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Ben Simmons – Bath Spa University

Personal statement

I am a Reader in Inclusive Education and Disability Research at the School of Education. I am also the Principal Investigator of We Are The People – an exciting research network that explores how universities can work with local communities to co-produce change-oriented disability research. We Are The People is funded through a £1million Wellcome Trust Research Development Award and runs for five years (2021-2026).

I have a long-standing interest in "inclusive education" for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD). My research explores whether, and to what extent, mainstream schools afford different learning opportunities to special schools for children with PMLD. My research also aims to develop participatory methods that shed light on the experiences of children with PMLD, and expands 'PMLD theory' through the application of ideas drawn from philosophical literature (e.g., on embodiment and space). This work has been funded by the ESRC (PhD, University of Exeter) and the British Academy (Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Bristol). 

Academic qualifications

  • BA (Hons), English Studies and History, Oxford Brookes University 
  • MEd, Special Educational Needs, University of Exeter
  • PGCE, Early Years, University of Exeter
  • MSc, Educational Research, University of Exeter
  • PhD, The PMLD Ambiguity - Articulating the Lifeworlds of Children with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities, University of Exeter.

Professional memberships 

  • Fellow - Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

Teaching subjects

  • EDU4101: Controversial Issues in Special and Inclusive Education (module leader)
  • EDU5101: Supporting Learners with Additional Needs (module leader).

External roles

  • Member of the Executive Editorial Panel and Lead for PMLD Research - British Journal of Learning Disabilities 
  • Member of the NHS Electronic Assistive Technology and Learning Disabilities Advisory Group 
  • External Examiner - BA (Hons) modules, Department of Education, University of Sussex 
  • External Examiner for doctoral degrees - University of Dundee (2017, 2019), Open University (2020), Newcastle University (2022)
  • Reviewer for funding bodies - British Academy, Wolfson Foundation, Independent Social Research Foundation, Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Reviewer for journals - International Journal of Inclusive Education, Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, etc.

Areas of expertise

  • Special and Inclusive Education
  • Disability Studies
  • Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD)
  • Participatory and co-produced research methodology.

Research supervision

Ben is interested in supervising students in the field of special and inclusive education, profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) and disability studies.

Current doctoral students:

  • Andrew Auld - 'Art is part of the equation': exploring the impact of creative arts practices on learning disabled conceptions of self and community.
  • Helena Thomas: Releasing the imagination: stories of becoming writing teachers in England's state school system.

Previous doctoral students:

  • Dr Stephanie Harvey - Moving beyond 'the cheapest kind of understanding': Enriching policy responses to BAME mental health inequality (2020).

Research and academic outputs

Go to ResearchSPAce

The PMLD ambiguity: articulating the life-worlds of children with profound and multiple learning disabilities
book

Simmons, B and Watson, D (2014) The PMLD ambiguity: articulating the life-worlds of children with profound and multiple learning disabilities. Karnac Books, London. ISBN 9781780490342


Social embodiment in early childhood education for children with PMLD
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Simmons, B (2022) 'Social embodiment in early childhood education for children with PMLD.' In: Conn, C and Murphy, A, eds. Inclusive pedagogies for early childhood education: respecting and responding to differences in learning. Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 94-110. ISBN 9780367756130


Exploring the situated social being of children with profound and multiple learning difficulties across educational contexts: a study of belonging
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Simmons, B (2020) 'Exploring the situated social being of children with profound and multiple learning difficulties across educational contexts: a study of belonging.' In: Nind, M and Strnadova, I, eds. Belonging for people with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities: pushing the boundaries of inclusion. Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 27-40. ISBN 9780367202958


Enacting the international vision of inclusive education: a UK case study of profound and multiple learning difficulties
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Simmons, B (2020) 'Enacting the international vision of inclusive education: a UK case study of profound and multiple learning difficulties.' In: Simon, C.A and Downes, G, eds. Sociology for education studies: connecting theory, settings and everyday experiences. Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 135-149. ISBN 9780367028404


The phenomenology of intersubjectivity and research with profoundly disabled children: developing an experiential framework for analysing lived social experiences
book_section

Simmons, B (2018) 'The phenomenology of intersubjectivity and research with profoundly disabled children: developing an experiential framework for analysing lived social experiences.' In: Twomey, M and Carroll, C, eds. Seen and heard: exploring participation, engagement and voice for children with disabilities. Peter Lang, Oxford, pp. 125-144. ISBN 9781787075160


From individualism to co-construction and back again: rethinking research methodology for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities
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Simmons, B and Watson, D (2016) 'From individualism to co-construction and back again: rethinking research methodology for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities.' In: Kelly, B and Byrne, B, eds. Valuing disabled children and young people: research, policy, and practice. Routledge, Abingdon. ISBN 9781138687080


Disabled people’s experiences of the Coronavirus pandemic: a call to action for social change
article

Read, S, Parfitt, A, Bush, T, Simmons, B and Levinson, M.P (2022) 'Disabled people’s experiences of the Coronavirus pandemic: a call to action for social change.' Social Inclusion. ISSN 2183-2803 (Forthcoming)


How special are mainstream schools? Reflections on social spaces for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties
article

Simmons, B (2021) 'How special are mainstream schools? Reflections on social spaces for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties.' PMLD Link, 33.3 (100). pp. 36-38. ISSN 2042-5619


A call to action for conducting research with people with profound and multiple learning disabilities
article

Read, S, Simmons, B, Levinson, M.P and Bush, T (2021) 'A call to action for conducting research with people with profound and multiple learning disabilities.' PMLD Link, 33.3 (100). pp. 6-7. ISSN 2042-5619


Where next for people with cognitive disabilities and electronic assistive technology?
article

Clarke, Z, Darley, S, Wright, A, Surridge, J, Martindale, A, Simmons, B, Hunnisett, S and Dukas, T (2021) 'Where next for people with cognitive disabilities and electronic assistive technology?' Communication Matters Journal, 35 (3). pp. 32-34. ISSN 2756-1011


The production of social spaces for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties: a Lefebvrian analysis
article

Simmons, B (2021) 'The production of social spaces for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties: a Lefebvrian analysis.' British Journal of Sociology of Education, 42 (5-6). pp. 828-844. ISSN 0142-5692


From living to lived and being-with: exploring the interaction styles of children and staff towards a child with profound and multiple learning disabilities
article

Simmons, B (2021) 'From living to lived and being-with: exploring the interaction styles of children and staff towards a child with profound and multiple learning disabilities.' International Journal of Inclusive Education, 25 (6). pp. 657-670. ISSN 1360-3116


Variations in interaction: examining how social engagement is contingent upon context
article

Simmons, B (2019) 'Variations in interaction: examining how social engagement is contingent upon context.' PMLD Link, 31.2 (90). pp. 7-9. ISSN 2042-5619


Why is parental involvement in children’s mathematics learning hard? Parental perspectives on their role supporting children’s learning
article

Jay, T, Rose, J and Simmons, B (2018) 'Why is parental involvement in children’s mathematics learning hard? Parental perspectives on their role supporting children’s learning.' SAGE Open, 8 (2). ISSN 2158-2440


Finding “mathematics”: parents questioning school-centered approaches to involvement in children’s mathematics learning
article

Jay, T, Rose, J and Simmons, B (2017) 'Finding “mathematics”: parents questioning school-centered approaches to involvement in children’s mathematics learning.' School Community Journal, 27 (1). pp. 201-230. ISSN 1059-308X


From individualism to co-construction and back again: rethinking research methodology for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities
article

Simmons, B and Watson, D (2015) 'From individualism to co-construction and back again: rethinking research methodology for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities.' Child Care in Practice, 21 (1). pp. 50-66. ISSN 1357-5279


“It’s helping your child experience the world": how parents can use everyday activities to engage their children in mathematical learning
article

Rose, J, Jay, T and Simmons, B (2014) '“It’s helping your child experience the world": how parents can use everyday activities to engage their children in mathematical learning.' Proceedings of the British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics, 34 (2).


Challenging the developmental reductionism of ‘profound and multiple learning disabilities’ through academic innovation
article

Simmons, B and Watson, D (2014) 'Challenging the developmental reductionism of ‘profound and multiple learning disabilities’ through academic innovation.' PMLD Link, 26 (3). pp. 25-27.


Why parents can’t always get what they (think they) want
article

Jay, T, Rose, J and Simmons, B (2013) 'Why parents can’t always get what they (think they) want.' Proceedings of the British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics, 33 (3). pp. 31-36.


Transforming positive risk-taking practices: the possibilities of creativity and resilience in learning disability contexts
article

Seale, J, Nind, M and Simmons, B (2012) 'Transforming positive risk-taking practices: the possibilities of creativity and resilience in learning disability contexts.' Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 15 (3). pp. 233-248. ISSN 1501-7419


Postmodern synergistic knowledge creation: extending the boundaries of disability studies
article

Simmons, B, Blackmore, T and Bayliss, P (2008) 'Postmodern synergistic knowledge creation: extending the boundaries of disability studies.' Disability & Society, 23 (7). pp. 733-745. ISSN 0968-7599


The role of special schools for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties: is segregation always best?
article

Simmons, B and Bayliss, P (2007) 'The role of special schools for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties: is segregation always best?' British Journal of Special Education, 34 (1). pp. 19-24. ISSN 0952-3383


Illuminating the fluidity of naturalistic social interactions across educational settings for children with PMLD
conference_item

Simmons, B (2019) Illuminating the fluidity of naturalistic social interactions across educational settings for children with PMLD. In: Where Next for People with Cognitive Disabilities & Electronic Assistive Technology? Communication Matters Study Day, London, UK.


Narrowed lives: meaning, moral value and profound intellectual disability [book review]
other

Simmons, B (2022) Narrowed lives: meaning, moral value and profound intellectual disability [book review]. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50 (3). pp. 448-449. ISSN 1354-4187


The minor gesture [book review]
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Simmons, B (2018) The minor gesture [book review]. Disability & Society, 33 (3). pp. 495-497. ISSN 1360-0508


Conferences and reviews

Conference Presentations and Invited Talks

  • Simmons, B. (2017)," The phenomenology of intersubjectivity and research with profoundly disabled children: Developing an experiential framework for analysing lived social experiences", Profound Intellectual Disability Symposium, Helsinki, Finland, 15 June 2017
  • Simmons, B. (2016), "Examining the situated and emerging sociability of children with PMLD", Centre for Researching Education Across Boundaries (CREAB), University of Bristol, 22 March 2016
  • Simmons, B. (2015), "Qualitatively mapping the social interaction opportunities of children with profound and multiple learning difficulties in educational contexts", Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), University of Notre Dame, Fremantle, Australia, 30 November 2015
  • Simmons, B. (2015), "Assessing the social skills of children with PMLD through 'inclusive education'", SEND Teach Meet, University of Oxford, United Kingdom, 18 February 2015
  • Jay, T., Rose, J., & Simmons B. (2014), " 'It’s helping your child experience the world': How parents can use everyday activities to engage their children's mathematical learning", Centre for Mind and Brain in Educational and Social Contexts (MBESC), University of Bristol, United Kingdom, 29 September 2014
  • Rose, J. Simmons, B. & Jay, T. (2014)" 'It’s helping your child experience the world': How parents can use everyday activities to discuss maths with their children", European Conference of Educational Research (ECER), University of Porto, Portugal, 4 September 2014
  • Simmons, B. (2013), "Understanding children with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) in research, theory and practice (invited paper)", Centre for Mind and Brain in Educational and Social Contexts (MBESC), University of Bristol, United Kingdom, 25 October 2013
  • Simmons, B. (2012), "Changing the agenda: reflections about the research landscape for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties" (invited keynote paper), 1st UK Disabled Children’s Research Network Conference (UKDCRNC), University of Bristol, 16 May 2012
  • Simmons, B. (2011), "The PMLD ambiguity: articulating the life-worlds of children with profound and multiple learning difficulties", Nordic Network on Disability Research (NNDR) 11th Research Conference, Reykjavik, Iceland, 28 May 2011
  • Simmons, B. (2010), "Personhood, participation, and the PMLD conundrum" (invited paper), presented at the Cornwall Disability Research Network (CDRN) 5th Annual Conference, Cornwall College, United Kingdom 29 October 2010
  • Simmons, B. (2008), "Sam's Story" (invited paper), Cornwall Disability Research Network (CDRN) 3rd Annual Conference, Cornwall College, United Kingdom, 27 December 2008
  • Blackmore, T., Simmons B. & Vakirtzi, E. (2006), "Postmodern rhizomatics and synergistic knowledge creation: the case for rejecting grand narratives in educational research", European Conference of Educational Research (ECER), University of Geneva, Switzerland, 13 September 2006
  • Simmons, B. & Bayliss, P. (2005), "Developing intersubjectivity in children with profound and multiple learning difficulties through inclusive education", International Conference of Inclusive Education, Institute of Education, Tai Po, Hong Kong, 09 December 2005.

Book Reviews

  • Simmons, B. (2018) Review of Manning, E. (2016) The minor gesture - thought in the act, for Disability & Society
  • Simmons, B. (2017) Review of Paterson, M. (2015) Review of Seeing with the hands, for Disability & Society, 32 (2): 280-281
  • Simmons, B. (2013) Review of Hesse-Biber, S. & Patricia, L. (2010) Handbook of Emergent Methods, New York: The Guildford Press, for British Educational Research Journal 39 (5): 947–949
  • Simmons, B. (2010) Review of Armstrong, A., Armstrong, D., & Spandagou, I. (2010) Inclusive Education: International Policy and Practice, London: Sage Publications, for Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 10 (3), 256.

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