Professor Tom Billington C.Psychol MEd MSc PhD FBPsS

Professor of Educational and Child Psychology
Director of the Centre for the Study of Children, Families and Learning Communities
Director of Educational Psychology

Professor Tom Billington

Tel: (+44) (0)114 222 8113
Fax: (+44) (0)114 222
Room: 8.03

Research Interests

Research interests

Tom is an educational and child psychologist, researcher and teacher. Much of his work focuses on the work of professionals in inter-disciplinary and multi-agency contexts, in particular, via critical and qualitative methodologies. He has been working at Sheffield to build a community (local and international) committed to Critical educational psychology in which we

  • interrogate the theoretical bases upon which psychological practices with children and young people are justified
  • look to develop practitioner interventions which are both ethical and scientific
  • move beyond psychopathologies to the experiences of the people involved

We invoke ‘three scientific distinctions’:

    ‘between the diagnosis and the child;
    between a knowledge of children generally and our interpretations of the child before us;
    between any descriptions of the child we construct and the descriptions that the child might potentially construct for themselves’
    (Billington, 2006, p.158).

In using qualitative methodologies we

  • work and research with not on children and young people, their families and schools, utilizing discourse analytic, psychodynamic and narrative approaches
  • engage with philosophical, political and social constructionist discourse.

We also invoke ‘five critical questions’:

    How do we speak of children?
    How do we speak with children?
    How do we write about children?
    How do we listen to children?
    How do we listen to ourselves (when working with children)?
    (Billington, 2006, p.8).




Tom has guided the expansion of Educational Psychology at Sheffield and our programmes now attract almost 300 students and trainees - practitioners, researchers and policy-makers from many countries across the globe (e.g. psychologists, social workers, teachers, health professionals).

DEdCPsy, EdD (CSF), the MA in Psychology and Education and the BA in Education, Culture and Childhood

In addition to the above, Tom’s own specific teaching interests focus on critical approaches to attachment, autism, child safeguarding, developmental psychology and neuroscience in education, often juxtaposing cultural and political analyses of social exclusion.

Tom has also contributed to many other international teaching and research programmes in the School, including in the Caribbean, Hong Kong and Malta and he is an experienced examiner at Doctoral level, both of individual research theses and of professional training programmes across Psychology and also Education, in the UK, Australia and Canada. In March 2014 he is to speak in Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne as part of a Seminar Series funded by the Australian Association for Educational Research.

Research Grants

Billington, T. and Pidd, M. (2010) Developing an on-line data-base of Expert Witnesses. University of Sheffield and the Merseyside Family Justice Council, Knowledge Exchange. £9489

Farrell, P. (University of Manchester) and Billington, T. (2008) The Development of a Framework for the Evaluation of Nurture Groups. Nurture Group Network. £38,000

Selected Keynote and Invited Conference Presentations

  • (2013) Time, space, mind: Narratives of quality and experience. Keynote address. Normalcy Conference. Sheffield Hallam University. 3rd. September
  • (2013) How we communicate with and about children. Invited address. 50 years of Education at York: Academic Conference: Linking research to practice in education. University of York, 2nd. July
  • (2013) Learning with children: Self and relations in successful schools. Keynote address. Annual Conference of the Centre for Successful Schools. University of Keele. 28th. June
  • (2012) Clinical encounters: The science of human relations. Keynote address. Annual Conference of the Association of Educational Psychologists. Durham, 18th. April.
  • (2012) Changing the subject: The past, present and future of educational psychology. Symposium: Corcoran, T. (VU, Melbourne), Billington, T. (Sheffield), Marvakis, A. (Thessaloniki), Pillay, J. (Johannesburg). Educational psychology as psychosocial justice: Under what conditions? Discussant, I. Prilleltensky. (Miami), International Congress of Psychology, Cape Town, 24th. July
  • (2011) Psychology as science: Emancipatory theory, research and practice with young people. 14th. Biennial International Society for Theory and Psychology. Thessaloniki. 28th. June
  • (2010) Psychological assessments of young people: At the boundaries of knowledge and experience. 29th. Annual Vernon Wall Lecture. Psychology of Education Section Annual Conference. British Psychological Society. 13th. November'
  • (2009)‘Feelings, Thinking and Learning: neuroscientific narratives’, ESRC Seminar Series, Changing the Subject: interdisciplinary perspectives on emotional-well being and social policy, Seminar 4, Perspectives from Psychology, Christchurch University, Kent, June 10th. 2009
  • ‘Using Narrative Techniques in Evaluating Nurture Groups’. Invited paper to the conference, Has Education Lost its Way? Tavistock Clinic / Nurture Group Network, London, 7th. November, 2008
  • ‘Children in Family Proceedings: the importance of the school experience’. Invited presentation to the Oxford Symposium, University of San Francisco Center for Child and Family Development, University of Hong Kong, July, 2007
  • ‘The impact of delay on children and young people in care proceedings’. Keynote address to a conference of the Family Justice Council, Liverpool, June 2006

Other professional and scholarly activities

  • (2014) Keynote speaker, Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne. Righting the ship: Psychology’s passage through education. Seminar Series funded by the Australian Association for Educational Research
  • Associate Member of the Taos Institute.
  • University lead on the (2013) North of England Education Conference, Sheffield in collaboration with Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Hallam University. The three-day conference involved 400 delegates and 60 speakers, including senior figures from government and academia (Professors Steven Rose, Isaac Prilleltensky (USA) and Ken Gergen (USA))
  • Chair, British Psychological Society (BPS) Childhood Autism Working Party and lead author of its Position Paper (2006)
  • Core Group member of the re-constituted BPS Working Party on Child Protection and co-author of its Position Paper (forthcoming) (also previously,2003) as well as the Practice Portfolio (2007)
  • edited three special Journal issues for the BPS Narrative: Approaches in research and professional practice (2012), Child Protection: Critical Theory, Research and Practice (2003), Multidisciplinary work for children with autism (2001)
  • Editorial Board member Disability in Society, Journal of Early Childhood Research, Educational and Child Psychology, Annual Review of Critical Psychology
  • referee for various publishers, research councils and scientific journals, including Cambridge University Press, Taylor and Francis, Sage, Pearson Educational; the Portugese Foundation for Science and Technology, UK Economic and Social Research Council, National Institute for Health Research, Wellcome Trust; Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, International Journal of Inclusive Education, British Journal of Educational Psychology, Theory and Psychology, Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education.
  • academic advisor to various Universities in respect of senior appointments and new programmes
  • BBC1tv The Big Questions; panel member on the age of criminal responsibility, July 2010
  • featured by the Independent on Sunday in the ‘Top Brass’ series, February 2003


Tom is a Chartered Psychologist registered with the Health and Care Professions Council and is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society. He continues in professional practice providing independent expert witness testimony to the courts in Children Act cases relating to a wide range of child and family issues, including child protection, domestic violence, adoption and attachment.

Prior to a previous career in teaching, Tom had obtained a degree in Music (Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester), a Diploma in Piano (Royal Academy of Music, London) and a Masters degree in Creative Arts (University of Exeter). Later he studied at the University of Manchester and following qualification worked as an Educational Psychologist and subsequently Specialist Educational Psychologist (autism). His PhD was supervised by Professor Erica Burman in the Department of Psychology at the Manchester Metropolitan University (1997).


Work in progress and indicative publications

Billington, T. (forthcoming). Changing the subject: The past, present and future of educational psychology. In T.D. Corcoran (ed). Psychology in education: Critical theory-practice. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Billington, T. and Williams, A. (forthcoming) Education. In I. Parker (ed.) The Handbook of critical psychology. London: Routledge.

Billington, T. and Corcoran, T. (forthcoming). Psychology in education. In T. Dragona, K. Gergen, S. McNamee (eds.) Education as social construction: Contributions to theory, research and practice. Worldshare books

Williams, A, Billington, T. and Goodley, D. (eds.) (forthcoming). Critical educational psychology: Research and practice. Wiley Blackwell

Billington, T. (2013) Constructing critical resources for research and professional practice with young people: Feeling, thinking, learning and neuroscientific narratives. Qualitative research in psychology, 10 (2), 174-188

Billington, T. (2012) 'When they're making breakfast they'll talk...': Narrative approaches in the evaluation of Nurture Groups. Journal of early childhood research, 10 (3), 318-331

Billington, T. (2009) Open Dialogue: `Working with children: psychologists at the boundaries of knowledge and experience´, The Psychology of Education Review, 33 (2), 3-11

Miller, A., Billington, T., Lewis, V and DeSouza, L. (2008) `Educational Psychology´ in C. Willig and W. Stainton-Rogers (eds.) The Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods in Psychology, London; Sage (pp. 472-488)

Billington, T. (2006) Working with Children: Assessment, Representation and Intervention. London; Sage

Billington, T. (2006) `Working with autistic children and young people: sense, experience and the challenges for services, policies and practices´ Disability in Society 21 (1), 1-13

Billington, T. (2002) `Children, psychologists and knowledge: a discourse analytic narrative´, Educational and Child Psychology, 19 (3), 32-41, British Psychological Society

Billington, T. (2000) Separating, Losing and Excluding Children: Narratives of Difference, London; Routledge Falmer (short-listed for 2000 TES / NASEN Book Award)