The Impact of Using Resilience-based Practice on Outcomes for Pupils with Complex Needs

  • Stephanie Coombe

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This research uses a whole school approach to promoting resilience in children with complex needs. Resilient Therapy and its Resilience Framework were implemented to guide staff practice. This framework is based on evidence-based strategies and is underpinned by four key principles that inform practice.
    The importance of this work is twofold. Firstly, long term outcomes for children with complex needs, particularly those living in deprivation, are typically worse when compared with their peers. Government policies aimed at addressing this issue have had somewhat limited impact over the past 17 years. Research that addresses the needs of these children is crucial. Secondly, schools hold a central position to support resilience in pupils; however, whole school approaches involving all staff are scarce. Part of this whole school approach’s originality lies in involving all staff - cooks, teachers, site supervisors and senior leaders alike. Historically, children with complex needs have been overlooked in schools-based resilience research.

    This thesis makes a contribution to addressing these shortcomings through the collaborative, participatory approach employed. A critical realist theoretical framework supported the action research method used. Mixed methods were used to explore mechanisms that facilitate, or act as barriers to, supporting resilience in pupils with complex needs. Quantitative measures included pupils’ school attendance data, academic attainment and social and emotional progress. Participatory qualitative methodologies were used with staff (collaborative inquiry n=16), and pupils (art-based body mapping n=12). A survey ascertaining staff confidence in using and applying resilience-based practice was also conducted (n=28). On the quantitative measure of social and emotional improvements made by pupils, a statistically significant finding was evidenced. School attendance and academic performance also showed improvement, although not statistically significant. Thematic analysis of staff and pupils’ experiences showed common themes. These indicated a practice shift from the predominant use of a behaviourist paradigm to that of an ecological model to support pupil outcomes. What is termed ‘resilient moves’ made by staff at varying levels of pupils’ ecologies contributed to these.

    Implications for future practice highlight the importance of viewing a child holistically. The necessary elements for government sector agencies using the Resilience Framework in practice are shared, specifically, how policymakers view what ‘achievement’ may look like for children with complex needs is raised. Recommendations for resilience researchers include undertaking a distributive justice approach that tackles the current climate of inequalities and involving those who experience these inequalities to challenge these issues is endorsed.
    Date of AwardJan 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorAngie Hart (Supervisor) & Carl Walker (Supervisor)


    • resilience
    • complex needs
    • whole school
    • Academic Resilience

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