Karen Tatham

Karen Tatham


I am currently completing a PhD in the School of Sociology and Social Policy on young peoples’ transition to the labour market from vocational and technical pathways during Covid-19 and in the post-pandemic period.

I spent 16 years in teaching, including roles as primary headteacher and deputy headteacher, leading school improvement in ‘stuck’ schools in areas with socioeconomic disadvantage and challenge. I hold the National Professional Qualification of Headship NPQH (2012) and a PGCE from the University of Leeds (2002). 

My education specialisms include pedagogy and teacher development, intervention and the use of pupil premium, early language development, SEND provision, safeguarding and family interventions. I have extensive experience of working in multi-agency partnerships with statutory and third sector organisations. I have worked with Ofsted in their regional programme for rapidly improving schools, and supported the development of local authority early intervention services.

The limited ability of education to affect structural inequalities led me to return to the University of Leeds in 2017 to expand my academic knowledge of socioeconomic inequalities and policy responses. I made a discipline switch to Sociology on the MSc Inequalities and Social Sciences course, where I achieved a Distinction. I began my PhD in the School of Sociology and Social Policy in 2018.

I was awarded the University of Leeds Partnership Award 2020 for PGRs who Teach for inspirational practice.

Before teaching, I worked in logistics in the food industry, working for major retailers. I have a BSc Hons in Chemistry from the University of York.

I draw on my education practice and industry experience in my PhD.

Research interests

My PhD explores employment transitions for young people on vocational and technical pathways, and how employer partnerships might give access to higher-skilled job routes. I am exploring partnerships between employers, vocational and technical educators and local policymakers in the Covid-19 and post-pandemic context, in a qualitative study drawing on realist methods.

I am interested in educational inequalities and policy responses, the UK skills agenda, youth transitions to employment, employability, job quality, vocational and technical education, the importance of place or locality in policy, and how educational and economic inequalities might be disrupted through local employer-education partnerships.  

I am a member of the Centre for Research on Families, Life Course and Generations (FLaG) in the School of Sociology & Social Policy. I am also part of The Edge Foundation’s Early Career Researcher network which brings together PhD and ECR researchers on Vocational Education and Training from universities across the UK.

I was awarded a Leeds Social Sciences Institute PGR ESRC Impact Acceleration Account to work with Wakefield Council on their NEET strategy 2021 called Minimising NEET: Maximising Opportunity and Potential https://lssi.leeds.ac.uk/karen-tatham/

I keep connected to real-world issues of inequalities as a trustee of Citizen’s Advice North Yorkshire, formed from the merger of Mid North Yorks, Craven and Harrogate and Scarborough in 2022 and reflecting the new unitary authority. Previously, I was Vice-Chair at Citizen’s Advice Craven and Harrogate which was the first area for the implementation of Universal Credit, and managed migration from legacy benefits. During Covid-19 I supported the transition to remote advice methods and access for vulnerable clients in a rapidly changing advice context for Universal Credit, employment and EU settled status. 


  • MSc Inequalities and Social Science (University of Leeds)
  • PGCE (University of Leeds)
  • BSc Hons Chemistry (University of York)

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for Research on Families, The Life Course and Generations