Talk and transfer
: How parents' discourse about the Northern Ireland transfer tests constructs an ideological dilemma

  • Clare Kidston

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctorate in Educational, Child and Adolescent Psychology


This thesis presents a discursive psychological study of parents’ views of the unofficial transfer tests in Northern Ireland, which have facilitated grammar schools’ practice of academic selection since government support for the 11-plus was discontinued in 2008. The main purpose is to extend current knowledge by contributing detailed insights into the views of parents who are engaging with the system. Seeking to examine both what parents said about the transfer tests and how they said it, two distinct qualitative analyses were conducted on the transcript of a single group discussion between five parents of Year 7 children taking the tests in November 2019. The results of a constructionist thematic analysis highlight the complexities within parents’ perspectives as they balanced uncomfortable choices made in the name of good parenting against the intensity of their children’s distress throughout the extended, high-stakes process. Then, seeking to explain how such distress is discursively justified and maintained within everyday conversational practices, a critical discourse analysis frames the complexities as an ideological dilemma, for which the group lacked discursive resources to resolve. The results add to existing evidence indicating that selection has negative emotional impacts on at least some of the children taking the tests, and present an original challenge to political claims of parental demand for the practice. The study has relevance for stakeholders and Educational Psychologists working across family and school settings within selective contexts, who may benefit from clearer understandings of how parents construct matters surrounding their children’s transition to post-primary.

Thesis embargoed until 31 December 2024
Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorAnthea Percy (Supervisor), Hassan Regan (Supervisor) & Lelsie Storey (Supervisor)


  • Academic selection
  • parents' perspectives
  • education
  • discursive psychology
  • Northern Ireland

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