Staff profile

Professor Liz Atkins

Professor of Vocational Education and Social Justice

Liz Atkins


College of Arts, Humanities and Education


Institute of Education

Research centre

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation





I joined the University of Derby in September 2018 as Professor of Vocational Education and Social Justice, and have a focus on supporting research activity in the Institute of Education within which I am a member of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Research Cluster. My research currently includes a project at Guernsey College which is concerned with developing a more effective curriculum model for low-attaining youth, and one in partnership with the Association of Colleges exploring the value of Enrichment.

In addition, I am interested in making research accessible, and in supporting and mentoring colleagues in the early stages of their research careers, something that forms a key focus of my role. I am involved with a number of different organisations both nationally and internationally. I am an editorial board member of Journal of Vocational Education and Training, a reviewer for BERA Annual Conference and for a number of other journals including Research in Post-compulsory Education, and am an international member of the editorial board for International Journal of Training Research (Journal of the Australian Vocational Education and Training Association (AVETRA)). 

Teaching responsibilities

My current teaching responsibilities are focused on EdD and PhD supervision. One student has recently successfully completed, and I am currently supervising four PhDs/EdDs.

Professional interests

My professional interests are located in the further and vocational education sector with a specific focus on broad vocational education. In addition, I am interested in teacher education across all sectors and phases. 

Research interests

My research falls into three key areas:

This concerns the ethical and methodological issues concerned with researching with young people, particularly those who have limited literacy and oral communication skills. I have engaged in narrative research using a range of innovative methods to elicit data in a respectful and collaborative way. I am particularly interested in how research which claims social justice as part of its purpose can be seen to be doing social justice in the context of its process.

My research contributes to enhancing understanding of the lives, hopes, and aspirations of young people as they navigate their school-to-work transitions. It seeks to develop an understanding of the ways in which vocational education can variously enable and constrain transitions and how transitions are influenced by different aspects of marginalisation and intersectionality. In this respect, my primary interests are social class and gender.

I am particularly interested in the tensions between competency-based training, standards and other regulatory requirements and professionalism; and in how professionalism is perceived and enacted by teachers in the context of the dual-professionalism which is a defining characteristic of the lifelong learning sector. Within the regulatory context I am also interested in ways of creating ‘space’ for innovation and creativity in the curriculum, and understanding how knowledge and skills are acquired.

Membership of professional bodies

I am a member of the following professional bodies

I am also a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Fellow of the Society for Education and Training.


Recent conferences

Experience in industry

Prior to entering higher education in 2004, I spent fifteen years working in further education colleges and training providers; and it was in this context that I first developed an interest in the experiences of low-attaining young people. Whilst working in further education I was a health and social care teacher, having worked as a psychiatric nurse for some years before moving to education. My experience in both psychiatry and further education, working with some of the most marginalised people in our society, was instrumental in developing my interest in, and commitment to, social justice. I continue to work closely with colleagues in the further education sector.

International experience

I worked at Federation University, Australia in 2014 and 2015 and retained links with the VET community in Australia through membership of the Australian Vocational Education and Training Association and co-authoring relationships. Whilst in Australia I co-edited (with Ros Brennan-Kemmis) what remains the only textbook for VET teachers located in an Australian context. 

In the media

Recent publications