Harnessing the "unique voice" of the child for programme evaluation and development in education research in the United Kingdom: methodological and ethical challenges

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Children with high levels of wellbeing are more engaged in learning and achieve greater academic success. Conversely, psychological distress has a detrimental impact on children’s learning experiences and ability to achieve their potential. Schools and communities can offer optimal settings to intervene in social contexts, and to support children’s mental health and learning outcomes. Effectiveness studies show that interventions can help students identified with socio-emotional difficulties to improve in these dual domains, yet few programme evaluations investigate the process issues underlying behaviour change in recipients (Mackenzie & Williams, 2018). While it is increasingly recognised that children themselves need to be engaged in evaluating and developing the interventions and services that affect them (McLaughlin, 2015), research environments are typically adult spaces in which children have less control. In this chapter, the author challenges research encounters shaped by adult perceptions of children and of children’s marginalised position in society. Using her research with children (aged 11-14 years old) who attended a targeted, socio-emotional programme, she discusses how behaviour change interventions can be understood fully only through the ‘unique voice’ of the child, not through inferences and assumptions on the part of researchers. The author’s case study illustrates how a child-focused, reflexive approach was used to guide the research process. Behaviour change drivers underpinning improvements in children’s wellbeing and facilitating their increased engagement in learning were understood through the unique, personal expertise of programme recipients. Children’s ‘voice’ is shown as being integral to a meaningful understanding of intervention effectiveness and to developing services to meet users’ needs most effectively.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearching within the educational margins: Strategies for communicating and articulating voices
EditorsDeborah Mulligan, Patrick Danaher
Place of PublicationSwitzerland
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-48845-1
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-48844-4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sept 2020

Publication series

NamePalgrave studies in education research methods
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan


  • Research methods
  • children's voice
  • socio-emotional health

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