‘The Difference That Makes The Difference’ What do pupils think helps change their behaviour in a school specifically designed for pupils with a statement for Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties and do the same things work for Looked After Children in the same environment? …. A pupil perspective

  • Gerda Creagh

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


I have worked my whole career with children presenting with what is now refer to as ‘social, emotional and behavioural difficulties’ (SEBD) and I feel I have gained much expertise in this field. One of the ongoing problems of working in the field is that although much good work is done with the children and many strategies, that seem to work well, are intuitively used by experienced teachers, there is little research to back this experiential approach. Therefore there is a lack of evidence- based practice as to what works with these young people and even less evidence about what the children think works for them.

Researchers in the field, Cooper and Jacobs (2011, p3) state ‘The paucity of literature was in itself significant given not only the current widespread concern about addressing emotional and behavioural difficulties within schools in England but also the ready acceptance of a relatively small number of initiatives, which have an identifiable structure in terms of training courses and anecdotal evidence of efficacy but negligible support in terms of research studies’. They conclude their ‘International Review’ suggesting, ‘There is relatively little independent research and evaluation on curriculum provision for permanently excluded pupils below key stage 4. Apart from notable examples such as Hayden and Ward (1996) the experiences of such pupils also do not feature in recent literature’. (Cooper and Jacobs, 2011,p.23)
Fletcher-Campbell and Wilkin (2003,p.3) concur that, ‘ the sources upon which this review draws were limited to post-1994 literature. It became apparent that a considerable number of the post-1994 sources identified focused on statistical trends, causes, and preventative work in mainstream schools, rather than on provision for excluded pupils.’
Working in this area gives me a great opportunity to study some aspects that may add to the current research on the provision for excluded pupils.

The other interest I have is to explore if the same approaches work for or can change behaviours in Looked After Children. This vulnerable group of young people are growing in numbers and schools are often ill equipped to manage the emotional and behavioural fallout of being a Looked After Child. Dowling et al. (2012,p.4) would suggest, ‘with the exception of a few important local studies, there remains a noticeable lack of research knowledge regarding the numbers, characteristics and experiences of this vulnerable group of children looked after by social services.

In our school the number of looked after children is growing year on year and I thought it timely that we investigate if what we do not only helps change behaviours in children with SEBD but in children with SEBD who are also Looked After.
According to VOIPIC (2012,p.2) ‘There is a gap in research, investment and services which leave Looked After Children/Care Leavers in Northern Ireland doubly disadvantaged.’ In a school such as ours we are in a prime position to help fill this research gap and improve the life chances of this very vulnerable group of young people.
Date of AwardNov 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorKarola Dillenburger (Supervisor)

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