An exploration of designated teachers' work with looked-after children: what constrains and enables attachment-aware practice?

Bhagvanji, Kelley Bernadette (2020) An exploration of designated teachers' work with looked-after children: what constrains and enables attachment-aware practice? EdD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The research reported in the thesis explored the work of ‘designated teachers’ (hereafter referred to as DTs) who are responsible for supporting the education of looked-after children. Its specific focus is the extent to which the DTs employ attachment-aware practices because it has become increasingly accepted that this approach supports all children to feel safe and maximise their capacity for learning.

Research into the persistent low educational attainment of looked-after children (children who are cared for by the local authority) highlights the complexity of identifying which factors improve educational outcomes for this group, including the role which schools play. This thesis takes the view, in line with growing evidence about the benefits of training school staff in attachment-aware practice to support children who have unmet attachment needs, that adopting attachment-aware practice is a productive approach for schools and DTs to support looked-after children.

Introduced in 2000, the statutory role of the designated teacher for looked-after children is central to what schools offer to looked-after children to support their education. Yet, little is known about DTs and their work: that is, how they go about mitigating the effects of looked-after children’s earlier attachment experiences and maximising their engagement with learning by using attachment-aware practice. The aim of this study therefore was to analyse the extent to which the DTs support the education of looked-after children using attachment-aware practice and in doing so what constrains and enables them.

The qualitative small-scale study takes a phenomenological lens to exploring the perceptions and experiences of seven DTs of looked-after children and their work with them. The study employs a theoretical framework with four elements for exploring what influences how DTs conceptualise and support looked-after children in school: it combines theories of attachment, teacher identity, emotional labour and policy enactment. The findings are discussed in two parts: (1) through the lens of attachment theory, an analysis of key policy documents provides insight into the policy context and the conditions within which the DTs were working (2) seven semi-structured interviews with DTs in primary and secondary schools were analysed using attachment theory in combination with theories intended to reveal: the role of professional identity in shaping DTs’ work; the role emotion plays in DTs’ work for and with looked-after children; and, how policy shapes the DTs’ work in relation to looked-after children.

The study found multiple contradictions within policy in relation to the construction of looked-after children and how DTs should support them in an attachment-aware way. In policy, assumptions are made that DTs receive adequate training and support and that schools are receptive to an attachment-aware approach. The DT interviews revealed variation in the DTs’ knowledge and understanding of attachment theory and attachment-aware practice as a result of the training they had received which played out as variation in the extent to which their conceptualisations of looked-after children and their practice were attachment-aware. Nevertheless, the DTs had formed professional identities as emotion workers because of the much-needed and complex emotional regulation work that they carried out with looked-after children. Yet, they lacked appropriate support for their own emotional needs because policy and schools failed to understand their work as emotional labour.

The findings suggest that to enable DTs’ attachment-aware practice, they need support and encouragement from schools, Virtual Schools and policy to participate in high-quality attachment training opportunities to develop expertise based on practical and theoretical knowledge; and, they need to be enabled to be influential within the school so that they can pass on their knowledge and understanding to others. Furthermore, a formal model of support for DTs’ emotional needs is required to enable the DTs to maintain the emotional resilience to consistently and empathetically support looked-after children in an attachment-aware way. The thesis contributes to knowledge about DTs and attachment-aware practice by theorising what it is DTs need to be and do to be attachment-aware practitioners and by suggesting which policy and school conditions would be more likely to enable DTs and their practice to be attachment-aware.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (EdD)
Supervisors: McLean, Monica
Harris, Belinda
Keywords: looked after children; education; schools; designated teachers; attachment aware practice; attachment theory
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
L Education > LC Special aspects of education > LC1390 Education of special classes of persons
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 60977
Depositing User: Connolly, Kelley
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2020 08:59
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2020 08:59

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