Project Details

Page last updated: 24th October 2012

Emma O’Neill

Looked After Children In Northern Ireland: Education, School and Unauthorised Absence

Dates: September 2010, ongoing
Department: School of Education, Faculty of Social Sciences
Supervisor(s): Tony Cassidy, Una O’Connor Bones

The educational underachievement of looked after children was first highlighted in the 1960s but was given little attention from policy makers and practitioners. Since then increasing numbers of reports have indicated that looked after children have inadequate educational experiences and typically low attainment.

Several factors have been associated with the low achievement of children in the care of local authorities and have been proposed as partial explanations for poor educational outcomes. Some authors suggest that pre‑care experiences and characteristics of looked after children may disadvantage them educationally with higher numbers of looked after children being excluded from school, having educational and behavioural difficulties including special educational needs, all of which are likely to affect their educational progress. Explanations concerning structural features of the care and educational systems suggest that these may prevent the education of looked after children as being seen as a priority. Children who are looked after represent a very small proportion of school populations usually less than one percent but the motivation or the ability of teaching staff to assist them may be outweighed by obligation to the majority of school pupils. Furthermore social workers have been found to often view the educational needs of children in their care as having a lower priority status than placement issues, maintaining family relationships and dealing with emotional and physical needs.

This study aims to explore the types of educational interventions used by statutory authorities aimed at promoting academic achievement of looked after children. Through this exploration it may be possible to evaluate the effectiveness of these and draw comparisons with non looked after children.

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Emma has participated in the following conferences:

  • Poster presentation at the Children’s Research Network Annual Conference, Dublin (26 September 2012)

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Contact Details

Emma O’Neill


PhD Student