Bluff, Belinda (2020) Exploring Care Leavers' Transition to Higher Education: A Pluralistic Approach. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Pathways in education, academic success, and stability can act as protective factors in the future life outcomes of children in care. However, official statistics and previous research within the UK suggest that the prospects of young people who have been in care, particularly within education, are significantly lower than those of their non-care peers. Furthermore, research suggests a concern for times of transition for these young people. Thus, within this developing body of research, a gap in the literature remains; care leavers' experience of the transition to higher education. The doctoral research aimed to investigate care leavers' transition to university, with a focus on how care leavers manage times of transition.

The doctoral research was twofold, consisting of an initial exploratory study which aided the formation and development of the main doctoral research. The exploratory study involved a retrospective approach to experiences of nine care leavers' transition to higher education. All participants participated in a semi-structured interview. The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Several themes emerged; 'care leaver identity', 'lack of positive care leaver role models', and 'corporate versus normal parenting'. Through the findings of the exploratory study, the main study developed. The main study adopted a longitudinal approach to care leavers' transition to university, to explore care leavers' transition to higher education, as it occurred, through a series of three interviews at three stages throughout their initial transition to university and the majority of their first year. Seven care leavers from four local authorities in Northern England participated in this study. The participants' ages ranged from 18 to 21, and in total, 20 semi-structured interviews were carried out, with only one participant not participating in the final interview. Each participant was at a different university across the UK.

The main empirical study adopts a pluralistic approach to analysis, through two methods; template analysis and narrative case studies. First, using a hermeneutic phenomenological framework, the interview transcripts were analysed through template analysis. Two key themes were identified: exercising agency and regaining control, and modes of transition to university life, and two integrative themes: identity and stability versus instability. Secondly, three narrative case studies were carried out to capture the longitudinal data from the interview transcripts. The case studies highlight the themes and integrative themes of the template and offer an in-depth exploration of some of the participants personal stories of the transition to higher education. The potential lessons from this research for theory, practice, and policy will be discussed.

FINAL THESIS - Bluff.pdf - Accepted Version
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