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Personal profile

Research Interests

My research interests fall into three inter-related strands: diversity and social Inclusion in early childhood in global contexts, with a focus on understanding the impact of social divisions on the lives of young children and identifying early childhood programmes that are effective in promoting social cohesion and inclusion; what works research, with a focus on ensuring the effectiveness of social policies and interventions by providing the best available evidence for policy makers, practitioners and governments; and quantitative methods in educational research, with a focus on exploring the role and uses of quantitative methods in education and building capacity in relation to their practical application.

Research Statement

Research Income and Grants

I have considerable experience in leading large-scale, inter-disciplinary research projects. During my career to date, I have attracted external research grants to a total value of £18.5m from 62 projects. Within this, I have successfully led 34 externally-funded projects as Principal Investigator, to a total value of £10.6m and with £3.7m of this from research councils (UKRI) and equivalent bodies. I am currently principal investigator and co-investigator on several active research projects. These include the following two major projects that I am leading as principal investigator:

  • LINKS - The NIHR Global Health Research Group on Early Childhood Development for Peacebuilding (2018-2020). This £2m global research programme is funded by the National Institute for Health Research and represents a strategic partnership with UNICEF, Yale, Harvard and New York Universities. LINKS is directly supporting and coordinating research teams in six low- and middle-income countries to develop and evaluate early childhood programmes that seek to contribute to sustainable development and peacebuilding (Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste and Vietnam). Additional funding has been secured to explore the expansion of the programme to include three further countries (Colombia, West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israel). Watch brief overview video.
  • Reading Together - The Effectiveness of an Enhanced Book-Gifting Intervention for Improving Reading Outcomes for Children in Care (2018-2020). This £750,000 ESRC project represents a collaboration between Queen’s University Belfast and Oxford University. The project seeks to develop and evaluation the effectiveness of an evidence-based and new reading intervention - Reading Together - for children in foster care that combines a book-gifting element with paired reading. The new programme will be evaluated using a mixed-methods design that will include a large-scale randomised controlled trial across England and the Republic of Ireland. 

Research Leadership  

I have demonstrated consistent and significant research leadership over my career to date. Examples include:

  • Founding Director of the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation (CESI) (until 2017) and now Chair of its Management Board. CESI is a major inter-disciplinary research centre that draws together over 120 academic, research and support staff from all three Faculties at Queen's. Over recent years, CESI has consistently attracted just under £7m of new research awards annually. 
  • Belfast Region City DealSupporting, in my role as Interim Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, Queen’s contribution to the Belfast Region City Deal that has secured £350m funding from UK government, announced in the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer's Autumn 2018 statement. Working in partnership with Ulster University and local councils and colleges, the City Deal seeks to attract over £1 billion investment into the region to deliver a step-change in economic growth through research and innovation.

Research and external engagement 

I have been invited to and delivered keynote talks all over the world including: USA; Serbia; France, Ireland, Australia; Colombia, Vietnam, Egypt, Mali, Morocco and Timor-Leste. My research formed one of the three Impact Case Studies submitted to REF 2014 for Queen's Education Unit of Assessment - Promoting Respect for Ethnic Diversity in Preschool Children. Together, these three case studies were highly-rated in REF2014, with nearly half (46.7%) of our impact independently assessed as 'world-leading', with the remainder rated as 'internationally excellent'.

Two projects that I am currently involved with - LINKS (the NIHR Global Health Research Group on Early Childhood Development for Peacebuilding) and the Innovation Zones (part of the work of the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation, that involve strategic partnerships with the Shankill and Colin Neighbourhood Partnerships in West Belfast) - are designated as Queen's University’s Social Charter Signature Projects.


Academic leadership 

I have a sustained strong record in academic leadership over several years, having held several senior strategic leadership roles as noted below: 

  • Head of the former School of Education at Queen’s University Belfast (2011 – 2016). I led the development and implementation of a strong new identity and succesful strategic plan. Some of my achievements in relation to education are described further below. In relation to research, the School achieved considerable success in REF2014, being ranked 4th nationally (out of 76 Units of Assessment) in relation to research intensity as well as the proportion of research that was rated as internationally excellent or world-leading.
  • Interim Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise (2018 – present). I have led a number of major university-wide initiatives including the development of: an institutional Research Income Action Plan 2018-2021; an institutional Engaged Research Action Plan 2019-2021 (watch the video); and the development and implementation of the University’s Global Challenge Research Fund Strategic Plan 2018-2021. In addition, I have led the University’s institutional planning for REF2021 and contributed sigificantly to the university’s success in working with Ulster University and local colleges and councils in securing UK government funding of £350m for the Belfast Region City Deal

External Roles 

My national and international reputation is evidenced by my engagement in a range of external roles including:

  • Member of the Expert Review Group, UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP). The UKPRP is an alliance of UK Charities, Research Councils and the UK Health Departments that will invest £50m over the next 6-7 years (Nov 2017 – present).
  • Member of the Grants Assessment Panel D (Responsive Mode), Economic and Social Research Council, UK (Jul 2016 – Jul 2018).
  • Member of the Grants Assessment Panel B (Responsive Mode), Economic and Social Research Council, UK (Aug 2013 – Jul 2016). 
  • Member of International Steering Group and Co-Chair of the Education Coordinating Group, Campbell Collaboration (Mar 2010 - Jan 2015).
  • Donald Dewar Visiting Chair in Social Justice and Public Policy, University of Glasgow, UK (Sep 2009 – Aug 2012).


Teaching Experience

I have over 20 years teaching experience in higher education. This experience has spanned undergraduate, masters and taught doctoral programmes and the supervision of undergraduate and masters dissertations as well as doctoral students. To date I have successfully supervised 15 PhD students to completion and a further six EdD students. In addition, I have considerable experience in being course director for undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and for leading course planning committees.

Educational Leadership Experience

During my period as Head of the School of Education, I have led major developments in education, including: the significant restructuring and rationalisation of our portfolio of masters courses; the restructuring and re-validation of our Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education Teaching, offered to academic staff across the university; and the development and successful implementation of a new International PGCE (iPGCE) delivered in partnership with Tenby Schools in Malaysia, a course offered through a blended-learning format.


Further information and social media:

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Projects 2005 2017

Research Output 1992 2019

National action plans to tackle NCDs: role of stakeholder network analysis

Hunter, R., Wickramasinghe, K., Erguder, T., Bolat, A., Ari, H. O., Yilidirim, H. H., Ursu, P., Robinson, G., Breda, J., Mikkelsen, B., Connolly, P., Clarke, M. & Kee, F., 20 May 2019, In : BMJ. 365, 1871, 4 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access

Teacher ‘quality’ and attainment grouping: The role of within-school teacher deployment in social and educational inequality

Francis, B., Hodgen, J., Craig, N., Taylor, B., Archer, L., Mazenod, A., Tereschenko, A. & Connolly, P., Jan 2019, In : Teaching and Teacher Education. 77, p. 183-192 10 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

educational inequality
social inequality

The Misallocation of Students to Academic Sets in Maths: A Study of Secondary Schools in England

Connolly, P., Taylor, B., Francis, B., Archer, L., Hodgen, J., Mazenod, A. & Tereschenko, A., 10 Jun 2019, In : British Educational Research Journal. 25 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
secondary school
educational inequality


Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS)

Paul Connolly (Recipient), 12 Oct 2017

Prize: Election to learned society

Queen's Improvement to Society Award 2015

Paul Connolly (Recipient), 15 Jun 2015

Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

Visiting Professor, University of Chester, UK

Paul Connolly (Recipient), Sep 2013

Prize: Appointment

Activities 1997 2019

Chair, GCRF Global Engagement Networks Funding Panel (External organisation)

Paul Connolly (Advisor)
Mar 2019

Activity: Membership typesMembership of peer review panel or committee

LINKS Research Network Meeting (Brussels, June 2018)

Paul Connolly (Participant), Sarah Miller (Participant), Laura Dunne (Participant), Nicole Craig (Participant), Aoibheann Brennan-Wilson (Participant), Laura Taylor (Participant)
Jun 2018

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course

LINKS Research Network Meeting (Yale, Nov 2018)

Paul Connolly (Participant), Sarah Miller (Participant), Laura Dunne (Participant), Nicole Craig (Participant), Laura Taylor (Participant)
Nov 2018

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course

Event Organiser: First Meeting of the NIHR Global Health Research Group on Early Childhood Development for Peacebuilding

Paul Connolly (Participant)
20 Nov 201722 Nov 2017

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

Chair, Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Special Interest Group (SIG176), American Educational Research Association.

Paul Connolly (Advisor)
Mar 2017Apr 2018

Activity: Consultancy typesContribution to the work of national or international committees and working groups


Promoting Respect for Ethnic Diversity in Preschool Children

Paul Connolly (Participant), Berni Kelly (Participant), Tony Gallagher (Participant)

Impact: Cultural Impact, Societial Impact


Key Discourses in Early Childhood Intervention: A Case Study of an Early Intervention City

Author: Boyle, C., Mar 2016

Supervisor: Connolly, P. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Reconciling working-class identity and educational success: A study of successful teenage boys, locality and schooling

Author: Ingram, N., Jul 2012

Supervisor: Connolly, P. (Supervisor) & Biggart, A. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The relationship between pupils’ spiritual development and school ethos: A survey of 10-11 year old children from a sample of primary schools in Northern Ireland

Author: Ellis, I. W., Jun 2013

Supervisor: Connolly, P. (Supervisor) & McGlynn, C. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy