Dr Sharon Elley

Dr Sharon Elley


I returned to higher education with two GCSEs and I was later awarded ESRC 1 + 3 funding to study a PhD at the University of Leeds. My doctoral research entitled: 'Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) and Young People's Lived Experiences' investigated the 'gap' that exists in informal/formal education about relationships and sexuality knowledge, provision, and practice. It explored young people’s (14-25) perspectives on everyday experiences of relationships and intimacies, peer and family networks, motivations, values, and orientations as embedded in social class contexts. The research also included youth and professional educators’ perspectives on youth and providing education that matters. The resultant book: ‘Sex and Relationship Education, Youth and Class: A Youth Work-Led Approach’ impacted on reshaping relationships and sexuality education content, delivery, and training provision nationally. 

I was Director of Foundation Level, managing and developing our BA Social Sciences programme over several years. This is a widening participation initiative enabling diverse students returning to learning to realise their potential and ambitions. Other significant roles include; Teaching Assistant Manager which involved working closely with our Post-Graduate Research students in relation to student education, pedagogical practices and facilitating training provision; and facilitating Taught-Post Graduate student education and the development of both national and international students’ academic and research skills. 

I am the HE Centre for Research on Families, the Life Course and Generations (FLaG)  and I take an active role in equality, diversity, and inclusion issues. My current research involved being the Co-Investigator on a 3-year ESRC funded project about ‘Living Gender in Diverse Times’ (2018-2021); and a 2-year DRILL funded project on ‘A Society Fit for Autistics’ working as an interdisciplinary team of professionals and academics in partnership with the University of Glasgow (2017-2019). I am keen to engage with professionals, practitioners and trainers across education and employment sectors, for example, I worked in collaboration with ‘Living Autism’, York (2017) and Post-Graduate students to co-design and co-deliver an action research project delivering employability workshops to autistic Under-Graduate students at the University of Leeds. Developing action and participatory research methods, researching biographies over time (QLR), and enabling marginalised and minority groups to equally flourish remains a key social and civic goal.
I worked for North Lincolnshire’s Youth Service for eight years, in various roles including; sex and relationship educator, youth projects manager, detached and outreach youth worker. I take a keen interest in educational engagement and widening participation because I firmly believe that education is one of the few levellers of social inequality and injustice.


Hines, S. Elley, S. et al. (in preparation, April, 2025) Living Gender in Diverse Times: Young People’s Understandings and Practices of Gender in the UK, (Polity: Press)
Elley, S. (2013) Understanding Sex Education, Youth and Class: A Youth Work-led Approach, Palgrave: Basingstoke. *(2014) Shortlisted for BSA Philip Abrams Memorial Prize* 
Journal Articles
Special Issue, Guest Editors, Hines, S., Elley. S, et al. (summer 2024, under review) ‘Living Gender and Youth’, Journal of Gender Studies, featuring Graphic Novel. 
Cuthbert, C., Hines, S., Elley, S. and Halls, J. (2024, under review, Sociological Research Online) ‘Sex’ vs ‘Gender’? Generation Z and the sex/gender distinction.
Cuthbert, K., Hall, J.J., Hines, S., Allen, K. and Elley, S. (2022) ‘Hearing, Policing, and Using Gender Diversity: The Role of Institutional Gatekeepers in Researching Youth and Gender’. Sociological Research Online, Winner of the SRO SAGE Prize for Innovation and Excellence*
Allen, K., Cuthbert, K. , Hall, J. J., Hines, S. and Elley, S. (2022) ‘Trailblazing the gender revolution? Young people's understandings of gender diversity through generation and social change’. Journal of Youth Studies, 25(5), pp. 650-666. (doi: 10.1080/13676261.2021.1923674). 
Zhu, Y., Chong, L., and Elley, S. (2021) ‘Relationships with opposite-gender peers: the ‘fine line’ between an acceptable and unacceptable ‘liking’ amongst children in a Chinese rural primary school’, Children's Geographies, DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2021.1970717
Elley, S. (under review, Disability and Society) A Critical Review of the Ghostly Figure of Class Inequalities, Diversities and Identities in Autism Studies, 
Hersh M, Elley S. (2019) ‘Barriers and Enablers of Inclusion for Young Autistic Learners: Lessons from the Polish Experiences of Teachers and Related Professionals’, Advances in Autism. 5(2), pp. 117-130.
Elley, S. (2015) Confronting a Culture of ‘Laddishness’ and ‘Riskiness’ in Higher Education: “too drunk to see, too rich to pay”? Discover Society. May 6th.
Irwin, S. and Elley. S. (2013) ‘Parents’ hopes and expectations for their children’s future occupations’, The Sociological Review 61 (1). 
Elley, S. (2011) ‘Young People and Sex Education: Rethinking the Interconnections between Class, Gender and Sexuality’, Sociology, 45 (3).  
Irwin, S. and Elley, S. (2011) 'Concerted Cultivation? Parenting Values, Education and Class Diversity', Sociology 45, 3.
Elley, S. (April, 2010) ‘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)4.
Elley, S. (2020) “I’d like to tell them what gets left out or ‘unsaid”: Autism, Neurodiversity and Employment Experiences in Neoliberal Times, (Ed. Milton, D., et al.) Neurodiversity Reader, Pavilion: West Sussex.
Hersh, M., Elley, S. et al. (2020) Accessing Services and Social Interaction: Strategies Used by Autistic People, (Ed. Milton, D., et al.) Neurodiversity Reader, Pavilion: West Sussex.
Hines, S., Elley, S. et al. (2022) Living Gender in Diverse Times: Graphic Novel
Jennett, M., Hall, J., Hines, S., Elley, S. and Cuthbert, K. (2022) Report: Living Gender in Diverse Times: Young People’s Understandings and Experiences of Gender Diversity in the UK A briefing for schools, youth service, charities and other third sector organisations working with young people. 


Research interests

  • Education, widening participation and engagement
  • Childhood, youth and adulthood transitions and biographies
  • Interpersonal relations, intimacies, and identities 
  • Intersections of social class, gender, and sexuality
  • Life-course inequalities

Applied Social Science research and practice-based evidence rooted in lived experience has continued to remain core to my research agenda and professional practises to address everyday inequality and change lives. My research broadly falls under the sociology of education, youth studies and widening participation to education and employment for marginalised and minority groups and communities. I combine previous professional experience with my academic interests in researching intersecting inequalities and diversities pertaining to social class, gender, disability, and sexuality through childhood, youth, and adulthood transitions across the life-course. 

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://essl.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD
  • MA Social Research Methods
  • PGCE
  • BA Applied Social Sciences

Student education

I currently convene and/or teach on MA Dissertation, Level 4, MA Childhood Studies, Level 4, Contemporary Children, Young People and Families, Level 3, Debates in Childhood and Youth, Level 2 and Understanding Sex and Relationship Education, Youth and Class

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>The school welcomes enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>