The experiences and support of school-leavers with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties

  • Zoe O'Riordan

Student thesis: Phd


Times of transition offer the greatest potential for changing direction, for better or worse in young people's lives. Yet it seems that many young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) fail to make the most of this window of opportunity as they make the transition out of school into adult life. Existing research into the transitional experiences and outcomes of school-leavers with SEBD reveal that they experience high levels of unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems and involvement in criminal activity, with the consequent costs, social and economic, to the individual and society being too great to ignore. However, whilst there is evidence on the outcomes of this group (predominantly from the US) there is little research into the processes which influence their success or failure in transition.Therefore, this study aimed to develop an in-depth understanding of the transitions of a small group of school leavers with SEBD, by following them for the first 15 months out of school. I collected interview data from the participants, their parents and those working with them, which was subjected to thematic and narrative analysis and used to develop individual case studies. The case studies were subjected to within- and cross-case analysis, which facilitated understanding of the individual's influences and pathways, and extraction of common themes.The school-leavers took widely varying paths, and were subject to a range of influences on an individual, family, and institutional level. These influences operated in complex and interactive ways, and each participant's experience was unique. However, there were common themes which emerged from the cross case analysis. On a practical level, the main influences of the participants' transitions were:• their personal drive, goal motivation, perseverance and likeability;• the capacity of their families to provide all forms of support (emotional, esteem practical and informational), or for professional supporters to fill any gaps;• the quality of the communication channels between all those working with them;• the capacity of their post-16 provision to fulfil their social and emotional as well as educational needs;• the formation of productive relationships with their workers, and the extent to which the institutions they attended supported their development.The study also had a theoretical dimension being underpinned by bioecological understandings of development and rooted in the concept of resilience. The presence of supportive relationships in the participants' lives was a key influence on their resilience in coping with transition. The application of identity theory to the data helped to explain how these relationships developed and how supportive relationships in one context helped the young person to cope in a situation in which they were unsupported.
Date of Award1 Aug 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Farrell (Supervisor) & Clare Lennie (Supervisor)


  • resilience
  • identity
  • support
  • transition
  • school-leavers
  • post-16
  • SEBD

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