A socio-ecological study, adopting a participatory approach to exploring student wellbeing in the first year of Junior Cycle in Ireland
: A snapshot of student wellbeing

  • Ursula Diamond

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


The importance of wellbeing to student life is widely recognised. With a greater focus on young persons’ wellbeing in Ireland (DES, 2018) and given the significant reform in lower secondary, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) introduced a universal social and emotional learning intervention in 2017 (NCCA, 2017) aimed at supporting the promotion of student wellbeing (SW). While there is a wide range of studies addressing SW, the experiences, perspectives, and understandings of SW in the newly introduced Junior Cycle (JC) and the Irish context in general have not been researched extensively to date.

This study seeks to explore students’ perceptions and experiences of wellbeing in the first year of JC and how they perceive school supports their wellbeing during transition. The perceptions that are held by teachers regarding the JC Wellbeing Programme, and their experiences supporting SW in first year is explored. It is in this context that this study advances work on SW at the beginning of significant reform around SW in Irish schools, adding to the literature on students’ experiences of wellbeing, and the perceptions and experiences of teachers supporting SW in Ireland.

This qualitative research uses a case-study methodology to explore students and teachers’ perceptions of wellbeing in one large post-primary school using two main methods of data collection namely Photovoice and Interview. First-year students’ perspectives and experiences of wellbeing was explored using photos and narratives from 43 student volunteers and nine members of staff who have a role in supporting student wellbeing in first year were interviewed. The data was analysed using thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006). The participative study design aimed to strengthen student voice and agency during the process of participation in the research, with the Children’s Research Advisory Group (CRAG) involved in each step of the research process to presenting the findings, informing their own school-improvement plan and wellbeing programme.

This research demonstrates the significant and rich insight young people can provide when given voice. They highlight the impact relationships and connectedness have on SW and suggest areas for development that reflect SW’s multifaceted complexity. The research concludes with recommendations and proposes a useful approach that could assist schools in amplifying student voice, engendering greater agency, and contributing to decision making for an improved school environment through implementing the photovoice data-gathering method.

Thesis embargoed until 31 July 2024
Date of AwardJul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorLaura Dunne (Supervisor) & Liam O'Hare (Supervisor)


  • wellbeing
  • student wellbeing
  • post-primary
  • connection
  • junior cycle
  • belonging
  • school-selfevaluation
  • relationships
  • diamond model
  • participation
  • voice
  • chidlren's research advisory group
  • mental health
  • school
  • photovoice
  • case study
  • photographs
  • interviews

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