"If you see something that's not right, we need to challenge it… if we don't, well, who will?” A qualitative exploration of social justice and educational psychology practice in England.

Cumber, Daniel (2022). "If you see something that's not right, we need to challenge it… if we don't, well, who will?” A qualitative exploration of social justice and educational psychology practice in England. University of Birmingham. Ap.Ed.&ChildPsy.D.

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Social justice has been positioned as a global ethical framework for educational psychology in the face of growing inequalities and increasingly unjust events affecting schools and communities. However, most research has taken place in the US and social justice is understood to be a culturally situated concept. Consequently, this thesis qualitatively explores social justice in applied educational psychology practice in England to explore its relevance and utility for educational psychology. Eleven local authority employed educational psychologists (EPs) from the West Midlands were interviewed using virtual semi-structured interviews on Microsoft Teams. Interview data was audio recorded, transcribed and analysed using reflexive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2019). Research questions explored EP’s understanding and experiences in relation to a) defining social justice, b) social justice and the role of the EP, c) identifying practical ways of working towards social justice (if EPs should work towards it) and d) exploring barriers. Themes are explored and related to the wider social justice and educational psychology literature. Results suggest that EPs defined social justice as an eco-systemic and contextually situated concept, which involved the pursuit of fairness and equity, human rights and anti-oppressive practice for all. This entailed a commitment to advocacy for social justice and challenge of social injustice. However, social justice was recognised to mean different things to different people, and some EPs expressed concern about the ambiguity of the definition and the hidden threats this may hold, particularly regarding the influence of politics on practice. However, EPs unanimously agreed that promoting social justice, as defined above, was core to the role of the EP, as long as social justice work was undertaken with critical, holistic and multivariant psychological formulation of children’s needs and utilised evidence-based interventions. Social justice was positioned as a natural extension of the advocacy role of the EP, particularly for marginalised groups. EPs reflected that their personal and professional values, beliefs and backgrounds led them to become EPs to work towards social justice through the application of psychology.

EPs expressed that they were well placed to work together with other agencies, professionals, and families to pursue social justice through acting on social justice values. EP phronesis/practical wisdom was elicited, presenting useful psychological tools such as consultation, eco-systemic working, relational approaches, supervision, reflection and reflexivity and application of therapy and therapeutic principles. The role of relationships as a critical mediator was also emphasised. Finally, barriers were identified including the misuse of power by schools, local authorities (LAs), and some individual EPs. This involved collusion with organisational agendas and the use of psychometric assessments unethically. Moreover, high EP burnout was thought to have contributed to poorer psychologist performance and outcomes for children and young people and their families. EPs also identified a lack of voice in government and advocated for an ability to work systemically with educational policy makers to better mitigate social injustice and work towards social justice.

Implications for EP practice are discussed suggesting a reconceptualisation of the EP role towards community psychology to overcome some of these barriers. However, lack of funding remains a pervasive barrier. It is suggested that EPs may reflect on the psychological tools presented here to develop cycles of their own social justice praxis. Limitations and future directions are discussed.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ap.Ed.&ChildPsy.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ap.Ed.&ChildPsy.D.
Licence: All rights reserved All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: School of Education, Department of Disability, Inclusion and Special Needs
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/12875


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