Understanding the Development of Young Children with Complex Additional Support Needs

  • Kirstie Rees

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Educational Psychology


    This thesis presents a body of work for the award of the Professional Doctorate in Educational Psychology. It is comprised of two projects and a literature review, all of which are united by a broad interest in supporting children with complex additional support needs and by a specific interest in in exploring conceptualisations of development for this group of learners. The aim of the thesis is to inform an understanding of development that is shared by both parents and education staff and which leads to the identification of meaningful targets and strategies to promote a child’s progress, supported by educational psychology practice. Project I consists of a Recognised Prior Learning claim (RPL) for 20% of the award (Appendix 2). The claim details the process leading to the development of the South Lanarkshire Framework (South Lanarkshire Inclusion and Psychological Service, 2015) for supporting pupils with complex additional support needs (referred to throughout as ‘The Framework’). This document contains information about how children with this level of need learn and provides advice about appropriate assessment and teaching approaches. The RPL claim also contains an article detailing the development, implementation and evaluation of The Framework (Rees, Tully & Ferguson, 2017). This evaluation, involving seven Additional Support Needs establishments and using a pre and post audit of curricular practice and semi-structured interviews, emphasises the positive impact of The Framework on teacher practice and mind-set. The findings also highlight the need to further clarify parents’ and education staff definitions of progress. This paved the way for the literature review and Project II. The literature review begins by considering dominant theories of development in relation to the progress of children with complex additional support needs. Consideration is also given to how categorisations of disabilities and definitions of educational needs are dependent upon the educational and legislative context of the time. Dominant models of disability are also explored. In accordance with the ecological model of development underpinning current educational psychology practice, the literature review employs the transactional model of development (Sameroff and Fiese, 2000) and also the cultural historical model (Bøttcher and Dammeyer, 2016) as a framework to explore teachers’ and parents’ conceptualisations of development of young children with complex additional support needs. This permits further analysis of the impact of societal influences, models of disability and organised practice on beliefs and responses to individual children. It also includes further consideration of the literature which focuses on the extent to which a child’s presentation informs adult-child interaction. Connecting with the above themes, the final and most substantial project, Project II, uses qualitative methodology and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to explore parents’ and nursery staff conceptualisations of the development of young children with complex additional support needs. Views are obtained from individual interviews and from two focus groups involving both sets of participants. The main themes emerging from the data indicate that how progress is perceived is very much influenced by cultural norms and by the extent to which those supporting a child adhere to a linear trajectory of progress and are subject to existing power differentials. Other mediating factors such as a child’s aetiology and presentation are also considered. The detail and implications of the findings and research are discussed and explored. This includes consideration of a broader ecological approach to understanding development which aids nursery staff and parents to better comprehend the societal, environmental and relational factors informing individual understandings of the development. This then enables professionals to identify why, at times, there may be a mismatch between parents’ and education staff views and to address this openly and explicitly, whilst aiming to reduce power differentials
    Date of Award2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSarah Hulme (Supervisor) & Richard Ingram (Supervisor)

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