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Dr Lee Elliot Major

Dr Lee Elliot Major

Professor of Social Mobility


 +44 (0) 1392 724768

 North Cloisters NC127


North Cloisters, University of Exeter, St Luke's Campus, Heavitree Road, Exeter, EX1 2LU, UK


Lee Elliot Major is the country’s first Professor of Social Mobility. Appointed by the University of Exeter to be a global leader in the field, his work is dedicated to improving the prospects of disadvantaged young people. As a Professor of Practice he is focused on the impact and dissemination of research, working closely with schools, universities, employers and policy makers.

His Penguin book Social Mobility and Its Enemies has attracted attention across the world. His forthcoming Bloomsbury book What Works? offers best bets to teachers for improving outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. He commissioned and co-authored the first Sutton Trust-EEF toolkit, a guide used by 100,000s of school leaders.

Lee is a founding trustee of the Education Endowment Foundation and chairs its evaluation advisory group. He is Visiting Fellow at the LSE’s International Inequalities Institute, and an Honorary Professor at the UCL Institute of Education. He was formerly Chief Executive of the Sutton Trust.

Lee regularly appears in national broadcast and print media, commenting on education and social mobility issues. He has served on several Government advisory bodies and presented several times to the House of Commons Education Select Committee.

He has a PhD in theoretical physics and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sheffield for services to education.  He was an education journalist working for the Guardian, the Times Higher Education Supplement, and Research Fortnight. He is a Governor at William Ellis School. He is the first in his family to attend university.

Research group links


Research interests

Lee focuses on understanding the main drivers of social mobility in society and developing evidence-informed ways of improving the prospects of disadvantaged young people. He argues that improving social mobility means much more than catapulting a few talented individuals to the top of society – it is about ensuring that we are all free to make informed life choices, whatever those choices may be, irrespective of who we are born to or where we are born.  

He is interested in how we improve opportunities for those who stay in local communities, and for young people who leave education without the basic skills to get on in life - as well as ensuring universities are accessible to students from all backgrounds. He has given talks about the issue of social mobility around the world.

He has championed the use of evidence to empower education professionals, enabling teachers to improve classroom teaching and university practitioners and employers to widen access into their institutions.

Major publications

The Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit is an accessible Which style guide detailing best bets for improving children’s attainment, based on the meta-synthesis of thousands of studies. It has been used by two-thirds of senior leaders in schools and been replicated in several countries across the world.

Originally the Pupil Premium Toolkit, it provides guidance to schools on how to spend their Pupil Premium money, aimed at tackling the effects of poverty on attainment. The Toolkit was identified as a model for the Government’s ‘What Works’ network.

Full reference: Higgins, S., Katsipataki, M., Kokotsaki, D., Coleman, R., Major, L.E., & Coe, R. (2014). The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit. London: Education Endowment Foundation.

What Makes Great Teaching is a review of 200 studies aimed at addressing three questions: what makes great teaching; how can we capture it; and how can this promote better learning in schools? The review has been downloaded over 100,000 times.

Full reference: Coe R, Aloisi C, Higgins S, Major LE. (2014) What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research. Sutton Trust, October 2014. London: Sutton Trust.

See also What Makes Great Teaching - a summary article (June 2018) in Impact, the Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching.


Lee lectures on what we know about social mobility levels in Britain and other countries, and how research and evidence can impact on education policy and practice.

Supervision / Group

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