‘I didn’t want to face another day of failing’ The emotional wellbeing of young people with severe dyslexic difficulties in state mainstream education: social and discursive constructions

Durrant, Claire (2022) ‘I didn’t want to face another day of failing’ The emotional wellbeing of young people with severe dyslexic difficulties in state mainstream education: social and discursive constructions. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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In this thesis I focus on the lived experience of young people with severe dyslexic difficulties in state, mainstream education in England. In considering school as a space where difference is constructed and stigma can be experienced, I draw on sociological theory to explore the kinds of emotional labour (Hochschild, 1979) that school demands from young people, when they have to explain their needs, as well as hide, downplay and negotiate their difficulties. Working with conceptual resources drawn from symbolic interactionism and the work of Foucault and Bourdieu, I explore how discursive and cultural practices form part of the institutional and relational contexts created by policy-makers, parents, teachers and peers and the implications of these for young people’s emotional wellbeing and identity. The study contributes to a very small body of existing literature about those whose dyslexic difficulties are most severe and broadens the conversation about young people’s experiences at school to consider the wider influences that shape their identities. The empirical basis of the research includes a mixed methods online survey with 474 parents and qualitative research with 15 young people aged 10-19 and their mothers.

The findings of the study echo those within the existing literature, suggesting that access to early, evidence-based intervention in primary school makes it possible for young people to move on from a dyslexic identity and progress alongside their peers. However, my research presents a landscape of inconsistency in terms of the distribution and quality of provision, with parents holding government accountable for a lack of investment and varying levels of awareness and understanding of dyslexia among educators. Parents’ ability to negotiate access to support was also uneven, reflecting an unequal distribution of economic, cultural and social capital.

Mothers emerge as central actors in the management of their children’s emotional states, playing a key role in scaffolding them away from notions of deficit towards ideas of difference. Drawing on Reay’s interpretation of emotional capital, I also consider classed cultures of parenting as having relevance to an understanding of young people’s emotional wellbeing. The role of teachers and trusted adults within the school is also examined, including the vital part they play in mediating institutional discourses through micro interactions with learners.

On the basis of these findings, I argue that educators would benefit from opportunities to learn about the emotional impacts of living with severe dyslexic/literacy difficulties, challenging them about normative assumptions regarding difference and deficit. By amplifying positive stories about school, it becomes possible to understand the importance to young people of having their challenges recognised and their abilities and achievements acknowledged, as well as the importance of being able to express their agency, feeling cared for by staff, and a whole-school ethos supporting inclusivity and neurodiversity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Social Work and Social Care
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1025 Teaching (Principles and practice) > LB1027.5 Student guidance and counseling. Personnel service
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1050.9 Educational psychology
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics > RJ0370 Diseases of children and adolescents > RJ0499 Mental disorders of children and adolescents. Child psychiatry. Child mental health services
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 29 Apr 2022 11:34
Last Modified: 29 Apr 2022 11:34
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/105506

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