Emotional and behavioural difficulties in mainstream schools in Ireland: understandings, attitudes and responses

  • David Ivo McKeon

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) in mainstream schools in Ireland attract much attention and significant resources. Little research has been conducted in the Irish context about how this concept is understood by practitioners, nor on what influences that understanding. This has a bearing on behaviour policies and responses to the needs of students. This research investigates current understandings and definitions of EBD in mainstream primary and post-primary schools, what influences these issues and how this impacts on the development of behaviour policy and responses in schools.

    Employing a social constructivist framework, data were generated using a mixed methods approach which included a literature review, questionnaires (n=47) and semi-structured interviews (n=13) conducted with principals, learning support/resource teachers and guidance counsellors, followed by an analysis of special educational needs and behaviour policy documents (n=4). Employing an inductive analytical approach, a qualitative thematic analysis was conducted which identified emergent themes from the questionnaire. These themes were investigated in the literature, informed the interview schedule and were further interrogated in the document analysis.

    The research suggests variations in the level of sophistication in understandings of EBD. Definitions appear to focus on intrapersonal characteristics and suggest a certain resignation among practitioners. The effectiveness of behaviour policies is uncertain due to an imperative to produce policy, traditional views of the homogeneity of the school population, a tendency to rely on SEN policy to address EBD issues and variations in the involvement of stakeholders. Responses to EBD vary considerably, with child-centred and positive behavioural curricular approaches more in evidence at primary level. Thinking about behavioural issues and school-based responses appear to be affected by gender issues, particularly in the language used when discussing EBD.

    Several themes emerge regarding how EBD is conceptualised and responded to in schools. A move towards a more holistic view of causal factors and definitions is juxtaposed against a traditional view focusing on within-child characteristics. Efforts to promote whole school approaches and inclusive behaviour policies struggle to embed themselves where school cultures are slow to change in an education system which, itself, appears to be experiencing a change of focus. Understandings of and responses to EBD are evolving at different rates in different sectors. Gender and school focus or ethos exert influences on these on-going developments but do not yet appear to be acknowledged or investigated as pertinent factors.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Northampton
    SupervisorRichard Rose (Supervisor) & Philip Garner (Supervisor)

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