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Ellen Spencer is Senior Researcher at the Centre for Real World Learning (CRL). She has also been appointed to a three year role with the Psychology Department on an Arts Council funded 'Creativity Collaboratives' project working with schools to grow teachers' professional practice in developing creative thinking in children.

She joined CRL with Prof. Bill Lucas and Prof. Guy Claxton in 2010 after completing a graduate scheme at Deloitte.

Ellen was awarded an ESRC Studentship Award to undertake an MA and PhD at the University of Warwick where she completed her MA with distinction in 2004, and doctoral research in 2007. Her thesis focused on education theory and practice, exploring how the implementation of government policy around use of teachers' time developed capacity for improvement in primary schools.  

On joining the University of Winchester, Ellen taught Project Management to undergraduates at the Business School. She has since taken on a full research role undertaking a series of externally funded projects, reviews of literature, and conceptual development pieces.

Ellen's work combines conceptual development with a strongly practical focus aimed at developing practice in the classroom. Her work is widely read, from the UK to Australia, and she has contributed to the national conversation through her role in delivering evidence from key stakeholder organisations to the 2016 Commons Select Committee Inquiry into the purpose of education in England.  

Ellen is known for her work on creativity in schools, which began with the development of a successful bid to Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE) to develop a framework for the assessment of progression in creativity. She led the associated literature review and project design, co-ordinating and managing two field trials in schools. She carried out conceptual development and empirical research, presenting two related working papers at the OECD conference on Education for Innovation in Paris.  

As a result of this work's reframing of creativity in schools through development of its creativity model, the OECD initiated a four-year eleven country research project into fostering and assessing creativity and creative thinking. The model also informed the selection of Creative Thinking as a new PISA test in 2021.

With Professor Bill Lucas, she co-authored the three-book series Pedagogy for a Changing World, which develops conceptual underpinnings for important learning dispositions: 'creative thinking', 'tenacity', and 'zest for learning'. These highly practical handbooks with guidance for classroom practitioners and real-world case studies are widely used by teachers and school leaders across the world. Teaching Creative Thinking and Zest for Learning were Finalists for Education in the Foreword INDIE Awards in 2018 and 2020 respectively.  

Ellen has led research in commissioned literature reviews for the Church of England’s Educational Leadership Foundation, and for the Royal Society of Arts, and written a series of commissioned reviews for City & Guilds that have developed new theory around vocational pedagogy for use by teachers and leaders in further education.    

She also undertakes consultancy work:

For the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA); identifying high quality teaching and assessment resources for critical and creative thinking from across the English-speaking world. This work enabled VCAA to provide schools in Victoria, Australia with a guide to teaching and assessment resources aligned to the Victorian Critical and Creative Thinking curriculum.

For Skills Development Scotland (2020), she produced a review of worldwide best practice around development of 'meta-skills' frameworks in work-based learning contexts. For Enactus she produced two reviews; the first uncovering the characteristics of effective experiential learning that develops learning habits, and the second exploring 'signature learning experiences' for developing important learning skills, as well as a high level Theory of Change for Enactus's experiential learning programmes (June 2022).

Most recently, for the Mercers Company, she aimed to develop the concept of 'creative leadership' in secondary schools. Empirical research explored how creative leaders develop creative thinking in pupils through culture, curriculum, and professional learning. This work led to a published literature review. Ellen's ongoing collaboration with Creativity, Culture and Education, and Professor Louise Stoll, aims to develop a toolkit for use in schools by creative school leaders in the next year. 

Concurrently, Ellen is working for the Psychology Department with Professor Paul Sowden on a 3-year Arts Council funded project to develop a national cohort of Creativity Collaboratives to test a range of innovative practices in teaching for creativity. Ellen is Researcher-in-Residence, working in University of Winchester Academy Trust schools to help teachers develop classroom pedagogies for creative thinking. 

Find Ellen on ResearchGateGoogle Scholar, and Twitter

Areas of expertise

Creative leadership. Creative pedagogy. Creative thinking. Dispositions for learning. Vocational pedagogy. Tenacity. Christian leadership in schools. Creative Self-Efficacy. 


Selected publications 

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