Dr Melanie Peter

Senior Lecturer

Faculty:Faculty of Health, Social Care & Education

Department:School of Education & Social Care

Location: Cambridge

Areas of Expertise: Education and teaching

Melanie Peter has a background in special education and is a published authority on the arts and special needs, with expertise also in early years, primary education, and partnership with families.

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Since qualifying as a special needs teacher, Melanie has maintained involvement in special education ever since and is widely known for her innovative developmental approaches using the arts, especially drama. A former Advisory Teacher, she has expertise also in movement and dance, and was the educational consultant for CBBC's BAFTA-winning show, Boogie Beebies!

Melanie has authored curriculum policy materials at home (for the Primary National Strategy and on-line interactive training resources for special needs) and abroad (National Curriculum for Eire). She is a regular contributor at conferences and training events nationally and internationally, and increasingly on partnership working with families.

Research interests

  • Developing specialist teachers of children with special needs
  • Drama as an intervention for children with autism
  • Drama as a cross-curricular approach for children with special educational needs
  • Movement education

Through an innovative body of work that has evolved through several action research cycles, Melanie’s research interests necessarily fuse inclusion and creativity. She has aimed to arrive at a substantive rationale for the effectiveness of interactive approaches to teaching children with special educational needs using the arts and drama as an intervention, driven by democratic Social Constructivist and Humanistic principles. This culminated in her PhD thesis (by publication) on drama as pedagogy for socially challenged children. Latterly, a second (related) quest has been to formulate development models and frameworks for training the inclusive interactive teacher, through research with trainees in special school contexts that exemplify the challenge.

Areas of research supervision

  • Use of Reggio Emilia approaches to conflict resolution in an Israeli early years setting – passed with no amendments
  • Critical evaluation of a professional development programme for using creativity with children with special educational needs – passed with minor amendments
  • Art in Forest Schools as an intervention for young adults with autism – in process
  • Study of the implementation of the new SEN Code of Practice in Secondary mainstream high school – in process


Melanie is a module leader for the BA Hons in Education and Childhood Studies, a tutor in MA Education, and is a research supervisor for undergraduate, post-graduate and PhD students. She is leading a new MA in Special Needs Collaboration (under development) and is also an associate tutor on autism for the University of Birmingham.


  • BA, MA in Social and Political Sciences, University of Cambridge
  • PGCE in SEN/Early Years, University of Bristol
  • MEd in Education, University of Cambridge
  • PhD (pub), University of East Anglia
  • RSA Diploma in Drama-in-Education
  • OFSTED Registered Inspector for Nursery Education
  • OFSTED Primary and Special School Team Inspector

Memberships, editorial boards

  • Higher Education Academy - registered practitioner (ILTM)
  • National Association for Special Educational Needs
  • National Drama
  • National Autistic Society

Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange

  • Consultant for Early Support initiative, 2004-5, Norfolk as pathfinder authority – devised materials and activities for this multi-agency training programme, for support to families following diagnosis of a child with SEN-D. Conference presentations and workshop provider, as parent advocate and special education professional. Materials were subsequently utilised for the rolling National Strategies Inclusion Development Programme – Autism (DCSF 2009)
  • Consultant for Tiebreak Theatre Company, 2006, Norwich, researching best-value approach for theatre-in-education companies to support work with schools;
  • Consultant for Norfolk Children’s Services, 2006 – Autism Action Group, research project manager: evaluating the use and effectiveness of a document to support transitions, generated by Asperger East Anglia
  • Lead Tutor, SEN in ITT (TDA, DfE), 2008-13, £63, 500 in total over 5 years
  • Lead Researcher, TDA SEN Research Project 9, DfE, 2008-9, £18,000
  • Consultant contributor to interactive on-line resource: Training Materials for Teachers of Children with Severe, Profound, Multiple and Complex Learning Difficulties, DfE/Special Schools and Academies Trust, 2009-12
  • Learning and Teaching Award, 2012-13, (Anglia Ruskin University - £3500.) to evaluate an original professional development model and associated structures and materials for developing special schools as placements within ITT. Dissemination through research report, internal research conferences and regional Partnership conference on SEN with over 70 attendees
  • Facilitator for Eastern Region SEN in ITT Network, 2011 to date – co-ordination of regional developments on SEN in ITT for HEIs and partnership with special schools. Dissemination and piloting of original differentiated placement models across providers in the Eastern Region. Attendance at national consultative meetings with DfE, representing the Eastern region
  • School governor of a Middle school (1994-98), a Special school (SLD) (1999 to 2005) – responsibility for staffing and curriculum sub-committees, chair of Quality Assurance sub-committee; a Secondary school (2010 to date) – SEN governor .
  • Reviewer for for Sage Publishers, the British Journal of Special Education, the British Journal of Learning Disabilities, the International Journal of Autism.
  • Education Consultant and author of teachers’ packs for Tiebreak Theatre-in-Education Company

Selected recent publications

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Sherratt, D and Peter, M (2002) Developing Play and Drama in Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. London: David Fulton. Second edition in process.

Curriculum materials/Distance education modules:

DfE (2012) Module 2.2: ‘Communication and Interaction’, for on-line resource: Training Materials for teachers of learners with Severe, Profound and Complex Learning Difficulties; commission from the Schools Network with Real Group, for the DfE http://www.complexneeds.org.uk/

DfES (2005) Primary National Strategy - Speaking, Listening and Learning: working with children who have special educational needs. London: DfES. Member of working party of consultants, contributor on drama.

NCCA  (2002)‘Curriculum guidelines for teachers of students with severe and profound general learning disabilities: Drama’. Dublin: National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

Chapters in books:

Peter, M (2014) ‘Aesthetic Learning for All: drama-in-education for children with SEN’, chapter in The Routledge International Handbook of Arts and Education, eds Fleming, M; Bresler, L; O’Toole, J. London: Routledge.

Peter, M (in press) ‘Developing the inclusive teacher of children with SLD and PMLD’, chapter in [text on SLD & PMLD, title TBC)], ed. Lacey, P.

Peter, M (in press) ‘Creative Teaching and Learning for Children with SLD and PMLD’, chapter in [text on SLD & PMLD, title TBC), ed. Lacey, P.

Journal articles

Peter, M (2013) ‘Developing Special School Placements within ITT’, Networks, Issue 15, 73-79

Peter, M (2013) ‘Training special educators: sustaining professional development in special school placements’, Support for Learning, 28 (3) 122-132

Peter, M and Walter, O (2010) ‘Movement as Inclusive Pedagogy’, Support for Learning, 25 (1), 38-46.

‘Drama: Visual ethnography within a critical realism paradigm’.  In process, to be submitted to Educational Action Research TBC.

‘Theatre companies and schools: a best value approach’.  In process, to be submitted to Drama

Recent presentations and conferences

Peter, M (2010) ‘Ensuring the Workforce is fully equipped for SEN Provision’, Lamb Inquiry Dissemination Conference, 2-3rd February.  London: Westminster Briefing.

Peter, M (2010) ‘Policy into Practice’, SEN & Disability: Improving Parental Confidence and Outcomes for Children and Young People, 16th November. London: Westminster Briefing.

Peter, M (2010) ‘Developing the Interactive, Inclusive Teacher – Movement as Inclusive Pedagogy’, Inclusive and Supportive Education Congress, 2-5 August. Belfast: Queens University.

Peter, M (2011) ‘Autism: Quality Practice in Teaching and Learning’, Autism Innovation, 26th November.  Sheffield: Sheffield Hallam University with Bents Green School.

Peter, M (2012) ‘Considering Communication and Interaction’, ‘Training Materials for Severe, Profound and Multiple and Complex Needs’, 2nd May. London: University of East London.

Peter, M (2013) ‘Training Special Educators’, Training Partnerships for Children with Special Educational Needs, 13th May. Chelmsford: Anglia Ruskin University.

Peter, M (2014) ‘Oral Language in Drama’, Talk for Learning and Living – symposium, 10th May.  London: University of London Institute of Education.

Peter, M (2015) ‘Art and special needs’, conference - Royal Academy, 21st March.

Media experience

  • BBC Education Consultant CBBC’s ‘Boogie Beebies’, 2004-8, BAFTA -winning inclusive dance show for young children; advisor on play in learning
  • Teachers’ TV – Movement as inclusive pedagogy, broadcast on recent research into Physical Development and Special Educational Needs, July 2009