Home > Research > Researchers > Paul Connolly

Professor Paul Connolly

Formerly at Lancaster University

PhD supervision

Paul has considerable experience of successfully supervising PhD students to completion. He is interested in receiving PhD proposals in any areas related to his main areas of research expertise: issues of diversity and social inclusion in preschool and primary education; inequalities in education; the effectiveness of educational programmes and interventions; and systematic reviews and meta-analysis in education.


Paul is Professor of Education and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. He is internationally known for his research on early childhood, diversity and inclusion. He is author of a number of books including: Racism, Gender Identities and Young Children (1998, Routledge); Researching Racism in Education (1998, Open University); Boys and Schooling in the Early Years (2004, Routledge); Quantitative Data Analysis in Education (Routledge, 2007); and Using Randomised Controlled Trials in Education (Sage, 2017).

He has an extensive track record of research and publications spanning over 25 years and has been successful in attracting over £18.5m of external research grants from over 60 projects during his career to date. He is an elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, was a member of the REF2014 Sub-Panel on Education and served for a number of years on the ESRC Grants Assessment Panel.

Career Details

Before coming to Lancaster University, Paul was a Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Ulster University (1994 – 2003) and then Professor of Education at Queen’s University Belfast (2003 – 2019). During his time at Queen’s, Paul has been Head of the School of Education, Dean of Research for the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and Interim Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise. He was also Founding Director of the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation and also of Campbell UK & Ireland.

Research Interests

Paul’s research interests fall into three main, inter-related strands:

Diversity and Social Inclusion in the Early Years

This has been Paul’s main focus for research activity to date. It reflects his interest in the ways in which gender, social class and 'race'/ethnicity impact upon young children's experiences and perspectives and come to shape their attitudes towards education and learning. Much of his earlier work was qualitative and ethnographic in focus, with an emphasis on researching the social and cultural worlds of young children.

In more recent years he has developed an interest in researching the effectiveness of early childhood programmes in reducing ethnic prejudice and promoting respect for diversity. This has resulted in a number of randomized controlled trials and, more recently, two systematic reviews and meta-analyses of existing international evidence. 

Currently, this research is being taken forward through his leadership of the NIHR Global Health Research Group on Early Childhood and Peacebuilding, that is based on a strategic partnership with UNICEF and represents a collaborative network with Yale, Harvard and NYU, supporting work in six low- and middle-income countries.

What Works Research

This strand of research is concerned with ensuring that the best available evidence is used in the design, delivery and evaluation of educational programmes and interventions to ensure that they are as effective as possible in improving outcomes for learners and educators. Paul’s research in this area has typically involved three core methodological strands: 

  • Evaluations of programmes and interventions in education and social care, especially through the use of randomized controlled trials;
  • Undertaking large-scale baseline surveys to identify how social and educational outcomes are distributed and the factors that tend to be associated with these in order to help inform the development of particular educational programmes and interventions; and
  • Research syntheses and systematic reviews of existing evidence relating to the effectiveness of educational programs and interventions.

Paul has taken this work forward through his former roles as Founding Director of the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation at Queen’s University Belfast and Founding Director of Campbell UK & Ireland.

Quantitative Methods in Educational Research

This strand of work is concerned with the role and uses of quantitative methods in educational research as well as their practical application, including routine and more advanced, multivariate methods. His research interests in this area have involved three inter-related strands:

  • the design and analysis of randomized controlled trials to evaluate the effectiveness of social and educational programmes;
  • the use and applications of systematic reviews and meta-analysis in education; and
  • research capacity building in quantitative methods and statistics.

Much of his work in this area has been concerned with challenging existing methodological divides and promoting the greater and more effective use of quantitative methods in understanding and helping to address social and educational inequalities. Alongside a number of journal articles and book chapters on these themes, Paul is also author of two leading textbooks in this area: 

Research Grants

During his career to date, Paul has attracted over £18.5m in external research grant income from over 60 projects.  He has successfully led over 30 of these projects as Principal Investigator. His current projects include:

External Roles

  • Member of UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships Round Two Sifting Panel (2019)
  • Chair of the GCRF (Global Challenge Research Fund) Global Engagement Networks Funding Panel (part of the UKRI GCRF Collective Programme) (2019)
  • Member of the Expert Review Group, UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP) (2017-2019)
  • Member of the Joint Academy Educational Research Project Working Group, Royal Society and British Academy (2016-2018)
  • Member of the Grants Assessment Panel D (Responsive Mode), Economic and Social Research Council, UK (2016-2018)
  • Member of Commissioning Panel, ESRC Future Leaders Research Scheme (2015)
  • Member of the Grants Assessment Panel B (Responsive Mode), Economic and Social Research Council, UK (2013-2016)
  • Member of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) Sub-Panel for Education (Unit of Assessment 25) (2013-2014)
  • Programme Chair and Chair, Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Special Interest Group (SIG176), American Educational Research Association (2013-2018)
  • Joint Editor, Journal of Early Childhood Research (Sage Publications) (2009 – present)
  • Chairperson, Ministerial Advisory Group on Advancing Shared Education, Department of Education, Northern Ireland (2012-2013)
  • Member of international Steering Group and Co-Chair of the Education Coordinating Group, Campbell Collaboration(2010-2015)

View all (22) »