Resilience in Learning: A Focus on Young Offenders

This research aims to explore the nature of resilience for learning in young people who have received a custodial sentence.  The focus is a cohort of young offenders aged 10-17 years who are currently housed in a secure children’s unit and are a sample of an overall c.1200 young people in custody in current times.  These young people represent some of the most troubled youngsters in the country, characterised by a complex range of needs from significant family and socioeconomic challenges to special educational needs, learning disabilities and disengagement from formal education.

young offenderResilience is a psychological construct which is the focus of much research and whilst definitions vary according to the field of study, a common theme is that it is a positive quality that enables an individual to ‘bounce back’ and ‘succeed’, despite adverse conditions or circumstances (Rutter, 1985; Masten, Best, & Garmezy, 1990; Garmezy & Masten, 1991.  Resilience for learning refers to a learner’s ability to overcome obstacles and challenges presented during the course of learning.  It requires considerable processes to work towards this, including that of mindsets (Duckworth; 2009; 2007) grit and perseverance (Duckworth et al., 2007) which together form a sense of agency.  The development of resilience itself promotes agency (Brown and Westaway, 2011).  In this way all these concepts work in inter-related ways to enable the individual to persevere and be resilient when faced with adversity during learning.

An exploratory mixed methods case study design is employed to explore the multi-faceted, multidimensional nature of resilience for learning in young offenders against the theoretical framework of complexity theory enabling the incorporation of complex and multi-layered ecosystems.

young offender profileThe research in part builds on the work from a pilot study which used the learning power framework to assess learning power of young offenders (Salway and Deakin-Crick, 2006) using a self-report tool, the Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory (ELLI) (Deakin Crick, Claxton & Broadfoot, 2004).  The ELLI produces a spider diagram which represents the individual’s learning power against seven dimensions of learning (changing & learning, meaning making, critical curiosity, creativity, strategic awareness, learning relationships and resilience).  The study produced unexpected and unintended findings from the small sample (n=32) where 12 of the 32 young offenders had distinctive patterns in their learning power profiles characterised by a ‘resilience spike’, but low on all the other six dimensions.  Seven of the 12 were convicted of the most severe crimes, including rape, arson and murder.  The findings cast some doubt on the concept of resilience within the ELLI and this research will also explore that by collected a larger sample (n>200) of profiles to explore patterns.

For the qualitative strand, data are being collected using semi-structured interviews and case study notes from a small number of participants who are offered an intervention to help develop resilience.  The process that participants undergo during the intervention will form the core data for this strand to understand if and how resilience manifests itself in this process.

Data collection is currently underway for both strands.

Doctoral Research Project Report ahmed-Shafi