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The University of Southampton
Southampton Education School
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Professor Sarah Parsons BSc, PhD

Professor of Autism and Inclusion

Professor Sarah Parsons's photo

Sarah Parsons is Professor of Autism and Inclusion within Southampton Education School at the University of Southampton, and formerly the Deputy Head of School for Research.

Sarah has longstanding research interests in the educational experiences of children, young people and adults on the autism spectrum and their families, and children with special educational needs and disability more generally. She also has significant research experience in the development and application of innovative technologies for promoting inclusive practices for children with and without autism and is skilled in the development and application of child-centred methodologies for accessing the views of children with special educational needs. Sarah is especially interested in working in collaboration with others and most recently has co-led the development of the Autism Community Research Network @ Southampton [ACoRNS]. Funded initially by the University of Southampton's Public Engagement with Research unit, ACoRNS is a unique education-focused initiative, launched in 2017, that brings together researchers and practitioners to jointly develop projects of direct relevance to autism practice and policy. ACoRNS is co-directed with Dr Hanna Kovshoff (Psychology) and founding partners New Forest School and Aviary Nursery. Subsequently, ACoRNS has added six partners to span the range of statutory educational provision from nursery to Further Education, including mainstream and specialist settings.

Our vision is that when partnerships between researchers and practitioners are truly founded on the principle of co-construction, they grow into strong and sustainable mutually informing working relationships. These relationships are further enhanced when children's voices are placed at the centre of this work. To achieve the vision, we work on four interconnected branches of research-practice activities that are jointly designed and implemented: (1) Growing student researchers through research and teaching, (2) Securing funding to sustain and support specific projects, (3) Practice-informing dissemination, and (4) Monitoring and evaluating the research-practice cycle. So far, we have supported many student projects across Bachelor's, Masters and Doctoral levels with major success: one of our BSc students won a University impact prize for her dissertation in 2019, and we published another BSc dissertation project as a peer-reviewed paper (Hoy et al., 2018). We have also secured research funding for innovative projects; published peer-reviewed papers (Parsons et al., 2019; Parsons & Kovshoff, 2019); led workshops with over 300 practitioners; won funding from the ESRC for two Festival of Social Science events; and included the ACoRNS knowledge co-construction model and its co-produced evidence in teacher and educational psychologist training at the University.

Current and recent research includes:

Research interests

  • Autistic children and young people's views on schools and education, and methods for accessing these views
  • Educational provision for disabled children and children with special educational needs, including autism
  • Co-production of evidence-based practices in autism education
  • Participatory and inclusive approaches to research
  • Family perspectives on educational provision and supporting children with special educational needs
  • Ethical considerations in research especially regarding the involvement of disabled children, young people and adults

Examples of Recent Funded Research

2015-17: ProSocialLearn:

2015-16: ASCmeI.T.:

2014-16: Innovative technologies for autism critical reflections on digital bubbles

2009 – 2012 Communication and Social Participation: Collaborative Technologies for Interaction And Learning (COSPATIAL)

2008 – 2010 Extended Services Provision in a large urban Local Authority: Phase Three Evaluation

2008 International review of the literature of evidence of best practice provision in the education of persons with autistic spectrum disorders

2006 - 2008 Inclusive design and development of virtual environments for social understanding of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders

2006 – 2007 Understanding of epilepsy by children and young people with, or without, epilepsy

2006 Duty to promote Disability Equality

2004 – 2006 Experiences of disabled children and their families – phases 1 & 2

Research group

Centre for Research in Inclusion

Research project(s)

Communication and Social Participation: Collaborative Technologies for Interaction And Learning (COSPATIAL)

How should education be provided to children and young people with autism to prepare them for good adult outcomes? (Parsons) - Dormant

PRICE (Participation and Responsible Innovation in Co-Design for Exchange)

The TimeBank is a community initiated concept from our external partner Barod aimed at matching people needing and offering skills and at addressing problems associated with payment.

  • Supervisor of BSc, MSc, PhD and EdPsychD research projects
  • Module leader for EDUC3039: Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Regularly invited for national and international keynote presentations
  • Highly experienced examiner for Doctoral Degrees, nationally and internationally
  • Independent Ethics Committee member for the DRILL research programme (2017-20)
  • Editorial Board Member for the International Journal of Research & Method in Education, European Journal of Special Needs Education, Journal of Enabling Technologies, Autism & Developmental Language Impairments
  • Peer Reviewer of manuscripts for over 50 academic journals including: Autism, British Educational Research Journal, British Journal of Developmental Disabilities, British Journal of Special Education, Computers & Education, Educational Research, Educational Research Review, Educational Review, Educational and School Psychology, European Journal of Special Needs Education, International Journal of Research and Method in Education, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Review of Educational Research
  • Peer reviewer for national and international research funders including: ERSC; The Big Lottery Fund; The Israel Science Foundation; The Croatian Science Foundation; Autism Speaks; the Daphne Jackson Trust; the National Institute of Social Care and Health Research (NISCHR); European Commission; Spencer Foundation; Wellcome Trust; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC); Autistica; KU Leuven (University of Leuven) Research Council and IOF-Council (Belgium); Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO); Austrian Science Fund (FWF); The British Academy; Malmö University, Sweden; National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Unicef Venture Fund; Froebel Trust; AHRC.
  • Member of the ESRC Peer Review College and ESRC Rapporteur
  • Expert Reviewer for the European Commission
  • Member of the British Educational Research Association (BERA)
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
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Book Chapters

  • Parsons, S. (2018). Assent. In B. B. Frey (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Measurement, and Evaluation SAGE Publications.
  • Parsons, S. (2018). Informed consent. In B. B. Frey (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Measurement, and Evaluation SAGE Publications.




Professor Sarah Parsons
Southampton Education School University of Southampton Building 32 Southampton SO17 1BJ United Kingdom

Room Number: 32/2059

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