2020). School autonomy and educational inclusion of children with special needs: Evidence from England. British Educational Research Journal, 46(3), 532-552. Abstract.
Black A, Bessudnov A, Liu Y, Norwich B (2019). Academisation of Schools in England and Placements of Pupils with Special Educational Needs: an Analysis of Trends, 2011–2017. Frontiers in Education, 4(4).
Black AE (2018). Context and Implications Document for: Future secondary schools for diversity: where are we now and were could we be?. Review of Education, 7
Liu Y, Bessudnov A, Norwich B, Black A (2018). Estimating the causal effects of academisation of English schools with the data from the National Pupil Database. International Journal for Population Data Science, 3(2).
Black AE (2018). Future secondary schools for diversity: where are we now and where could we be?. Review of Education, 7
Black AE, Gibson S, Baskerville D, Berry A, Norris K, Symeonidou S (2017). 'Diversity' 'Widening Participation' and 'Inclusion' in Higher Education: an International study. Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning
Black AE, Gibson S, Baskerville D, Berry A, Norris K, Symeonidou S (2017). Including students as co-enquirers: matters of identity, agency, language and labelling in an International participatory research study. International Journal of Educational Research
Black AE, Lawson H (2016). Exploring a vocational teaching resource for young people with severe learning difficulties - ‘A stepping stone to…’ what?. Cambridge Journal of Education Abstract.
Norwich B, Black A (2015). The placement of secondary school students with Statements of special educational needs in the more diversified system of English secondary schooling. British Journal of Special Education, 42(2), 128-151. Abstract.
Black A, Costello R, Craft A, Katene W (2015). ‘It’s all about developing the whole child’. European Physical Education Review, 21(3), 362-378. Abstract.


Craft A, Horin OB, Sotiriou M, Stergiopoulos P, Sotiriou S, Hennessy S, Chappell K, Slade C, Greenwood M, Black A, et al (2016). CREAT-IT: Implementing Creative Strategies into Science Teaching. In  (Ed) New Developments in Science and Technology Education, Springer Nature, 163-179.

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“She is determined to provide lectures/seminars that are inclusive, varied and well structured. She communicates her lectures in ways that help us understand more clearly and she uses various innovative formats to create interactive lectures to do this. She can even make the most difficult and daunting subject accessible and understandable. I would be lost without her great teaching and support!” (Student nomination, Student Guild Teaching Awards, 2015).

The main focus of my teaching and leadership is currently on the MA Education online; in addition, I have led the campus MA in Special Educational Needs programme; and taught successfully, with excellent evaluations and personal feedback from students, on a suite of MA Education modules, the PGCE programmes and on one of the School of Education’s undergraduate modules – Learning for Teaching.

I am invested in developing my skills as an educator, as can be evidenced by my progression through HEA’s fellowship route; most recently gaining recognition as a Senior Fellow (2020).  I have attended extensive training in a range of areas related to education, gaining skills in online teaching methods (as described above), PGR supervision workshops (annually) and extending my knowledge of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.



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