Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

Sociology and Social Policy

Contact Details

Dr Sharon Elley

Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy

My research broadly falls under youth studies and the sociology of education and, in particular, young people’s issues and widening participation to education. I combine previous professional experience with my academic interests in researching inequalities associated with young people and their families.

For eight years, I worked for North Lincolnshire’s Youth Service in various roles including sex and relationship educator, youth projects manager, detached and outreach youth worker. I take a keen interest in widening participation to education as I firmly believe that education is one of the few levellers of inequality available in society.

I returned to higher education myself with two GCSEs and I was later awarded ESRC 1 + 3 funding to study a PhD at the University of Leeds. A large part of my role in the School has been as Director of Foundation Level, managing and developing our BA Social Sciences programme over 6 years. This is a widening participation initiative enabling students to return to education to realise their potential and ambitions.

Research Interests

I am keen to bridge the academic-researcher-practitioner gap in the exchange of academic knowledge, professional practice and public policy. I research children and young people's intimate and personal relationships; youth transitions; and educational/employment (dis)engagement. I am interested in young people’s experiences of informal and formal educational practices and provision.

My doctoral research is entitled: 'Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) and Young People's Lived Experiences' and explores the 'gap' that exists in SRE knowledge, provision and practice. Understanding how young people’s everyday experiences are shaped by the interconnections of class and gendered heterosexual inequalities remain key to my work. Developing participatory research methods, researching biographies over time (QLR) and enabling young people to set the agenda and claim spaces for themselves also remain a key goal.

My current projects include: working as an interdisciplinary team and in partnership with the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies (CIGS) and Care-Connect, to explore students’ ‘campus cultures’ in relation to their experiences of academia, university social life and networks, alongside their use of space, place and belonging. Another current project includes: working in collaboration with Educational Engagement to develop a network and forum for communicating and exchanging research, policy and professional practice about youth, young people and widening participation.


I currently convene and/or teach on:

  • Social Inequalities in Contemporary Society, Foundation Level
  • Sexualities, Subcultures and Stigma, Level 1
  • Debates in Childhood and Youth, level 2
  • Contemporary Children, Young People and Families, Level 3
  • Education, Culture and Society, Level 3
  • MA in Childhood Studies

PhD Supervision

I am keen to supervise promising students in a range of topics, including:

  • general education, but, particularly, widening participation;
  • children, young people and their families with a particular focus upon social identity, personal relationships, class, gender and sexuality.

Key Publications


  • Elley ST (2013) Understanding Sex and Relationship Education, Youth and Class: A Youth Work-Led Approach’. Palgrave.

Journal Articles

  • Elley ST (2011) “Young People and Sex Education: Rethinking the Interconnections between Class, Gender and Sexuality”, Sociology. 45.3: 413-429.

    This article reports findings from an ESRC-funded investigation into the interface between Sex and Relationship Education (hereafter SRE) and young people’s experiences as mediated by the interconnections of class, gender and heterosexuality. The article focuses on how young women’s gendered heterosexual practices, alongside educational aspirations, are given meaning by the values embedded in classed circumstances, social networks and relationships. Developing a ‘relational’ approach, the conceptual framework combines different levels of analysis and complicates the idea of a simple working-class/middle-class dichotomy. The empirical data are drawn from one-to-one interviews and focus groups with 69 young people, aged 15 to 21 years old, although only women’s narratives are presented. I argue that understanding how young people draw on normative discourses about gendered heterosexuality, as well as class-related practices and aspirations as embedded in particular social networks, provides greater insight into theorizing the regulation of sexual identities as linked to SRE messages.

  • Irwin S; Elley S (2011) “Parenting Values, Education and Class Diversity”, Sociology. 45.3

  • Elley ST (2011) “If I shut my eyes, I cannot hear you: The Regulation of Parent and Adolescent Communication about Sexual Practices and Identities in the Family Context”, Sociological Research Online. 15.2

    This paper examines parent-adolescent communication about sexuality in the family context. Of central concern is how parents and their adolescent children interact and communicate about sexual identities and practices. The paper focuses on kinship and familial relations between parents and adolescents, family dynamics and the processes impacting on young people's emergent sexual development and informal sex education in the home. The data is drawn from interviews with 38 young people aged 15-21 years with another 31 participating in focus-groups. The paper argues that mutual and open dialogue about sexuality between parents and adolescents remains highly circumscribed due to how sexuality is relational and regulated in the family context. The data reveals that despite strong family relationships, complex patterns of surveillance and negotiation mean that parents and children monitor and control situations related to expressing sexuality. Instead of 'passive' processes operating to manage sexual identities, this paper finds that parents and young people necessarily draw on more sophisticated practices of what can be conceptually termed as the 'active ack nowledgement' and 'active avoidance' of sexuality as a means to manage sexual identities across different family contexts.

  • Irwin S; Elley ST (2011) “Concerted cultivation? Parenting Values, Education and Class Diversity”, Sociology. 45.3: 480-495.

    The article presents an analysis of new empirical evidence on parenting values and orientations to children’s education and social class. A survey of parents with children involved in organized activities was undertaken, followed by a series of semi-structured interviews with a sample strategically identified with reference to both social class and subjective orientations to education. We argue that within recent literature there has been a tendency towards overstating the internal homogeneity of middle-class and working-class experiences. Our data reveal diverse parental orientations to their children’s education within, as well as across, classes. We analyse this diversity in relation to varied circumstances, and draw out some implications for theories of inequality.

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