University of Southampton Psychology Post Graduate Research Conference – presentations

The Southampton PGR conference recently concluded – the ninth psychology conference but the very first to be carried out online. We were delighted by (and very proud of) the contributions of the Ed Psych Trainees to the conference, which included Year 2 research posters, Year 3 thesis presentations and two members of the Year 2 cohort – Sophie Smith and Amber Newell – sitting on the four person conference planning committee (and what an incredible job they did under these exceptional circumstances).

Please find below two great examples of the Ed Psych thesis presentations, presented by Caroline Bird, Jesvir Dhillon, and Annie McGowan:

Caroline Bird: Attributions of Challenging Behaviour from Looked After Children

Jesvir Dhillon A qualitative exploration of facilitators and adolescents experiences of a school-based iCBT

Annie McGowan: Exploration of the Views and Experiences of Transgender Youth in Secondary Education

An intervention to raise a sense of belonging and associated outcomes for secondary aged pupils with low socioeconomic status

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Joanne Lambeth
Submitted: June 2017

Abstract

The first chapter of this document outlines a systematic literature review regarding the relationship between belonging and academic achievement, specifically in relation to adolescents. Three databases were systematically searched following a clear search strategy and inclusion criteria. Nineteen articles were identified and critically appraised in order to understand the current picture of the research. On balance, the review highlights that belonging is significantly related to academic achievement. This relationship was found across gender and different cultures. In addition, within the concept of belonging, some factors seem to influence achievement more than others, e.g., relatedness to teachers. However taken together, it indicates that relationships in general are important to support achievement. This review also highlights factors that contribute to differences in belonging and achievement such as gender (with girls achieving higher levels of both) and marginalisation by ethnicity and socioeconomic status. In addition, the articles indentified a range of variables that help to explain the relationship including academic emotions, engagement, behaviour conduct, educational efficacy and purpose. Despite the findings reported in the literature, there is a lack of experimental research regarding this relationship and the conclusion remains correlational. Following this review a gap in the literature appears regarding how to increase belonging and consequently achievement, using an experimental design. In addition, it highlights to educational professionals that relationships are important in supporting achievement and should be adequately supported in educational settings.

The second chapter of this document reports on experimental research conducted on the topic of belonging and associated outcomes for young adolescents. Previous research demonstrated that a brief psychological intervention increased belonging and attainment for a marginalised population (individuals from African American backgrounds) upon transition to a new environment (college) (Walton & Cohen, 2011). The current research adapted and used this intervention with a different population, i.e., young adolescents who may experience marginalisation due to low socioeconomic status (SES), upon transition to secondary school. The aim of the intervention is to target individuals who may worry about belonging and implicitly change their attributions about negative experiences, i.e., that perceptions of social adversity are common and time limited, not due to the individual themselves. Three schools based in low SES areas agreed to take part. Year 7 pupils (N = 62) were allocated to either an intervention group (n = 25) or active control group (n = 37). Measures of anxiety about belonging and SES were taken pre-intervention. Measures of belonging, attainment and attendance were taken across a period of six months. Correlational analysis found that SES was significantly related to anxiety about belonging, i.e., those with low SES had higher levels of anxiety. Multiple regression analysis also found that SES significantly predicted attainment. T-tests were used to analyse the difference between the intervention and control conditions in regards to belonging, attainment and attendance. However, no differences were found between the intervention and control groups. Future directions regarding the development of this intervention are discussed.

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Looking ahead rather than behind: exploring the future perspectives and resilience of adolescents who have experience of parental imprisonment

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Catherine Goodchild
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

Adolescence is a period of development when young people begin to prepare for transition from childhood into adulthood creating an increased focus on future potential and aspirations. A systematic review of the international literature was conducted, exploring the relationship between adolescent outcomes and two key areas of future perception studies, future orientation and possible selves. 18 articles were identified and subsequently organised by grouping in relation to school, home and personal factors. Research was conducted cross-culturally and often focussed on at-risk populations related to ethnicity, however only two studies extended to the UK population. A number of quantitative studies suggest a relationship exists between adolescent future orientation and a variety of positive outcomes, as well as acting as a protective factor against negative outcomes, e.g. risk-taking behaviours. Participants’ perspectives were rarely explored through qualitative research, with only two papers included. Limitations include methodological design, leading to calls for more robust research in this area.

The empirical paper (Chapter 2) adopted a qualitative design and explored the future perceptions of children of imprisoned parents. This population have been referred to as ‘silent victims’ in the literature and are suggested to be at risk of multiple negative outcomes, including disruption to relationships, stigmatisation and increased risk of engaging in socially undesirable behaviours. The current study gathered the future perspectives of children of imprisoned parents, as well as their resilience factors including sources of strength and support from their past and present experiences. Five participants, aged 9-12 years were interviewed using semi-structured interviews and a ‘life path’ drawing activity. Deductive thematic analysis identified six overall themes: experience of having a parent in prison, social support, individual coping strategies, beliefs about the future, strategies to reach future goals and potential barriers to reaching future goals. Implications for practice were discussed in light of the heterogeneous nature of the findings and concluded that professionals should consider a bespoke approach to intervention, ensuring children are kept at the forefront of decision-making. Calls for future research included further qualitative studies to explore how children of imprisoned parents construct their own identities, which could be triangulated with data such as the voice of siblings and wider family members.

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Understanding the school outcomes for, and experiences of, siblings of children with autism

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Alexandra Gregory
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

A systematic literature review was conducted to explore the educational outcomes for, and experiences of, siblings of children on the autism spectrum (autism siblings). Whilst there is a growing body of research on the psychological outcomes for autism siblings, few studies have considered how this might influence the school context. Findings were linked to the Siblings Embedded Systems Framework; school factors, psychological internal challenges and resources, peers and other formal and informal social systems, and personal interpretation of events. Overall, school outcomes and experiences showed large variation, suggesting that some autism siblings are at increased risk of difficulties in the school context, but that autism siblings do not automatically experience challenges in school. Nevertheless, the review highlighted a number of methodological limitations of the evidence-base in this area, including the small body of literature, particularly in the UK, studies of low methodological rigour, such as those employing small sample sizes, and reliance on solely parent-reported outcomes. This limits the conclusions that can be drawn.

The empirical study extended the current literature to explore two school-related outcomes; sense of school belonging and academic self-concept. Using online questionnaires, autism siblings and siblings of typically developing children without autism (typical siblings) aged 11 to 16 years in secondary schools across the UK took part.

Data on sibling wellbeing were also triangulated via self-, parent/carer- and teacher reports. Relative to typical siblings, autism siblings self-reported significantly lower school belonging and academic self-concept, in addition to significantly lower self, parent- and teacher-reported wellbeing outcomes. Regression models established that sibling-reported internalising and externalising behaviours significantly predicted both school-related outcomes. Sibling group was also a significant predictor in all models, demonstrating that even once demographic variables and sibling wellbeing were controlled, robust sibling group differences were still present. Despite these findings, there was a greater variation in autism siblings’ school outcomes compared to typical siblings. Therefore, this study highlights the importance of taking an individualised and person-centred approach to understanding the varying needs of, and providing support to, siblings of children on the autism spectrum.

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The impact of small motor activity on attention and learning in children

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Helen Jones
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

Research has suggested that small movements may Improve attention in children by increasing arousal. However, no systematic review has examined this literature. This review aimed to conduct a broad and thorough search, combining relevant evidence in a systematic and critical way In order to establish whether small motor activity improves attention and learning in children. Fifteen studies were reviewed, relating to fidgeting, doodling, chewing gum and alternative seating. The overall evidence was inconsistent with a weighting towards positive findings; however, the insufficient quantity and quality of studies precluded any firm conclusions. A need was identified for further studies using improved designs and including measures of arousal.

The empirical study aimed to investigate links between doodling, arousal and attention in children using a robust, repeated-measures experimental design, including a measure of arousal and exploring moderating effects of other related factors. Fifty-five children (aged 9 to 10 years) individually completed tests of sustained attention (SA) and working memory (WM) under two counterbalanced conditions (doodling/control). Heart rate (HR) was measured during each test. Self-reported state anxiety and fatigue were measured as potential confounders. Self-reported attentional control (AC), trait anxiety and sleepiness were considered as potential moderators. Data were analysed using linear mixed models. Results showed that SA declined while doodling. No main effect of condition on WM was found; however, a near-significant interaction effect indicated that children who reported low AC performed better while doodling, whereas children who reported high AC performed better under the non-doodling condition. HR Increased while doodling; however, changes In HR did not predict changes in SA or WM performance. This study concluded that doodling increases arousal but cannot be recommended to improve SA. Doodling may improve WM for children who struggle with AC. Interference effects may explain the detrimental effects of doodling.

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An investigation into the associations between maths anxiety in secondary school pupils and teachers’ and parents’ implicit theories of intelligence and failure

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Anna Doedens-Plant
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

This research examined the role that teachers’ mindsets, or implicit beliefs about intelligence and failure, play in the development of their pupils’ mindsets and subsequent maths anxiety. A systematic review of fourteen studies investigated the association between teachers’ implicit beliefs about intelligence and their pedagogical practices in the classroom. It showed that teachers tended to report having a growth mindset, but this was not necessarily evidenced by concordant classroom practice, such as the adoption of mastery goals. Fixed mindset beliefs, on the other hand, seemed to lead to more consistent practice, with potentially damaging effects.

The empirical study built on this review to explore mindset (i.e., implicit beliefs about intelligence and failure) in secondary school pupils in Years 7, 8 and 9 (0.859), their parents (N=84) and teachers (0=9). Pupils were also asked about their perceptions of their parents’ and teachers’ goals, as either oriented towards performance or learning. The results pointed to several factors associated with pupils’ maths anxiety (i.e. gender, maths set). Also, pupils’ implicit beliefs that failure is debilitating were associated with pupils’ maths anxiety. Teachers’ implicit failure beliefs were associated with pupils’ beliefs about failure and were indirectly linked via pupils’ perceptions of their teachers’ goals as fixed. Further analysis highlighted that pupils’ intelligence beliefs, their perception of their parents’ goals and their maths set also impacted on whether or not pupils’ viewed failure as debilitating or beneficial for learning. These results suggest that teachers can make a useful contribution to reducing pupils’ maths anxiety, by reflecting on how to translate helpful beliefs into visible practice, to help pupils experience failure as an opportunity for learning.

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Twins: Exploring implications for their interactions with parents and classroom placement at school

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Kate Brant
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

The present thesis considers possible influences on the development of twins in both the home and school environment. The first chapter critically assesses the available evidence on whether parenting twins is associated with differences in parent-child relationship and in associated behavioural and emotional outcomes for twins. The second chapter presents the experiences of parents and school staff of the decision-making process about classroom placements of twins for reception-class entry.

A systematic review was conducted to assess whether there are differences between twin and singleton groups in early infancy. The review focused specifically on assessing differences in parental affect, parent-child interactions and how this could affect the quality of parent child relationship and children’s emotional and behavioural outcomes. The results from this review highlight that parents of twins experience greater and a more prolonged period of stress when their children are in early infancy as well as greater mental health difficulties and reduced feelings of parental efficacy. The review also reports inconsistencies in the identified literature regarding differences in parent-child interactions between twin and singleton groups. However, there are consistent findings within the identified literature which reported that twin and singleton infants’ relationship quality with their parents and emotional and behavioural outcomes do not differ. The results from the systematic search are discussed in relation to emotional sensitive responsiveness and the potential protective factor of the twin relationship.

A qualitative study which involved 12 interviews conducted with parents (i.e. with 11 mothers and one parent-pair) and 15 with school managers. Thematic analysis following Brown and Clark’s (2006) six steps identified a number of important shared and distinct themes. The importance of twins’ individuality was emphasised by both parents and school managers. When deciding on placement, parents and school managers considered a balance between the twins’ needs for support and independence. Parents’ experiences of their interactions with the school relating to their twins’ school placement were often linked to their perceptions of their relationship with the school, especially as parents felt it was an important decision. Thus, the perceived negative experiences of interactions with schools during the decision making process were reflected in more negative perceptions of the school and the home-school relationship during that time. However, these views could change over time. In addition, practicalities of classroom placements were reported by parents; school managers also reported school factors which could influence the decision.School managers used their experiences to inform their views. Their perception of who should make the decision (e.g. school, parents, or collaboratively) influenced their communication with parents, their perception of twin sets as different, and how they balanced children’s support and independence at transition to school. Extracted themes are discussed in relation to the development of identity and autonomy, attachment theory and parent trust in schools. Effective home-school collaboration during the decision-making process is recommended for good practice.

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Dyslexia or literacy difficulties: what difference does a label make? Exploring the perceptions and experiences of young people

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Rosa Gibby-Leversuch
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

This systematic review investigates the links between literacy difficulties, dyslexia and the self-perceptions of children and young people (CYP). It aims to further understanding by building on Burden’s (2008) review and explores how the additional factors of attributional style and the dyslexia label may contribute to the self-perceptions of children and young people. 19 papers are included and quality assessed. Quantitative papers measured the self reported self-perceptions of CYP with literacy difficulties and/or dyslexia (LitD/D) and compared these with the CYP without LitD/D. Qualitative papers explored the lived experiences of CYP with LitD/D, including their self-views and how these were affected by receiving a dyslexia diagnosis. Results suggest that CYP with LitD/D may be at greater risk of developing negative self-perceptions of themselves as learners, but not of their overall self-worth. Factors found to be relevant in supporting positive self-perceptions include adaptive attributional styles, good relationships with peers and parents, and positive attitudes towards dyslexia and neurodiversity. In some cases, CYP with LitD/Dfelt that others perceived them as unintelligent or idle; for these CYP, a diagnosis led to more positive self-perceptions, as it provided an alternative picture of themselves. There is a need for further research to explore the impact of attributional style and the potential for intervention, as well as CYP’s experiences of diagnosis and the associated advantages or disadvantages.

There has been ongoing debate around the use of the term ‘dyslexia’ to describe the literacy difficulties of certain individuals, however, CYP’s perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of the use of the term have not been directly sought. This study aims to explore the views of young people (YP), with and without experiences of dyslexia, with a particular focus on the impact of labels. A qualitative methodology is used to explore the views of a range of individuals currently in secondary education (aged 13-19). The views of 36 YP (12 with self-reported dyslexia, 12 with self-reported literacy difficulties and 12 with no reported literacy difficulties) were gathered using an online survey. In depth one to-one interviews were also carried out with six YP who reported having dyslexia. Results show that YP saw the dyslexia label as an important factor in gaining appropriate support for difficulties, and highlight the potential for discrimination in terms of access to diagnosis and therefore access to support. The dyslexia label led to changes in perceptions and helped to remove the sense that a YP may be to blame for their difficulties, as dyslexia was seen as having a biological origin. This was beneficial for those individuals who had the label, but led to more negative judgements being made in relation to individuals with literacy difficulties but no dyslexia label. Furthermore, the label was associated with permanence, which is discussed in terms of attribution theory. Implications for Educational Psychologists and school staff are discussed in terms of ensuring that YP, and their teachers, have a good understanding of their literacy needs and are empowered by the way their needs are described, and are not subject to selective stigmatisation

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The role of emotion recognition and externalising behaviour for educational outcomes

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Nicola Samos
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

The first chapter of this theses outlines a systematic literature review investigating the relationship between emotion recognition skills and academic outcomes of school age children. Four databases were systematically searched applying clear inclusion criteria. Six articles were identified and critically appraised to assess the existing literature. The review highlights a positive relationship between emotion recognition skills and academic outcomes. This was identified across a range of countries/cultures, however the utilisation and impact of these skills may differ between genders and be moderated by other factors including cognitive ability, motivation and achievement goals. Although this review supported the hypothesis that strengths in emotion recognition skills are associated with increased academic achievement, a gap in the research was identified surrounding the improvement of emotion recognition skills and impact on outcomes for school age children. The review also highlighted to professionals working within education the importance of the development of these skills for school success.

The second chapter reports on research conducted investigating emotion recognition and behavioural outcomes. Previous research highlights challenges experienced by all children during education can be exacerbated for those with challenging behaviour and redirection of this is crucial for development and academic progress. Further findings consistently document associations between deficits in emotion recognition and conduct difficlties (in addition to psychopathology in general). As a result, emotion recognition training has been developed for use with both antisocial and clinical samples. Previous research has suggested that the Training of Affect Recognition intervention programme (Frommann, Streit, & Wölwer, 2003) is effective in improving emotion recognition, executive function skills and may be suitable for those experincing conduct difficulties. The current research aimed to investigate whether brief delivery of the TAR intervention programme could enhance emotion recognition skills in an adolescent experiencing conduct difficulties compared to a matched wait control pariticipant and attempted to explore potential transfer effects on behaviour. Visual analysis highlighted difficulties in specific areas of emotion recognition consistent with previous research for both participants. Results for the intervention participant showed brief significant improvements in accuracy post intervention,specifically for fear, disgust and surprise. The wait control participant was shown to experience no significant improvement in accuracy throughout the duration of the study. A reduction in school reported negative behaviours for the participant who took part in the intervention during and immediately after its implementation were also reported. Strengths, limitations and implications for Educational Psychologists are also discussed.

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An exploration of how the secondary school experience contributes to elevated anxiety levels for adolescents on the autism spectrum

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Eleanor Hayes
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

Children and young people on the autism spectrum show elevated anxiety levels in comparison to typically developing peers and those with other special educational needs. However, despite the significant time spent in school, few researchers have focused on how the school environment contributes to elevated anxiety levels in autism. A systematic review of the literature was conducted, exploring causes of anxious affect for autistic adolescents attending mainstream school. Experiences in the school environment that were highlighted as sources of anxiety included adverse noises, the behaviour of others and the social identity of autistic pupils. Additionally, academic pressure, transitions, disliked subjects, homework and handwriting were highlighted as sources of anxiety. Key frameworks of anxiety and autism (Boulter et al., 2014; Wood & Gadow, 2010) were used to understand these findings.An empirical study was also conducted to explore how the secondary school experience contributed to elevated anxiety following the Intolerance of Uncertainty framework of anxiety and autism proposed by Boulter et al. (2014). A school-based sample of 30 autistic adolescents aged 11-14, took part in the study. Parents completed measures of anxiety, sensory processing, autism symptom severity, and teachers completed a measure of social skills. Participants on the autism spectrum completed a measure of the number and types of experiences causing feelings of anxiety in the school social and learning environment. Indirect pathways from sensory sensitivities and social and environmental experiences in school to anxiety symptoms through intolerance of uncertainty were then tested. Findings supported and extended the key framework of anxiety in autism proposed by Boulter et al. (2014), demonstrating significant indirect pathways from experiences in school, sensory sensitivities and autism traits to anxiety through intolerance of uncertainty.

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Sense of school belonging: How can schools make a difference?

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Ashleigh Shuttleworth
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

The review investigated what school based interventions currently exist for supporting pupils sense of school belonging (SoSB). The search yielded 20 articles to be included in the review, and from these studies, 21 different intervention programmes were identified. Whilst all interventions aimed to increase SoSB, they were variable in many other aspects. To support synthesis of results, interventions were categorised as universal or targeted programmes and further divided based on common themes. Twelve studies reported a positive and significant effect of experimental condition on SoSB scores and one study reported a negative effect of experimental condition. Results support the notion that SoSB is malleable and can be enhanced through intervention support. All studies appear to incorporate aspects of teacher support and/ or personal characteristics, identified as having the largest effects with SoSB within Allen and colleagues’ meta-analysis (2016). In addition, the data presents a trend towards targeted interventions being more effective than universal interventions, presenting particularly positive effects of SoSB for ‘atrisk’ students. Implications are discussed in regards to the utility and effectiveness of having SoSB interventions being led by members of the school community, and in regards to the potential negative effect of peer contagion when running a group intervention with ‘at-risk’ youth.

The empirical paper examined the effectiveness of two experimental school-based diary conditions (gratitude diary and appreciation diary) on the promotion of SoSB and positive affect (PA), in comparison to a control condition (event diary). Participants aged 7 to 11 years (M = 8.76) were recruited from five primary schools in the South of England (N = 287). The intervention was carried out as a class, with pupils randomly allocated to either the gratitude, appreciation or event diary condition. Participants completed the diaries daily for three weeks, leading to 15 possible diary entries. Measures of gratitude, SoSB and PA were obtained at pre-intervention, postintervention and at a three-week follow-up, in addition to a pre-intervention measure of nostalgia proneness. Findings revealed that the intervention had been unsuccessful in manipulating gratitude, and ANOVAs for SoSB and PA revealed no significant effect of condition. However, a moderate positive correlation between gratitude, SoSB and PA change scores was noted, suggesting the existence of a relationship between change in gratitude and change in SoSB and PA. Possible explanations for the lack of condition effect in the current study are presented, in addition to limitations of the study in regards to the validity of the gratitude measures used and fidelity to intervention conditions.

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Adoptive parenting from adolescence to early adulthood

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Leanne Curreli
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

Parenting can be challenging at any stage, but when a child goes through adolescence the many physical, emotional, social and cognitive changes mean these challenges are likely to be magnified. The many changes create increasing opportunities for young people to begin exploring their social roles and identity, as well as the rights and the responsibilities that come with those. Whilst the young people are experimenting during this transition, parents may need to provide supervision whilst simultaneously encouraging autonomy and remaining flexible. Parenting is a dynamic process that involves complex interactions between the parent, the young person and their environment. These factors influence the level of responsiveness and supervision provided by a parent in response to their child’s or adolescent’s needs and situation. Within the adoptive family, adolescents can provide an additional level of complexity. Existing literature suggests this is a time of vulnerability in adoptive placements, a time when adoptions are at high risk of placement breakdown. This systematic review explores the literature on the distinctive features of parenting an adopted adolescent. Two main themes were highlighted: parental responsiveness and supervision, and communicative openness, defined as the level of adoption-relevant discussion within an adoptive family. Parental responsiveness was important for adopted adolescents because it allows parents to support adolescent emotional, behavioural and social outcomes, as well as reducing family conflict. Open communication about adoption was found to reduce conflict and increase emotional well-being. Research suggests that being highly attuned and responsive to the young adoptees is linked to greater adoption-related open communication and better outcomes during adolescence.

Traditionally, much of the research regarding adoption has focused on negative outcomes. In recent years, however, the literature has begun to move from risk to resilience (Ferrari, Ranieri, Barni & Rosnati, 2015). Sonuga-Barke, Kennedy, Kumsta, Knights, Golm, Rutter, Maughan, Schlotz and Kreppner (2017) assessed the prevalence of neurodevelopmental and mental health outcomes associated with early deprivation and their persistence into young adulthood. They found that children adopted after six months of age (high risk) had persistently higher levels of neurodevelopmental difficulties and poor life outcomes. The current study utilised longitudinal data from the ERA study (Rutter et al., 1998) to examine if communicative openness during adolescence and associated parenting behaviours, including parental responsiveness and experience of parental adoption journey, predicted the development of resilience in a group of young people from an at-risk sample. The main findings indicated that there were important relationships between aspects of communicative openness, parental responsiveness and parental journey. In addition, the young person’s difficulty discussing their adoption and how and when information was disclosed, were factors relating to the development of resilience from infancy to adulthood. Parental responsiveness and the young person’s own positivity at age four to six years was also related to higher levels of resilience, as was evaluations of adoption, which was found to be stable between each assessment phase. Only higher levels of the young person’s difficulty discussing their adoption at age 15 and higher negative evaluations of adoption significantly predicted/contributed to lower levels of resilience in early adulthood. Lower levels of resilience were associated with poorer educational, emotional and employment outcomes.

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The participation of autistic pupils in decision-making about their school experiences: A case study of one school

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Chantelle Zilli
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

Beginning reading skills are often taught through phonics-based methods. Learning to read is a cognitively demanding task, and for those children who struggle, research has shown that individualised interventions can facilitate the development of reading skills. Although research has demonstrated the effectiveness of phonics as a teaching method with typically developing children, less research has evaluated this method with children who are educated in special school settings. A systematic review was conducted to evaluate research over the past 43 years into the effectiveness of phonics as a method for teaching reading to children who are educated in special school settings. The findings suggested that phonics teaching leads to improvements in phonics skills. However, improvements in phonics skills often did not generalise to whole word reading skills.

The empirical paper evaluated the computerised phonics-based intervention Headsprout Early Reading with eight pupils aged 7 to 19 years, educated in a special school for children and young people who experience severe learning difficulties. The intervention took place over 21 weeks. Three learning conditions were employed, such that four participants completed Headsprout as it was designed with typically developing students, two participants did not complete negation activities, and two non-verbal participants completed Headsprout minus speaking activities. Results indicated that all of the participants improved in initial sound fluency, non-word reading, and word recognition. Participants in the no-negation condition showed improvements despite not completing these activities. The findings suggest that individualised phonics-based reading interventions can be used to support development of early reading skills for students are educated in special school settings.

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Evaluating the effectiveness of phonics as a method for teaching reading to children and young people who experience learning difficulties and are educated in Special School settings

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Emma Herring
Submitted: June 2017

Abstract

Beginning reading skills are often taught through phonics-based methods. Learning to read is a cognitively demanding task, and for those children who struggle, research has shown that individualised interventions can facilitate the development of reading skills. Although research has demonstrated the effectiveness of phonics as a teaching method with typically developing children, less research has evaluated this method with children who are educated in special school settings. A systematic review was conducted to evaluate research over the past 43 years into the effectiveness of phonics as a method for teaching reading to children who are educated in special school settings. The findings suggested that phonics teaching leads to improvements in phonics skills. However, improvements in phonics skills often did not generalise to whole word reading skills.

The empirical paper evaluated the computerised phonics-based intervention Headsprout Early Reading with eight pupils aged 7 to 19 years, educated in a special school for children and young people who experience severe learning difficulties. The intervention took place over 21 weeks. Three learning conditions were employed, such that four participants completed Headsprout as it was designed with typically developing students, two participants did not complete negation activities, and two non-verbal participants completed Headsprout minus speaking activities. Results indicated that all of the participants improved in initial sound fluency, non-word reading, and word recognition. Participants in the no-negation condition showed improvements despite not completing these activities. The findings suggest that individualised phonics-based reading interventions can be used to support development of early reading skills for students are educated in special school settings.

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The impact of attributions on the understanding and management of challenging behaviour in schools

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Emma Fitz-Gerald
Submitted: June 2017

Abstract

Although attribution theory has been well documented within the literature and applied to teaching, learning, and behaviour in the classroom, there has yet to be a systematic review of the literature pertaining to teacher attributions of challenging behaviour. This literature review set out to combine the evidence based in a systematic and critical way in order to answer the following questions: What attributions are teaching making around challenging behaviour in the classroom? In what way do these attributions impact on their management of behaviour in the classroom? Seventeen studies were included which explored causal attribution alongside controllability, types of behaviour, teacher factors, interventions, and referrals. Results indicate that teachers mainly make causal attributions which are external to themselves, which are mediated by perceptions of control, responsibility, and self-efficacy. In particular behaviour was seen as most difficult to manage when teachers attributed it to pupil or home factors, pupils were perceived to be in control of their behaviour, and the behaviour was thought to be stable over time. Limited links between attributions and referral decisions were found. Implications for EPs were discussed, in particular supporting teacher self-efficacy for classroom management.

Pupils displaying challenging behaviour are the population included in mainstream schools with the least success, with their behaviour regularly leading to fixed-term exclusions or placement in alternative provisions. Research has found the attributions teachers make about the causality of pupil behaviour can impact on subsequent behaviour management strategies in the classroom. However, attempts to understand the complexity of attribution processes has yet to be explored in a satisfactory way. In addition, the beliefs and attributions of the pupils themselves have remained largely unexplored. This study examined the perceptions of 10 secondary school staff teachers and five pupils, through semi-structured interviews. Thematic analysis yielded six major themes within the data corpus relating to behaviour, behaviour management and the use of fixed-term exclusion. Results revealed four clear causal attributions for challenging behaviour in the classroom, which alongside mediating factors, such as self-efficacy, time and effort needed, and, remorsefulness, were related to either a helpless or hopeful discourse. Within the staff data set, conflict between static and flexible systems for managing behaviour was also seen. Implications for EPs are discussed in relation to building the resilience of teachers and schools in order to maintain the support for these pupils within mainstream settings.

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Intervening effectively at home and in school to improve children’s social, emotional and behavioural outcomes: an evaluation of nurture group and attachment-based approaches

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Larissa Cunningham
Submitted: June 2017

Abstract

Stable, caring relationships in early life are fundamental to children’s healthy development (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2010). The importance of parent-child attachments is increasingly being emphasised within the wider socio-economic and political context (Meins, 2017), particularly in terms of policy development and intervention. As such, it is pragmatic and valuable to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions derived from attachment theory.

A systematic review of the literature was conducted to examine the efficacy of attachment-based interventions for biological parent-child dyads on children’s emotional, behavioural and relational outcomes. 15 of the 19 studies reviewed reported positive change for children in terms of enhanced attachment security, improved internal mental representations of themselves and their caregivers, increased responsiveness and communication with their caregivers and a reduction in externalising behaviours. However, a number of methodological limitations were identified. These included a lack of objectivity in the measures used and limited follow-up data on children’s outcomes. Accordingly, Educational Psychologists (EPs) should reflect carefully before recommending attachment-based interventions and ensure due consideration is given to other factors which may be impacting on children’s functioning, beyond their attachment style. Directions for future research include the use of longitudinal study designs and the use of more objective measures completed by a range of individuals. A review of qualitative studies as well as consideration of outcomes for parents would also enable an
increased understanding of the mechanisms by which attachment-based interventions may be working.

The empirical paper utilised a mixed-methods design to explore the impact of Nurture Group (NG) intervention on children’s social skills. NGs are a short-term, psychotherapeutic intervention which aim to provide reparative attachment experiences for children within an educational setting (Hughes and Schlӧsser, 2014). The social skills of 16 children (aged between 6 years and 9 years 9 months) were assessed through their verbal responses to hypothetical, challenging, social situations. Teachers also rated children’s social skills in problematic, social situations. The Parent-Child Relationship Scale (Pianta, 1992) was completed by parents to assess whether there were any benefits of NGs to the parent-child relationship. Measures were completed prior to children joining the NG and again 15 weeks later. Thematic analysis of six semi-structured interviews with children was conducted to explore their experiences and perceptions of NG intervention in relation to their social skills. Findings suggested that over time, children used significantly more socially appropriate responses. Teachers’ ratings of children’s social skills also improved, although this change fell just short of statistical significance. There was no change in parental perceptions of the parent-child relationship. Children’s own views of NGs suggested that they enjoyed attending and that NGs helped them improve their social skills. However, children also reported experiencing challenges engaging with peers outside of the NG, particularly on the playground. Implications for practice were highlighted, including the need to think about how practitioners can help to facilitate the generalisation of children’s developing skills beyond the NG context.

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The impact of same and separate classroom placements on the social adjustment of identical and non-identical same-sex twins at school entry

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Katy Goymour
Submitted: June 2017

Abstract

Educators, parents and researchers continue to deliberate whether twins should be educated in the same classroom or placed in different classrooms when they start school (Alexander 2012; Segal & Russel, 1992). The twin relationship is one of the most intimate of interpersonal bonds (DiLalla & Mullineaux, 2008; Woodward 1998), more so than other sibling‐relationships and is thus considered in the context of attachment theory (Tancredy & Fraley, 2006). Yet the nature of the twin bond serves as argument both for and against placing twins in the same classroom. At present, it appears that decisions regarding classroom placement are primarily based on viewpoints, rather than any evidence‐base. A systematic review of the literature exploring the impact of classroom placement on behavioural and academic outcomes in young twins has highlighted inconsistent findings. However, no research to date has considered the importance of the twin relationship and the focus of empirical studies has been on behavioural and academic outcomes. No study has yet explored the associations between classroom placement, the quality of the twin relationship and the development of their social competence at school. This empirical paper therefore examines the impact of classroom placement on twins’ social adjustment at school, taking into account the quality of their relationship prior to school entry. Results showed that there were no significant associations between these variables, although there was some evidence that the quality of twin relationship varied as a function of zygosity. However, conclusions were interpreted with significant caution due to the very small sample and lack of statistical power. Implications for future research, educational practitioners and parents are also considered.

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Understanding the role of parent factors and interpretation bias in children from military families who show symptoms of anxiety

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Camilla Jerrard
Submitted: June 2017

Abstract

The aetiology of SA is complex; its onset is impacted on by several factors and their interaction including genetic (e.g., temperament), environmental risk (e.g., maternal overprotection) and cognitive risk. This review examined research that explores the impact of acute and chronic environmental risk and resilience factors (e.g., parenting style, SES, parental separation experiences, paternal absence and traumatic experiences) on the aetiology of SA symptoms and SAD, specifically for school-aged children and adolescents (aged 2-18). The review used three electronic databases for the literature search, a combined search in Psychinfo and Medline via EBSCO and ERIC. Following a systematic method, 18 papers were selected for analysis. Eight risk factors in school-aged children and adolescents were identified. These linked to themes of parenting styles, parent separation, traumatic experiences, socioeconomic status and early risk. Three potential resilience factors were also identified through the process of this review: parent-offspring relationship, access to therapeutic support and planned separation experiences. Findings are discussed in relation to theory and research to inform intervention for SA and SAD in educational settings and Educational Psychologist’s (EPs) practice. Limitations are explored and future research is discussed.Cognitive models of anxiety propose a cognitive-behavioural representation of information processing biases, demonstrating the inter-relationship between the thoughts and actions of an individual. Theoretical models highlight family and parenting factors that contribute to intergenerational transmission of anxiety (parent to offspring) and cognitive processes. Little research has focused on the emergence of specific anxiety disorders in high-risk groups and investigated these interrelationships. Military families have been described as being at greater risk to threat exposure due to unique family and environmental factors (e.g., transitions and deployments). The present research explored the association between parent and offspring anxiety, interpretation biases and parenting variables in a military family population. Twenty-nine mother/child dyads (8-11 years) completed a word interpretation bias task of threatening (general and separation themes) and neutral words and reported their negative affects via questionnaires. Parenting was measured via the Five-Minute Speech Sample, which assesses expressed emotion (e.g., warmth and relationship). Positive and significant correlations between parent- and children’s- self-reported negative affects were found (ps<.50). Child cognitive interpretation bias was associated with children’s reports of anxiety. No associations for parent cognitive biases were found. Parent reports of child separation anxiety were positively and significantly correlated with number of deployments (ps<.50). Parenting variables were not associated with increased reports of negative affect in mothers or offspring. Mediation models explored the association with mothers’ own anxiety and the development of biases in offspring via increases in the child’s reports of their own anxiety. Two indirect effects approached significance. Findings are discussed in relation to the development of anxiety and explore the mechanisms involved in the transmission of anxiety from parent to offspring.

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Parental involvement in Primary School interventions to support children’s mental health and emotional well-being: a systematic review of the literature and exploration of StoryLinks

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Joanna Spragg
Submitted: June 2017

Abstract

There is considerable emphasis in research literature and educational policy on the importance of parental involvement in supporting children’s academic and social outcomes. Much of this is based on correlational, rather than experimental evidence. Also, the focus has been on children’s academic outcomes and attainment, as opposed to emotional and social outcomes. A systematic review of existing literature was conducted to evaluate recent empirical studies of school-based interventions that actively involve parents in supporting and promoting children’s mental health and emotional well-being. It aimed to describe the characteristics of such interventions and to consider whether there is research evidence supporting the ‘added value’ of these. Results suggested the interventions promoted a range of positive outcomes related to children’s mental health and emotional well-being. However, further work is needed to understand to what extent positive outcomes are related to the specific approaches and methods used, especially as there is much variation in the types of interventions used. Currently there is little robust empirical evidence for the additional benefits of actively involving parents in interventions to support children’s emotional well-being. Also, further research needs to be undertaken that seeks to consult with the parents, children and professionals facilitating these complex interventions to better understand potential barriers and facilitating factors of parental involvement in school-based programmes.

The empirical paper aimed to explore the experiences and views of parents, children and facilitators who have been involved in the StoryLinks intervention. StoryLinks is an individualised, parent-partnership intervention that involves children, parents and school in the co-creation of stories to support children’s emotional well-being and literacy skills (Waters, 2010). StoryLinks is based on the principles of therapeutic storywriting and attachment theory, including the use of metaphor to explore feelings and story-making as a way of supporting relationships. There is some preliminary evidence that the intervention may have a positive effect on children’s emotional and social well-being, behaviour and rates of exclusion, as well as the parent-child relationship (Water, 2014). The current exploratory study drew on the multiple perspectives of parents, children and facilitators who have been involved in the intervention. The research aimed to gain a better understanding of their experiences of the implementation, process and outcomes of StoryLinks. Semi-structured interviews with eight participants (four facilitators and two parentchild dyads) were conducted and thematic analysis was applied to the transcripts. The findings for each group were analysed and presented separately. There were some commonalities between groups, suggesting that participants had mostly had a positive experience of StoryLinks and considered it to be a collaborative intervention. Outcomes identified by participants included that StoryLinks had supported relationships and adults felt they had developed greater insights into their child’s emotions and behaviour. Findings were discussed in the context of relevant literature and research related to therapeutic storywriting approaches and parental involvement in interventions. Consideration was also given to implications for future practice and research.

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Understanding the experience of social anxiety in adolescent girls with autism spectrum disorders

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Leanne Pickering
Submitted: June 2017

Abstract

Literature Review: Pathways to social anxiety often reflect a set of complex and interacting factors including intrinsic and environmental factors. Theoretical models of social anxiety have highlighted that children and adolescents’ peer experiences can increase risk for social anxiety. This systematic review explored the role of peers in the development of social anxiety in adolescent girls. It aimed to identify peer-related risk factors (i.e., peer acceptance, peer attachment, friendship quality, peer support, and victimisation) that place adolescents at risk for social anxiety, including those specific to girls. The results showed that while some peer experiences were relevant to understanding risk across genders, others placed girls at increased risk. For example, low peer acceptance was significantly associated with increased social anxiety in boys and girls, both concurrently and over time. Those factors that placed girls at increased risk of social anxiety and avoidance, relative to boys, included limited close friendships, negative friendship experiences and relational victimisation. The review suggested that researchers might usefully start to develop frameworks that capture generic as well as gender-specific risk for social anxiety. These will facilitate the development of prevention and intervention methods to support girls at increased risk, that focus on improving the quality of their peer relationships.

Empirical Paper: The onset of adolescence represents an age where young people are at risk for the development of social anxiety. Increasingly, research has highlighted an increased risk of social anxiety in girls with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However, there remains a lack of understanding of their experiences and the extent to which they are consistent with current models of anxiety in ASD. This qualitative study aimed to develop an understanding of the experience of social anxiety in adolescent girls with ASD from the perspective of young people themselves, their parents and teachers. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with four triads, with girls interviewed using an ‘ideal classroom’ activity to explore their perception of school-based social situations. Four interrelated themes emerged from the data across all four triads including (1) barriers to social situations, (2) quality of relationships, (3) coping with social situations, and (4) desire to ‘fit in’. The results found that girls’ experiences were underpinned by factors present in typical pathways to social anxiety (e.g. negative peer experiences and poor social skills) and that girls’ sensory sensitivity to noise acted as an autism-specific pathway. Implications for professionals who work with adolescent girls diagnosed with ASD were discussed, including the delivery of targeted training and workshops to increase staff understanding and raise peer acceptance.

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