An exploration of the support schools can provide to students with non-suicidal self-injury behaviour.

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Lloyd Chilcott
Submitted: March 2020

Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is a behaviour enacted by a significant proportion of children and young people in the UK. Many individuals turn to the behaviour as a coping mechanism and, unfortunately, many schools do not have the guidance or understanding to support these students. Furthermore, many support measures lack sufficient evidence with an NSSI population. In this essay, I will explore NSSI in relation to children and young people, how schools can provide support and the barriers to implementation, to contribute to the NSSI literature supporting education systems, and to demonstrate the need for further research. The first section explores the need to help those at risk of NSSI, the groups at the most significant risk and the aforementioned view of NSSI as a coping mechanism. There is then an examination of four prevention and intervention measures available to schools: adapting the school curriculum; developing school belonging; providing a school policy; and utilising school counsellors. Each is shown to be evidence-based and potentially simple to implement, however, each is insufficient in its evidence of application within an NSSI population. In the final section, there are considerations towards the potential barriers preventing the discussed measures at the individual, school and systemic levels. As a result of these explorations, it is argued that there is an urgent need for greater NSSI research to provide evidence-informed practice.

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The advantages and disadvantages of digital books to children’s emergent literacy.

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Lawrence Taylor
Submitted: November 2019

The UK public and schools are spending millions of pounds on digital books every year. Touch screen devices and reading apps that host digital books might have been adopted by families without the parents necessarily considering the functional efficacy. This is potentially detrimental to children’s development of emergent literacy; especially considering that children who are in this stage are more vulnerable to possible negative features of digital books, compared to children who are proficient readers. Shared reading of digital books within parent-child dyads, has shown associations with: greater story content being recalled by children, increased operational and vocabulary-related discourse, but reduced dialogic reading when compared to print books. Some digital books now come with an array of multimedia and interactive features with varying effects on emergent literacy. The review of the literature highlighted that multimedia features that are congruent to the story carried additive benefits for children compared to digital books more broadly. Interactive features, however, are not currently associated with any benefits so should be excluded from digital books designed to foster emergent literacy. Due to the attention and engagement interactive features can afford, future research should aim to find beneficial interactive features.

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Creating a Culture of Kindness: How Might Schools Promote Children’s Prosocial Acts?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Sophie Smith
Submitted: March 2019

Children’s pro-social behaviour is related to their peer status. Peer acceptance is associated with wellbeing and achievement in school, yet evidence suggests that many children are not aware of this and may attribute peer status to more dominant or materialistic orientations. Therefore, it is important that schools not only promote children’s pro-sociality, but draw their attention to its value. Given that social and emotional learning (SEL) programs appear to facilitate more positive pupil outcomes than anti-bullying initiatives, positive psychology approaches which focus on building social and emotional skills can be considered useful. Encouraging children to perform kind acts for one another has recently gained research attention as a positive psychology intervention particularly beneficial for social relationships. Self-determination theory (SDT) suggests that enacting kindness may temper individuals’ psychological needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness. Currently however, there is little evidence-based guidance for schools on how to go about promoting children’s kindness. In this essay, relevant research is synthesised with the aim of bridging this gap. It is argued that adults can support children’s intrinsic motivation to enact kindness, in two key ways. One is by providing information about what kindness is and how it can be used. The other is by fostering experiences of the emotional motivations of gratitude and empathy. Methods to achieve this are described with consideration to the role of self-determination needs. Ideas for future research and the contribution of the educational psychologist are proposed.

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Print Concept Knowledge in Young Children with Autism: Why Should it be Impaired and What are the Implications for Intervention?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Sophie Smith
Submitted: November 2018

Emergent literacy skills are developmental precursors to formal literacy. They are predictive of later reading and writing ability. Identifying children with poor emergent literacy can increase the likelihood of timely intervention. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are a group at risk of poor reading comprehension. However, there is relatively little research into their emergent literacy. It is often cited that they show a pattern of strong code-related and poor meaning-focused skills. There is a problem with using these composites, as children with ASD show strengths and weaknesses within the code-related domain, where letter naming is good, but print concept knowledge (PCK) is impaired. PCK relates to knowledge of print function and conventions and the organisation of books. In this essay, reasons for this discrepancy are explored. It is argued that weak central coherence in children with ASD can account for their ability to process local features such as letters but not global book features such as the front cover. This is exacerbated by adults who may find it challenging to engage these children in literacy activities, and therefore show an instructional bias towards the skills they already show aptitude and interest in. Based on this explanation, possible interventions are considered. These include systematic, explicit instructional techniques such as print referencing and task analysis, as well as interest development strategies to encourage motivation for looking at books. It is concluded that educational psychologists (EPs) should play a role in evaluating and promoting these strategies to improve PCK in children with ASD.

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Can Interactive Media Replace the Parent as the ‘More Knowledgeable Other’ in Early Language Development?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Kirsty Russell
Submitted: November 2018

Society is currently living in a screen age. Interactive media devices are increasingly being used by young children, often independently, without the presence of a parent. Parental reasons for this focus on educational, entertainment and babysitting purposes. Building on behaviourist and socio-constructivist understandings of young children’s language development, this is problematic for two important reasons. Firstly, it reduces the amount of parental linguistic input that a child receives in their early years, that is essential for language development. Secondly, features of parent-child interactions that drive language development cannot be replicated by interactive media use when children are alone (including scaffolding techniques, promoting joint attention, providing gestural clues and providing a familiar voice). Ultimately, interactive media cannot replace the parent as the More Knowledgeable Other in young children’s language development. Parents need to apply what is known about language development and be aware of their important role as the More Knowledgeable Other in interactive learning experiences before it is too late. Parents should engage in learning activities that revolve around parent-child interactions, before passing the responsibility of children’s language learning to interactive media becomes normalised. Implications for Educational Psychology practice and potential areas for further research are also discussed.

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Encouraging ‘pupil participation’; exploring school practices, benefits and challenges

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Abi Sharpe
Submitted: November 2017

The requirement for schools to listen to pupils’ views on their education is now endorsed in both government policy and law. Researchers have found that young people have useful things to say about their education, and yet pupil participatory practices are not embedded in schools. Throughout this essay, Hart’s (1992) ladder of participation is used as a framework to consider the different levels of effective participation. School councils are a popular participatory practice in schools but are not always seen as an effective method of eliciting pupils’ views. Studies suggest that appropriate planning and a change of school ethos is key to their success. Research has also been conducted into how teachers engage pupils in giving feedback on teaching and learning. Findings indicate that individual differences amongst teachers can impact on their engagement in participation, and resulting practices can vary in the degree to which they would be considered participatory. The limited research into democratic schools highlights promising outcomes for their pupils but the prospect of similar approaches working in mainstream schools raises a number of challenges. This essay concludes that engaging in effective pupil participatory practices in schools has the potential to result in a range of positive outcomes. Policy makers and schools need to consider the degree of decision-making or influence they want to give to pupils. They may also require more training and guidance to make participatory practices effective. Educational Psychologists are well placed to support this process both at a whole school and policy level.

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How does teacher well-being affect student learning?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Fiona Marsh
Submitted: November 2017

Teacher well-being is predominantly explored in terms of its deficits, due to reports of stress and burnout being highly prevalent across the teaching workforce. Teacher well-being (and lack of) is considered to have a small influence on student learning and achievement. The research on mechanisms which underlie this influence mostly report indirect links, through teacher engagement, teacher student relationships (TSRs) and teacher quality. However, there are massive gaps in the literature, and concerns over methodology (especially causality and generalisability), defining constructs (teacher quality) and weak links to student learning (teacher engagement). Currently TSRs appear to be the most plausible mediator between well-being and student learning. EPs are in a good position to support teacher well-being and facilitate positive effects on student learning. Helping to foster positive TSRs and school climates, promoting the use of supervision, and delivering stress management programmes may be particularly useful. Future research should focus on how teacher well-being can positively influence student learning. By knowing what works, this may then aid interventions to help stressed teachers and develop positive environments for learning.

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Maintaining an interactionist perspective of undesirable behaviour: What is the role of the Educational Psychologist?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Larissa Cunningham
Submitted: May 2015

Special Educational Needs (SEN) legislation has recently undergone the largest reform in over a decade. Whilst several key changes have been widely discussed, the shift in terminology to describe children’s behavioural difficulties has received less attention. A greater emphasis has been placed on encouraging school staff and professionals to see beyond the observable behaviour and to give consideration to possible underpinning factors. However, the explicit focus on identifying undiagnosed learning difficulties, speech and language difficulties or mental health issues may serve to encourage a paradigm shift towards a more ‘within-child’ rather than interactionist perspective of undesirable behaviour. This paper will discuss this possibility, and with specific reference to speech and language difficulties, it will consider how through their five core functions educational psychologists can seek to maintain an interactionist perspective of undesirable behaviour.

This assignment has been revised and published as an open access (free to download for all) article:

Cunningham, L. (2016). Maintaining an interactionist perspective of undesirable behaviour: What is the role of the Educational Psychologist? Educational Psychology Research and Practice, 2(1), 49–58.

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The Co-morbidity of Autism Spectrum Condition and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. So What?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Joanna Spragg
Submitted: May 2015

There is considerable research attention given to psychiatric comorbidity in children and adolescents with a diagnosis of autism spectrum conditions (ASC). This essay aims to consider one such comorbid diagnosis, that of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and question its value as an explanation of the behaviour of children and young people on the autism spectrum. Much of the existing research exploring the comorbidity of ASC and ODD comes from a neuropsychological perspective and is focused on validity and accurate measures. The research supports the diagnostic validity of ODD, however this essay will take a different perspective and consider the usefulness of a comorbid diagnosis of ODD for a child or young person with ASC and those supporting them. This argument will be placed in the context of some of the recognised core cognitive differences that are associated with a diagnosis of ASC, as well as potential wider contributing factors. Potential implications for educational psychologists will be considered throughout.

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What is the Role of Schools and Colleges in Supporting Adolescents who Self-Harm?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Leanne Pickering
Submitted: May 2015

Self-harm is a widespread issue amongst adolescents, which is often kept hidden from adults. When a young person is identified as self-harming, education professionals often refer them to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for an assessment. This may be due to the prevailing perception of self-harm as a mental health problem that requires clinical treatment and management. However, as the majority of self-harm behaviour is kept hidden, this essay will argue that a reactive response is unlikely to be adequate in supporting adolescents who self-harm. Instead, it will be argued that self-harm may be better perceived as an emotional and behavioural difficulty that can be effectively supported by education professionals working in schools and colleges. Rather than perceiving self-harm as a mental health problem, and the responsibility of clinicians, self-harm needs to be understood as an adaptive strategy that enables adolescents to regulate their emotions and cope with the stress of everyday life. This essay will demonstrate that adolescents who self-harm have fewer functional coping strategies and engage in self-harm as a way to alleviate negative emotions. It will be argued that education professionals are better placed to support children’s development through the implementation of whole school approaches designed to develop young people’s emotional intelligence and problem solving skills. By providing young people with culturally acceptable coping strategies, we may be able to help reduce the occurrence of self-harm behaviour.

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What should schools do to promote the successful inclusion of pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Emma Fitzgerald
Submitted: May 2015

Inclusion policy and practice to date has been driven by the view that wherever possible, children with special educational needs (SEN) should have access to mainstream schooling and the opportunities it provides to participate in wider society (Frederickson & Cline, 2009). This is particularly pertinent for children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) as they have been identified as being the most difficult to include within mainstream settings. Over the past forty years there has been a shift in the discourse surrounding inclusion, however the shift in terminology has not necessarily been reflected in changes in practice. Research into successful inclusion to date has been driven by attempts to change the ethos of schools, however practical strategies have been found wanting. There is an argument that rather than systemic changes, schools should be focussing on teacher level changes as they are the biggest source of influence on a child’s outcomes (Reynolds, 2010). This essay explores research into teacher attitudes and beliefs, relationships with pupils and self-efficacy and the impact this can have on the outcomes of pupils with SEBD. It appears that Educational Psychologists (EPs) are ideally placed to support changes at this level through consultation, promoting pupil voice and training. While teachers have a huge impact on the inclusion of pupils with SEBD the research into parental or pupil attitudes is sadly lacking in this area.

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The importance of forgiveness: How can psychological research inform educational practice?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Tara Diebel
Submitted: May 2012

Forgiveness is a process of cognitive, behavioural and emotional change towards a transgression. It can be seen as a positive psychological resource to interpersonal harm. This essay examines the importance of forgiveness by examining why it is related to increased wellbeing and positive relationships. It then examines how the research on forgiveness can be related to children and adolescents. There has been much investigation on forgiveness and forgiveness interventions with adults, however the research on forgiveness with children and adolescents is still an emerging area. In order for schools to effectively promote forgiveness, an understanding of the developmental prerequisites of forgiveness and how children understand the construct of forgiveness is essential. There is currently limited research on the effectiveness of forgiveness education and intervention in schools. This essay will examine how schools can promote forgiveness at three different levels: a whole school preventative approach, targeted interventions and informal responses to transgressions. Future research is needed to determine the most effective method of fostering forgiveness in a school setting. Implications for Educational Psychologists are discussed.

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Can neurological research increase our understanding of Attachment Theory and improve school interventions for adolescents?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Lindsey Foy
Submitted: May 2014

Originally introduced by John Bowlby, Attachment Theory proposes that an infant forms an attachment with their primary caregiver during a sensitive period of development and uses this individual as a secure base from which to explore the world (Bowlby, 1979; Bowlby 2008). The attachment relationship that develops forms a template that the infant uses as a reference for future relationships with other individuals. If a child does not form the appropriate bond with their caregiver they are likely to develop an insecure attachment style. According to a recent publication, forty percent of children in the United Kingdom show signs of insecure attachment (Moullin, Waldfogel & Washbrook, 2014). Insecure attachment has been shown to affect cognitive functioning (e.g. Bernier, Carlson, Deschênes & Matte‐Gagné, 2012) and behaviour (Fearon, Bakermans‐Kranenburg, IJzendoorn, Lapsley & Roisman, 2010). Despite the growth of preventative intervention programmes (Moullin, Waldfogel & Washbrook, 2014) research on supporting children who have already developed an insecure attachment is limited. Bowlby’s work does not consider whether attachment style can be altered once an infant has left their sensitive period of development (Mercer, 2011). This assignment proposes that neurological research within this field of psychology increases our understanding of Attachment Theory when incorporated into a biopsychosocial model of attachment. The assignment aims to explore the contribution that neurological research has to the development of intervention programmes for adolescents with insecure attachment. The findings from this developing area of research will be explored cautiously and the implications for Educational Psychologists will be discussed.

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Attachment in the Classroom: How does a secure teacher-child relationship compensate for the negative impacts of an insecure parent-child attachment?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Hayley Frisby
Submitted: May 2014

It is largely accepted that insecure parental attachments are likely to impact negatively upon children’s social, emotional, cognitive and behavioural development. It is now thought that a warm and nurturing relationship with a teacher can help to compensate for some of these detrimental impacts. This essay examines the extent to which a teacher-child attachment can buffer for poor attachment histories and how this effect might take place, with consideration of these four areas of development. The applications for an Educational Psychologist, in terms of encouraging and promoting secure teacher-child relationships are considered throughout. The essay concludes that in consideration of the evidence, educational professionals need to increase their awareness of attachment theory and of the nature and impact of the teacher-child relationship, as this is likely to help them to better understand and support the behaviour and needs of children coming from less secure attachment backgrounds. Despite large increases in the research base supporting the influence of teacher-child attachment, many adults working with these vulnerable children in schools remain unfortunately unaware of the power of relationships and of the importance of identifying and intervening with these pupils. Given that roughly four out of ten children are thought to have insecure attachments with their main caregiver (Moullin, Waldfogel & Washbrook, 2014), the significance of these insights and interventions that attachment theory and the surrounding research can provide is clear.

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Reading Schemes and Real Books: Implications for Skill Development and Motivation

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Francesca Nagle
Submitted: December 2012

Reading schemes have been widely accepted as providing the most appropriate opportunities for the application of early reading skills. However the evidence informing this position has been largely based on research examining the cognitive abilities of proficient readers. Recent perspectives from instructional psychology have shifted the focus from an understanding of individual differences in cognitive development to examining the properties of the texts themselves, in order to determine which materials most effectively support the development of reading skills. This essay examines the finding that real books offer greater opportunities for children to develop phonic skills and sight vocabulary than books drawn from a reading scheme, and the implications of this for selecting appropriate materials for reading instruction. In addition, the impact of reading scheme texts on children’s attitudes towards reading and perceptions of the reading process are considered. The essay concludes that reading schemes, when used in isolation, do not provide greater opportunities for children to apply their reading skills than real books, and may even discourage some children from wider reading, through a negative impact on motivation. It is therefore argued that reading instruction is most effective where teaching makes use of a wide range of literature, and is supported by direct instruction and support for autonomy. Potential implications for Educational Psychologists (EPs) in relation to supporting reading development are highlighted.

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What constitutes being developmentally ready to begin school, and how can we support this process?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Matthew Baker
Submitted: December 2012

Readiness for school is an issue that has occupied numerous researchers, with evidence suggesting that a child’s initial readiness predicts lifelong academic and social outcomes (Duncan et al., 2007). Despite the fact that it can thus be viewed as one of the key issues in Educational Psychology, there remains a lack of clarity regarding what readiness is. This essay seeks to provide a definition that is both interactionist and systemic, incorporating pre-natal factors and consideration of curricular purpose alongside more commonly recognised environmental and developmental determinants. Readiness in this sense is seen as the result of biological and cognitive development, parental and broader social relationships, access to both social and material resources, and curricular expectations. This is framed in terms of a social constructivist and systemic ontology, which sees the child’s development as necessarily scaffolded by parent, carer and peer relationships within a complex social system. Consideration is given to the various means by which Educational Psychology can support the process at individual child, community and policy levels. Attention is drawn to gaps in the current evidence base and potential avenues for research, particularly with regard to cognitive development. Finally, the goodness-of-fit between this reading of developmental readiness and the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum is considered.

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Traditional Bullying and Cyber-Bullying: The Protective Role of Peer Relations

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Jerry Brown
Submitted: May 2013

Cyber-bullying has become recognised as a recent form of traditional bullying that uses electronic means. In traditional bullying the quantity and quality of someone’s social network has been shown to play a somewhat protective role in warding off victimisation, but the corresponding research in cyber-bullying is limited and more equivocal. Indications are that any protective factor is much reduced and may be absent. The reasons for this are unclear and may include the potential anonymity of the bully and the lack of face-to-face communication. There are also fundamental differences in the way that those involved conceptualise cyber-bullying from traditional bullying and these may manifest themselves in a belief that peer support can play little or no protective role. An alternative interpretation is provided of the lack of protection provided by peer support in the online environment that owes less to how the online environment may dilute any protective effect and more to the merging of online and offline friendships and the heightened vulnerability to cyber-bullying that this brings. Implications for EPs are tentative given the lack of research on peer relations in cyber-bullying, but they should guard against simply transferring solutions for traditional bullying into the cyber-context and seek more robust theoretically-based interventions that acknowledge how different traditional and cyber-bullying are.

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Why should low socioeconomic status be related to problems with language acquisition?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Lindsay Patterson
Submitted: December 2011

The relationship between low socioeconomic status and problems with language acquisition has been well researched, but is often attributed to a very wide array of factors. Researchers have predominantly investigated this relationship from a social interactionist perspective, considering the impact of factors such as maternal education levels, parental warmth and quality of paid care provision. Increasingly, there is also research being carried out by neuropsychologists who are investigating how prenatal factors such as maternal alcohol and nicotine consumption may impact the child’s developing brain.

This essay investigates a selection of the issues linked with socioeconomic status and considers how they could impact on a child’s language acquisition. The essay concludes that in this case socioeconomic status is essentially a redundant variable – there are such a high number of interacting influences which could impact on a child’s language acquisition that the label of low socioeconomic status has the potential to mask the real cause of language problems. With this in mind, the essay makes recommendations for interventions which an Educational Psychologist could put in place in order to try to address some of the causal variables associated with poor language acquisition.

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Encouraging Reading for Pleasure: Widening the support could narrow the gap.

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Samantha Beasley
Submitted: December 2011

While phonics instruction is proven to improve certain elements of reading, it is not clear how this contributes to reading comprehension; a key skill found in children who read for pleasure.  Reading for pleasure is in decline despite its benefits to sociability, academic knowledge and reading achievement.  Children need to be motivated to read for pleasure, and parents play a vital role in this.  Interventions which involve parents such as Paired Reading can cause gains in reading achievement and strengthen the relationship between carer and child, but need to be properly implemented so that interactions use a dialogic style and create a positive climate around reading.  Some families already practice more promote positive reading behaviours than others, so recommending a parent-child reading intervention may continue to exclude those families who tend not to access such practices for reasons such as language and culture barriers, reading difficulties and negative attitude toward reading.  Parents could therefore benefit from literacy support too, developing their own skills alongside their children whilst learning how best to support their child, in the form of a family literacy programme.  The potential contribution of an Educational Psychologist (EP) is considered throughout.

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To what extent do secondary caregivers have a unique role in children’s language development and how might this be explained?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Cora Sargeant
Submitted: December 2010

The role of mothers in children’s language development has been well researched but the contribution made by fathers has received less attention. Mothers spend more time talking with children and are more attuned to their developmental level than fathers. The dominant social interactionist perspective considers the communicative competence of others and the frequency of exposure to language to be important factors in language development. As such it would be reasonable to assume the contribution made by fathers to language development to be only an additive to that of mothers. This essay investigates the paradox that, though fathers have more difficulty communicating effectively with children than mothers, and do so less often, recent research suggests that they may have a unique role to play in language development. The essay concludes that the unique role of fathers is only possible because they are incompletely attuned to their child’s developmental level. The essay also concludes that this is due to differences in the roles of secondary and primary caregiver rather than due to gender differences between mother and father. Implications of these findings for single-parent families and early interventions for children with language difficulties are discussed.

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