Spotlight on... Helen Knowler

Helen Knowler, Associate Professor based in the Arena Centre for Research Based
Helen Knowler, Associate Professor based in the Arena Centre for Research Based Education
This week our Spotlightee is Helen, an Associate Professor based in the Arena Centre for Research Based Education. Helen tells us about her extensive background in Special and Inclusive Education and her latest work leading UCL’s Eugenics Legacy Education Project.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am an Associate Professor based in the Arena Centre for Research Based Education, leading the new three-year Eugenics Legacy Education Project (ELEP). ELEP is focusing on the education recommendations that came out of the Eugenics Inquiry and Eugenics Inquiry Response report. I am currently devising a programme of activities that are designed to support staff learning and development, coordinate staff student projects with ChangeMakers, and to curate education resources for colleagues who are looking include UCL’s eugenics history in their teaching or research activities. The programme will run between 2022 and 2025 and I am really looking forward to working with colleagues and students across UCL.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I joined UCL in September 2022. My background is in Special and Inclusive Education, and I began working in HE after a career as a teacher and an advisory teacher in schools. Since 2006 I have worked at the Universities of Plymouth, Bristol, Exeter and Wolverhampton, leading on programmes related to Inclusive Education, Special Educational Needs Coordination, Counselling in Education, and Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs. I’ve published widely on exclusion from education, as understanding exclusionary mechanisms seems important if we want to promote inclusive teaching and learning.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

Everything I have achieved has either been as a result of mentorship and care from my colleagues or from building partnerships with groups outside of academia. I was proud to win a University of Bristol Teaching Award in 2015 as this explicitly referenced my work in inclusive practice with diverse groups of students. However, I feel happiest when I can achieve congruence between my teaching and research activities and can collaborate with grassroots communities beyond then university. In 2021 it was a highlight to work with colleagues at the University of Exeter, educators from schools in the south west of England, a specialist service supporting survivors of sexual violence, and an artist on a project that is exploring how teachers can actively prevent gender-based violence in schools. The bringing together of these partners was hard work but so powerful. We will be reporting on this project in 2023 - watch this space!

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list

As I mentioned above, the Eugenics Legacy Education Project (ELEP), to explore the educational implications of UCL’s eugenics legacy is top of my list and the moment! This work is an opportunity for me to bring together my work in Inclusive Education, my interest in the ways that ’difficult knowledge’ is negotiated by educators in higher education contexts, and my enjoyment of staff and student collaboration. If anyone wants to get involved, please let us know at

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

This was hard - but these are my choices today. Might be different if you ask me next week.

Favourite album: Rattus Norvegicus by The Stranglers

Favourite film: Pan’s Labyrinth

Favourite novel: Beloved (a novel) by Toni Morrison

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

I’m from the Black Country (in the West Midlands) and so had to use a classic from the region!

What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison? You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Doreen Lawrence, bell hooks, Sarah Ahmed, and Roxane Gay.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be fearless!

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I won BBC TV’s Pointless in 2012 with my husband - I knew a lot about Derby winners since 1975 and won the jackpot!

What is your favourite place?

Cheddar Gorge in Somerset.

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