Maria Kukhareva, Discourses of inclusion of the hard-to-reach
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9 January 2012
To be presented at the Widening Participation Conference 2012 'Discourses of Inclusion in Higher Education', 24-25 April 2012
Discourses of inclusion of the hard-to-reach: building resilience of looked after children and young people in alternative education through Aimhigher interventions
The paper is based on doctoral research which explores views and experiences of young people who have been placed in the care system and/ or educated outside mainstream education. The particular angle of the study is the concept of resilience and whether (and in what way) participation in Widening Participation activities impacts on the resilience of the groups in question.
The paper looks at the findings resulted from semi-structured interviews with 19 young people and nine professionals, the relevant discussion and implications for widening participation practitioners and professionals working with vulnerable groups.
Interview with author
The research paper you are presenting is titled ‘Discourses of inclusion of the hard-to-reach: building resilience of looked after children and young people in alternative education through Aimhigher interventions’. I’m interested to learn why you chose to pursue this piece of research: Why these issues in particular?
There are two key reasons why I wanted to make a contribution to this field. (1) The notion of resilience has been receiving ever-increasing attention from both practitioners and researchers in the last decade, and in particular, the surrounding it "static feature" versus "process" debate. In particular, this concept could be helpful in the field of social work and vulnerable groups. Most available research on the matter is of quantitative nature so a qualitative study will be a useful addition to the currently available knowledge. (2) Secondly, in my six years of working as Aimhigher practitioner, I have observed the change in the young people that seemingly was more than, our simply outside, raised academic aspirations and achievement (which Aimhigher was set up to do) - that was particularly true of the "vulnerable groups", namely, children in the care system, excluded from mainstream and/ or receiving alternative provision. I was curious to find out more about this change, how short-lived, or long-lasting, it would be, and how it would fit into young people's transition from adolescence to adulthood, and, in terms of their education, from school to college, and, at least for some, to higher education.
I’m intrigued by your use of the terms “static feature” and “process”. Could you expand a little on what you mean by these and how they have featured in the research?
Then, next question: What are the key findings of your research? Were there any findings your found particularly surprising?
Resilience as a more static trait resonates with a deficit model: according to this approach. In this case it is more appropriate to use the term "resiliency". Whereas resilience as a process (Ungar, Masten, Rutter) of developing coping mechanisms as a result of facing adversity and overcoming challenges.
The key findings from my study are:
(1) Most of the interviewed young people have scored more highly on the resilience scale "post - Aimhigher", including such categories as: social competence, internal locus of control, aspiration, positive outlook on life.
(2) The message was very clear from both young people and professionals that Aimhigher contributed to fostering resilience in the young people by strengthening their social skills, self-confidence, self-awareness and various coping skills.
(3) One of the key strengths of Aimhigher initiative was being 'different' to the provision offered by the system / authorities, creating a "level playing field" for all participants and providing 'appropriately pitched' challenges
(4) Although it is clear that the interventions delivered via Aimhigher initiative had a strong positive impact, it is also obvious that the change in the participants has been cause by a number of key people and events, all of which shaped the time of transition for these teenagers.
(5) It is also vital to highlight that most impact can be achieved as a part of the support network - rather than relying on the relatively infrequent Aimhigher interventions.
(6) A very interesting finding, although outside the originally set research questions, is around everyday lives of these young people and serious grown up emotions they experience as the result of these lives - and how these emotions affect all other aspects of their existence. There is currently not enough literature focusing on this discourse; therefore the findings and the discussion around this will make a valuable contribution to the field.
15:04 on 3 April 2012