Dr Fiona O'Hanlon

Senior Lecturer in Language Education


My research focuses on languages education at the primary and secondary school stages - encompassing both Gaelic-medium education and the learning of modern languages as a subject in English-medium education.  Key strands of this work relate to pupil and teacher experiences of language learning and teaching,  teacher initial and continuing education for language teaching, public attitudes towards languages and language learning, and the contribution of language education to language maintenance for lesser used languages (such as Gaelic in Scotland and Welsh in Wales).  I am a Board Member of SCILT (Scotland's National Centre for Languages), and represent Higher Education on this board (2018 - ongoing).  Between 2014 and 2017 I was a Board member of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the executive non-departmental public body which works to promote the use and understanding of Gaelic language, education and culture.  As part of this role, I was a member of the Core Group for the development of the National Statutory Guidance on Gaelic education, required by the Education (Scotland) Act 2016. 

I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.


  • MA (Hons), First Class, English Language and English Literature (University of Edinburgh)
  • MSc in Education by Research, with Distinction (University of Edinburgh)
  • PhD in Education (University of Edinburgh)
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (University of Edinburgh)  

Responsibilities & affiliations

  • I am a co-director of the Centre for Racial Equality in Scotland (CERES).  
  • I am a member of the Moray House School of Education Ethics Committee.
  • I sit on the University Senate, as a representative of researchers (2017 - ongoing)
  • I am the External examiner for the BA (le Urram) Gàidhlig agus Foghlam [BA (Hons) Gaelic and Education] at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, University of the Highlands and Islands (2017 - ongoing)
  • I was Programme Director of the MA Primary Education with Gaelic programmes for three years (2016-2019) and led the programmes through their re-accreditation with the General Teaching Council for Scotland. 

Undergraduate teaching

  • Education and Gaelic in Scotland
  • Theory and Pedagogy of Bilingual and Immersion Education
  • Primary Studies 3 - session on 1+2 Languages 


Postgraduate teaching

  • MSc Dissertation supervision
  • PhD programme

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

I would welcome applications to supervise PhD projects in the research areas below:

  • Bilingual education
  • Languages education
  • Attitudes to language
  • Language policy
  • Language planning
  • Mixed methods research

  Please see http://www.ed.ac.uk/education/graduate-school/studentships for information about the application process.

Current PhD students supervised

Margaret Mroczkowski -  “An investigation of teachers’ and learners’ experiences, attitudes and perceptions towards the inclusion of L1 in the L2 classroom and its effects on L2 motivation."

Lisa MacDonald - “An t-ionnsachadh bòidheach: exploring opportunities, potentialities and challenges in Gaelic 0-5 education.” 

Jesús Hernandez Gonzalez - "Academic literacies for deeper learning: a longitudinal study of CLIL in primary science classrooms."


Past PhD students supervised

Mary Andrew (EdD) - "Exploring Gaelic-medium teachers' perceptions of professional learning for teaching Gaelic in and through the curriculum."

Research summary

I am interested in language and equity issues and how these are taken forward in education and in educational policy.  Specific areas of interest include:

  • Bilingual education
  • Languages education
  • Attitudes to language
  • Language policy
  • Language planning
  • Mixed methods research

Current projects include a comparative study of the language use, identities, and patterns of civic participation of young people who are in Gaelic-medium or Welsh-medium education or are learning Gaelic or Welsh in secondary school (together with colleagues from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Aberystwyth), and a study of the implementation of the 1+2 languages policy in practice in six primary-secondary school pairs in central Scotland (together with Prof. Do Coyle and Thomas Chaurin).

Knowledge exchange

I am a member of the Scottish Council of Deans of Education 1+2 Languages group, which developed a National Framework for Languages to inform initial teacher education and continuing professional development for teachers in Scotland with regard to languages education.  The National Framework identifies key values, practices and reflective questions for colleagues designing initial teacher education programmes or continuing professional development for teachers and student teachers, and provides summaries of research papers relating to key aspects of languages education. It is available at: http://www.nffl.education.ed.ac.uk 

I am currently working with Prof. Do Coyle, Thomas Chaurin and colleagues from Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian, Borders and Fife councils to develop a self-evaluation tool for modern languages.  This self-evaluation tool is based on the findings of the 1+2 languages research project above, and will support colleagues to self-assess, and plan next steps in relation to the teaching of modern languages in the Broad General Education phase. 

Affiliated research centres

  • Higher Education Research Group

Current project grants

- Language, identity and civic participation: the role of the school and voluntary organisations in Scotland and Wales (2016-2020).  Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. In partnership with Lindsay Paterson and Kirstie MacLeod (University of Edinburgh), and Rhys Jones, Elin Royles, and Dyfan Powel (University of Aberystwyth). This project is part of the suite of research conducted by the ESRC-funded WISERD (Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods) Civil Society Research Centre. Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods.
-Developing excellence in 1+2 languages: working together for success (2018-2019). In partnership with Prof. Do Coyle & Thomas Chaurin (University of Edinburgh) and Ann Robertson, Bethan Owen and Tamsin Frost (Local Authority languages advisors). Funded by a consortium of local authorities.
- Developing excellence in 1+2 languages: working together to create a self-assessment tool for schools. (2019-2020) In partnership with Prof. Do Coyle & Thomas Chaurin (University of Edinburgh), Ann Robertson & Bethan Owen (East Lothian and Edinburgh Councils), and primary and secondary teachers from central Scotland. Funded by a College of Humanities and Social Sciences Knowledge Exchange and Impact Grant and a consortium of local authorities.

Past project grants

- Creating a National Framework for Language Learning (2017-2018). In partnership with the Scottish Council of Deans of Education 1+2 Languages group (a group consisting of representatives of each of the Schools of Education in Scotland.) Funded by a consortium of Local Authorities.
- The implementation of the 1+2 Languages Strategy (2016). In partnership with Bruce Robertson, John Christie and John Stodter (Association of Directors of Education in Scotland). Funded by the Scottish Government.
- Transformative pedagogies for language revitalisation. In partnership with Joanna McPake, Ann MacDonald & Mona Wilson (University of Strathclyde) and Mary Andrew (University of Edinburgh). Funded by Soillse.
- Gaelic in the 2011 Census (2015).  In partnership with Stephen Sharp (National Records of Scotland) and Lindsay Paterson (University of Edinburgh). Funded by Soillse.
- Public attitudes to language learning in schools in Scotland. In partnership with Fhiona Fischer (SCILT). Funded by SCILT and the Scottish Government.
- Professional development programmes for teachers moving from majority to minoritised language medium education: a comparative study. (2013). Funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig.  In partnership with Joanna McPake (PI), Mona Wilson, Giovanna Fassetta (University of Strathclyde) and Wilson McLeod (University of Edinburgh).
- Public Attitudes to Gaelic in Scotland (2012-2014).  In partnership with Prof. Lindsay Paterson (PI, University of Edinburgh) and ScotCen Social Research.  Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
-Language use in Gaelic-medium nursery, primary and secondary education (2011-2012). In partnership with Prof. Lindsay Paterson and Prof. Wilson McLeod (University of Edinburgh). Funded by Soillse and the Scottish Government.
-Gaelic-medium education in Scotland: choice and attainment at the primary and early secondary school stages. (2009-2010) In partnership with Prof. Lindsay Paterson and Prof. Wilson McLeod. Funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

View all 21 publications on Research Explorer