School staff experiences of an academic resilience approach
: a whole systems perspective

  • Josie Maitland

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Purpose: This thesis explores staff perspectives of the first county-wide application of the Academic Resilience Approach (ARA*; Hart & Williams, under review), a whole-school approach to building resilience. Whole-school approaches have been highlighted as effective methods of health promotion, social and emotional development and increasing attainment, particularly for the most disadvantaged pupils. The ARA aims to build resilience of the whole-school community in order to improve outcomes for the most disadvantage pupils. This study had an integrated sequential mixed method design, which aimed to articulate multiple staff perspectives of a locally facilitated ARA process, specifically in relation to the following research questions:i) What key characteristics of the school system (in terms of structure, values, culture and behaviour) enabled or constrained the locally facilitated Academic Resilience Approach?ii) As a result of the locally facilitated Academic Resilience Approach, what changes, if any, have emerged in the school system (in terms of structure, values, culture and behaviour)?iii) To what extent and in what ways have staff perceptions of leadership changed as a result of the locally facilitated Academic Resilience Approach? 
    Methods: Staff in eighteen schools completed the Staff Perception of School Climate (SPSC) survey pre- and post-intervention (N=109). Semi-structured interviews were carried out by telephone with all facilitators (N=9) and with a subsample of three staff (school leaders, teaching and non-teaching staff) in each of the five sub-sample schools (N=15) to establish experiences of the locally facilitated ARA process including the mutual adaptation of the school system and the intervention. 
    Findings: Qualitative data findings suggest that the implementation was perceived by staff to be congruent with existing school values and priorities, and to have resulted in increased feedback and communication. When the locally facilitated ARA was prioritised and legitimised by leaders, the approach was perceived to improve aspects of school climate, including a reduction in workload, increased participative decision making, improved communication and increased staff morale. The process was also perceived by staff to have initiated structural and policy change, by increasing feedback from staff (of multiple role types) and pupils. Subsequently, behavioural and cultural change was observed, which staff perceived to increase the momentum of the locally facilitated ARA, leading to further emergent change at multiple system levels. Repeated measures from the SPSC survey were analysed using SPSS in order to compare changes in staff perceptions of school climate over time and between role and school type. For the total sample (N=109) there was an increase in the total SPSC scores (Mt1=3.74, SDt1=.53 / Mt2=3.84, SDt2=.51). Calculation of effect size (Partial η =.20) indicated a small effect (Cohen, 1988) that was statistically significant (t(107) =-.283, p<.01). Specifically, these findings highlight improved work balance, increased participative decision making and more supportive leadership as the likely drivers of increased perceptions of school climate. The results are moderated by primary school type. 
    Conclusions: A synthesis of findings from this thesis conceptualises the locally facilitated ARA as a process of adaptation in a complex social system. Findings from both survey and interview data suggest that the approach has been perceived by staff as a uniquely positioned school improvement process. The focus on existing strengths and values, as well as the capacity of the process to increase distributed leadership, was perceived to tackle adversity for staff. In addition, the locally facilitated ARA process appears to have increased school readiness for change by improving the school climate, which staff anticipated would positively impact pupil outcomes. As the first research on a county-wide implementation of the ARA, this study articulates the process of context dependent adaptation in which increased feedback initiated emergent change in the school system. In addition, the capacity of the approach to increase school readiness for change by amplifying enabling factors and addressing potential constraints is identified. 
    Implications: These findings contribute to an understanding of schools as complex systems (Davis & Sumara, 2006; Lemke & Sabelli, 2008; Mason, 2008), and understanding the dynamic process of whole-school change. In addition, findings highlight the need for non-punitive approaches to whole-school evaluation and improvement that are driven by the existing values and needs of staff and pupils.
    Date of AwardNov 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorAngie Hart (Supervisor), Suna Eryigit-Madzwamuse (Supervisor) & Phil Haynes (Supervisor)


    • Education
    • Resilience
    • Complexity
    • Mental Health
    • Systems

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