Mark O'Brien

Job Title: Senior Research Fellow

Telephone: 0151 794 1190

Fax: 0151 794 2512


Job Role:

I am a Senior Research Fellow in the Educational Development Division of the Centre for Lifelong Learning.


Having worked in Further Education for many years I came to the University of Liverpool in 2000 to do my PhD in Labour Internationalism. Shortly afterwards I became an Associate Director of the 'Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and Law'. From there I moved to the Educational Development Division to conduct research into the new Learning Networks that had been established for Liverpool schools.

My academic and professional activities have included a range of types of research and strategic initiative including network development in the areas of critical evaluation, access evaluation, accredited community research, public engagement and social fairness in the City of Liverpool. Currently I am involved in the evaluation of widening participation and fair access at the University of Liverpool.

I sit on the Council of the UK Evaluation Society for which I am the current vice-President. I am also a Council member of the National Educational Opportunities Network.

I manage the John Hamilton Lifelong Learning lectures.


My main research interests are: Critical Theory with special focus upon the early years of the Frankfurt School of sociology; Marxist social theory; psychoanalysis; critical pedagogy; widening participation; cultural-historical activity theory; labour history; visual techniques in research; and research ethics.

Selected Publications


O’Brien, M., Martinez Serrano, M., Roberts, K. and Whyte, D., (forthcoming 2018) ‘Critical Pedagogy and assessment in British higher education:  the ideal of ‘authenticity’ in learning’. Active Learning in Higher Education, vol. 19 (2)


O’Brien, M. and Kyprianou P. (2017), Just Managing? What it Means for the Families of Austerity Britain. Open Book Publishing.


O’Brien, M. (2016), ‘Distributional impact assessments and the record of the 2010-2015 Coalition Government: the tyranny of numbers without interpretation’, Journal of Social Work and Family Law, vol. 38 (4) 


O’Brien, M. (2015), ‘Student finance, progression and ‘inclusivity’: indicative data from the University of Liverpool’, Journal of Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, vol. 17 (3), 74-88

O’Brien, M. (2015), ‘Embedded evaluation: strategy and technique’, The Evaluator, Vol.1

O’Brien, M. (2015), 'Directions in Evaluation Theory and Practice: the politics of ‘evidence’. The Evaluator, Vol.1

O'Brien, M. (2015), ‘Heresy, Rebellion and Utopian Courage: The English Peasant Rising of 1381’ in Davis, M. (ed.), Crowd Actions in Britain and France from the Middle Ages to the Modern World. Palgrave. MacMillan. Pp. 17-30 

O’Brien, M., Martinez Serrano, M., Roberts, K. and Whyte, D. (2015) ‘Assessing Critical Pedagogy: ‘non-traditional learning’’ and module assessment. HEA research report


O'Brien (2014), ‘Re-positioning the subject discipline for an ‘academic-enhancement’ model of widening participation: a philosophical sketch’. Active Learning in Higher Educationvol. 14 (3), 241–250


Varga-Atkins, T., O'Brien, M., Umoquit, M, Tso, P. and Wheeldon, J. (2013), 'Diagrammatic elicitation: defining the use of diagrams in data collection', The Qualitative Report, vol. 18 (60),1-12

O'Brien, M. (2013) 'Marcuse and the language of power: the unfair discourse of ‘fairness’ in the Coalition Government’s policy presentation'. Radical Philosophy Review, vol. 16 (1), 187-203


O'Brien, M., Varga-Atkins, T., Umoquit, M. and Tso, P., (2012), 'Cultural-historical activity theory and 'the visual' in research: exploring the ontological consequences of the use of visual methods'. International Journal of Research Methods in Education, vol. 35 (3)

O'Brien, M. (2012) ‘The Liverpool transport strike of 1911: ‘over-comings’, transformations and the ‘new mentalities’ of the Liverpool working class’. Historical Studies in Industrial Relations, vol. 33, 39-60.

O'Brien, M.  (2012), ‘Schools-based health interventions: mums and babies in the classroom and different responses from teachers and health workers’, Education and Health, 30 (1), 3-5 

O’Brien, M. (2012), ‘Fairness and the City’ Public-sector cuts, welfare reform and risks to the population of Liverpool and its wider region: an independent submission to the Liverpool Fairness Commission. Centre for Lifelong Learning


O'Brien, M. (2011), 'Developing a 'semi-systematic' approach to using large-scale data-sets for small-scale interventions: the 'Baby Matterz™' initiative as a case study'. (Selective use of the Millennium Cohort Study)’. The Urban Review, vol. 43 (2)

O'Brien, M. (2011), 'Convergence at the surface; divergence beneath: cross-agency working within a small-scale, schools-based project in a setting of urban deprivation in the UK', Journal of Child Health Care, vol.15 (2)

O'Brien, M. (2011), 'Peer research for community evaluations: what does accreditation have to offer?' The Evaluator.

O'Brien, M. (2011) 'Liverpool 1911 and its era: foundational myth or authentic tradition?' in Belchem, J. and Biggs, B. (eds.), City of Radicals, Liverpool University Press. Pp. 140-158


O'Brien, M. (2010), 'Modelling an approach to cost-benefit analysis for a small-scale, schools-based service innovation involving parents and babies in a data-scarce environment: a case study'. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, vol. 15 (3)

Varga-Atkins, T., O'Brien, M., Burton, D., Campbell, A. and Qualter, A. (2010), 'The importance of interplay between school-based and networked professional development: school professionals' experiences of inter-school collaborations in learning networks', Journal of Educational Change, vol. 11, 241-72


O’Brien, M. (second edition, 2009), Perish the Privileged Orders: A History of the Chartist Movement, New Clarion Press

O’Brien, M., Burton, D., Campbell, A., and Qualter, A. (2009), ‘Social inclusion and learning networks: a ‘wider notion’ of learning or taking things in a different direction?’ Research Papers in Education, Vol. 24 (1)

O’Brien, M. and Varga-Atkins, T. (2009), ’From drawings to diagrams: maintaining researcher control during graphic elicitation in qualitative interviews’, International Journal of Research and Method in Education, Vol. 32 (1)


O’Brien, M., Burton, D., Campbell, A., Qualter, A. and Varga-Atkins, T. (2008) ‘How are the perceptions of learning networks amongst school professionals shaped at an early stage in their introduction? What does this mean for their implementation?’ International Review of Education, Vol. 54(2)

O’Brien, M., Clayton, S., Varga-Atkins, T. and Qualter, A. (2008), ‘Power in Research and the Theory and Practice Conundrum: The Experience Of Working With A Local Authority’, Evidence and Policy, Vol. 4 (4)

O’Brien, M., Clayton, C., Burton, D., Campbell, A., Qualter, A. and Varga-Atkins, T. (2008), ‘”I know its not proper research but …”: How professionals’ understandings of research can frustrate its potential for CPD’, Education Action Research Journal, Volume 16(1)

O’Brien, M. (2008), Dialogue and the Discursive Character of the Academic Discipline: Re-thinking widening participation from the ‘inside-out’, Educational Development Division, University of Liverpool. (With a foreword by Mary Midgley)



O’Brien, M., Burton, D., Campbell, A., Qualter, A. and Varga-Atkins, T. (2006), ‘Learning networks for schools:  keeping up with the times or a leap into the unknown?’ The Curriculum Journal, Vol. 17(4)

O’Brien, M. (2006), ‘‘Promises, Promises’: The Experience of the Voluntary and Community Sector Within the Liverpool Children’s Fund’, Public Policy and Administration, Volume 21(4)


O’Brien, M. (2004), When Adam Delved and Eve Span: A history of the Peasants’ Revolt, New Clarion Press