Appreciative Inquiry and Looked After Children

  • Kimberley Woollam

Student thesis: Doctor of Educational and Child Psychology


Looked after children (LAC) have been identified as one of the mostvulnerable and disadvantaged members of our education system (Sempik,Ward, & Darker, 2008); they are at risk of failing to achieve the Every ChildMatters outcomes (DFES, 2004a), and, there are particular concerns regardinglow levels of academic achievement (DCSF, 2009c). Much of the researchregarding LAC is from a deficit perspective and attempts to justify the pooroutcomes reported; only recently has attention been paid to identifying whatworks well in schools to promote achievement.Appreciative Inquiry (AI) proposed by Cooperrider & Srivastva (1987) is anaffirmatively focused method of research and development which challengestraditional problem-solving approaches (Grant & Humphries, 2006); it seeks todiscover the existing strengths and successes within an organisation to inspirechange (Espinosa, Roebuck, & Rohe, 2002). Whilst the efficacy of AI has beendemonstrated within organisational and healthcare settings there is a dearthof literature evidencing the efficacy of AI in educational settings. AI has notbeen used with LAC, or the professionals who work with them, and thisapproach has the potential to provide a new lens on this historicallyproblematic area.This thesis proposed to identify key factors which have the greatest positiveimpact on the school experience of LAC, in secondary schools, through the useof AI. In doing so, this thesis also sought to explore the efficacy of AI as aresearch tool for working with LAC and school staff, and, to explore itspotential for creating change. A single case study design was used involvingone local authority secondary school. Participants attended semi-structuredinterviews aligned with the AI 4-D cycle; this was followed by a workshopsession to explore findings and agree future actions. Further data was alsocollated through content analysis of the research interviews, participantevaluations and a research diary.Key themes were identified including: effective adult support, engaginglearning opportunities, rewarding school systems, a safe and secureenvironment, good quality relationships, and the importance of normalisingthe school experience. A number of supplementary themes were alsoidentified. AI was found to be an effective method of research; it appears tobe an interactive and enabling approach, which considers both organisationalsuccesses and concerns. During the workshop a number of actions wereidentified to further improve the school experience and there is a highlikelihood that change will occur. Implications for EP practice and areas forfuture research are also considered.
Date of Award31 Dec 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKevin Woods (Supervisor)


  • Secondary School
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Looked After Children

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