Exploring virtual learning as an alternative provision to support young people experiencing challenges to attending school

  • Jenny Templeton

Student thesis: Doctor of Educational and Child Psychology


Children and young people (CYP) can experience a variety of challenges which impact on their attendance at school. Whilst the number of CYP experiencing these challenges make up a relatively small proportion of pupils, persistent absence from school has been linked to a number of poor outcomes in relation to education, wellbeing, confidence and achievement in adult life. As such, regular participation in learning is seen as key to reducing risks and improving outcomes for CYP. A variety of alternative provisions exist to support CYP experiencing challenges to attending school, including a growing number of virtual learning provisions. Despite an increase in these provisions, there is limited published research exploring their effectiveness in supporting young people, particularly those with physical or mental health issues. An embedded single case study design (Yin, 2009) employing mixed methods was adopted to explore the effectiveness of Innovate; a virtual learning provision employed within several local authorities in England, which supports young people experiencing challenges to attending school. Data were gathered from Innovate’s archival records (a fully anonymised database) and through semi-structured interviews with four young people with medical illness, two parents, four Innovate teachers, and one Local Authority customer. Exploratory interviews were also carried out with two Innovate Managers. The archival data were analysed using descriptive and inferential statistics. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed by the researcher before being analysed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Quantitative findings did not suggest the provision was more effective for some young people than others. Findings suggested that where young people attended live lessons, they contributed very well, and behaviour was very good. Qualitative findings suggested that overall, there were a greater number of facilitative factors to the effectiveness of Innovate for young people, than there were barriers. These supported the propositions that virtual learning can; provide a safe and secure learning environment, enable a more personalised and flexible learning experience, and enable young people to have more control over their learning. In line with previous literature, findings also suggested that issues relating to information and communication technologies (ICT) and connectivity can at times inhibit the effectiveness of online provision, although these were usually quickly resolved. The findings are discussed in relation to psychological theory and childrens' rights as highlighted in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Implications for educational psychology practice are considered, as well as suggestions for future research.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKevin Woods (Supervisor) & Caroline Bond (Supervisor)


  • children and young people
  • virtual learning
  • alternative provision

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