Reflections from a pupil referral unit
: exploring the perspectives of young people living in poverty with social, emotional and mental health difficulties.

  • Dulcie P R Gray

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Educational Psychology (DEdPsy)


This research explored the educational experiences of young people identified as having social,
emotional and mental health needs (SEMH) who are also living in poverty. Existing literature has
discussed the experiences of young people with SEMH needs and the experiences of young people living
in poverty. However, data has shown that a correlation between young people who experience SEMH
difficulties and young people who are living in poverty exists within England. Little research has explored
this correlation and directly investigated the educational experiences of the young people who
experience both these vulnerabilities. Four semi-structured interviews were conducted virtually using
Microsoft Teams with participants, aged 15 and 16 years old. All the participants attended a Pupil
Referral Unit. A timeline approach was used alongside the interviews to support the young people to
share their experiences. Thematic analysis of the interviews identified a number of factors that helped
and hindered young people’s educational experiences. The six superordinate themes identified were:
‘positive experiences in school’, ‘support’, ‘transitions’, ‘relationships’, ‘affective factors’ and
‘intersectionality’. A risk and protective factors model combined the findings from this research and the
psychological theory of resilience. It is recommended that educational professionals consider focusing
on increasing the protective factors and reducing the risk factors for young people with SEMH needs
living in poverty experience to support them in their education.
Date of Award2 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorDebbie L Watson (Supervisor)

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