What drives us to give of our best? - an appreciative inquiry into how educational psychologists support early years children and their families

  • Eileen Oakes

Student thesis: Phd


Abstract The aim of this study was to ensure that the Sefton Educational Psychology and Portage Service (SEPPS) maintained a high quality service to very young children, their families and settings while responding to the national changes in Children's Services prompted by Every Child Matters (ECM) (DfES, 2003) and changes in team structure and personnel at a local level. The methodology used was based on the appreciative inquiry (AI) 4-D cycle described by Coghlan, Preskill and Catsambas, (2003) and consisted of four phases which were implemented over a period of eighteen months: Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny.During the Discovery phase of the project, three educational psychologists (EPs) provided rich narratives illustrating what drives them to work with very young children, families and settings and the contribution that they think EPs make to this area of work. Individual EP's views of their own skills were corroborated by interviews with parents and analysis of all seven parental stories confirmed that the service that they received met the EPs' expectations of best practice. In Phase Two, (Discovery/Dream) a workshop was held with representatives of the EP team's other early years stakeholders to introduce them to AI and to elicit their perceptions of best practice in partnership working. The findings from the inquiry were then used to inform the work of the team during the period from April 2009 to February 2010 (Design/Destiny). Progress was tracked both formally and informally. At the end of the Destiny phase, the stakeholders involved in Phase Two of the project were interviewed to gather evidence on whether they had been able to apply AI in their own work and whether they had noticed any differences in the early years' work of EPs since attending the initial workshop.The data collected by the author and other members of the EP team (who acted as co-researchers) included interview transcripts, worksheets, flipcharts, reflection/evaluation sheets and minutes of meetings. Each of these elements was analysed individually and collectively by the author according to the principles of thematic analysis, as described by Attride-Stirling (2001), Carter (2004) and Braun and Clarke (2006).At the end of the project, some of the stakeholders interviewed reported that the AI workshop had transformed their way of working from a deficit model to a strengths based model. There was also evidence that attendance at the workshop had changed participants' perceptions of the role of the EP, facilitating improved channels of communication and the development of a shared vision. Each member of the early years EP team was mentioned in at least one positive story, indicating that high standards of service delivery were maintained during a period of considerable change. The extent to which AI contributed to this process and the challenges presented by this methodology are also discussed.
Date of Award31 Dec 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Farrell (Supervisor)


  • stakeholders
  • families
  • children
  • educational psychologists
  • appreciative inquiry
  • early years

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