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Title: Journeys of resilience? : 'Aimhigher' and the experiences of young people looked after and in alternative education
Author: Kukhareva, Maria
Awarding Body: University of Bedfordshire
Current Institution: University of Bedfordshire
Date of Award: 2013
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The study explores the impact of Aimhigher activity on the lives of young people looked after and in alternative education. In the background of the mixed messages around the effectiveness of the Aimhigher initiative and its closure of the latter in 2011, it is argued that Aimhigher did, in fact, play a very positive role in the young people’s lives. In view of recent messages that a similar initiative may be under way, it is necessary to understand, and make use of Aimhigher legacy, including critique and best practice. The remit of the scheme was mainly associated with improving social justice through increasing the participation of disadvantaged groups in higher education. However, due to ineffective targeting strategies and flawed monitoring mechanisms, it was not possible to establish a link between heavily funded Aimhigher activity and widening participation trends. Additionally, there was a general scarcity of research literature available on the issues related to Aimhigher and its effectiveness. At the same time, documents produced by Aimhigher partnerships feature positive accounts of pupils and teaching staff. Connections have also been made between Aimhigher activity and potential transformations in the young peoples’ attitudes and behaviour. There is also a small body of literature that highlights the importance of exploring the unexpected and the unintended outcomes of any project. It is argued that an in-depth exploration of individual experiences is needed in order to understand whether Aimhigher had a positive effect on its participants. The exploration is carried out using the resilience framework, which allows the researcher to examine the changes in the young people’s lives over time. Therefore, the Aimhigher experience is understood as a part of the participants’ life trajectories, which are constructed of the young people’s interactions with their environment. Grounding this investigation within literature on resilience and its applications is particularly useful, as there has been an increase in the practitioners’ interest in operationalising the resilience framework. The understanding of the resilience-building mechanisms can be utilised in the design of current and future interventions for those disadvantaged and vulnerable, thus contributing to the strength-based discourse around vulnerability and risk. Interviews were carried out with nineteen young people who were looked after or in alternative education at the time of their Aimhigher participation. In addition, nine professionals from gate keeping organisations were interviewed, all of whom had knowledge of the initiative and the young people. The findings reveal that taking part in Aimhigher activity can act as a protective factor in a young person’s development, thus enhancing their resilient patterns. For several participants Aimhigher acted as an important turning point in their life. However, as resilience is understood as a dynamic complex interaction across several domains, it is the cumulative effect of factors that is crucial. The participants who seemed to be navigating their environments most effectively had the most exposure to developmental opportunities and access to support networks. The study also highlights wider issues around practice and policy on vulnerable young people.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: X342 Academic studies in Higher Education ; Aimhigher ; access to higher education ; higher education ; looked after young people ; alternative education