Exploring emotional and behavioural difficulties : using children's, parents' and professionals' perspectives to support inclusive educational experiences

  • Noreen Fiorentini

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This dissertation explores the educational inclusion experiences of children identified as having Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (EBD) in four Irish primary schools from the perspectives of the children, their parents, teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs). It is set against the backdrop of a transforming education system in terms of pupil diversity, increased accountability and the impact of an economic recession whereby class sizes are now the second highest in the European Union (EU) and special educational needs (SEN) supports have been cut back by 15% since 2008.

This qualitative study was undertaken using a multiple case study design in schools in varying geographical areas. The children’s perceptions of school were gathered using creative, participatory methodologies and focus groups interviews. The children (n=17) had clear images of themselves as learners and easily identified personal learning strengths and challenges. The views of the children’s parents (n=10), their teachers (n=12) and SNAs (n=9) were also gathered in focus groups which explored factors that supported or hindered learning experiences. Ethical principles and standards set by the School of Education, Queen's University underpinned this research.

Significant findings included: the impact of disability labels; how the negative discourses that go hand-in-hand with disability labels impact on how professionals perceive the children and their learning abilities and supports currently on offer separate the children often unnecessarily, from their peers and increase marginalisation. The class teacher is the key to the successful support of the children’s needs and a greater emphasis on supports for all at classroom level is required to help these learners. A framework informed by the testimonies of the children, their parents, teachers and SNAs and the relevant literature is presented as possible levers for change that have the potential to support more inclusive learning experiences. This provides a tool for self-evaluation as to how obstacles to inclusion can be resolved at classroom level. While the findings from this study may be seen as extremely contextual, they have potential to be generalizable to other school settings.

The implications of the findings for schools are that teachers must be flexible and support the needs of all learners by providing a rich and participative learning environment for all the pupils they encounter. The finding that the current resourcing system disadvantages children with non-normative SEN will inform policy makers. Implications for the Inspectorate are that it is timely to evaluate schools with a wider lens, looking critically at the supports schools provide for pupils in terms of health and well-being, and in particular, social, emotional and behavioural supports at classroom level to ensure all pupils are enabled to achieve their full potential.
Date of AwardDec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorRon Smith (Supervisor)

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