An exploration of the barriers and enablers of children’s lived participation within the primary school context

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O'Sullivan, Jane
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University College Cork
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Since the adoption in 1989 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) children’s right to participate has gained widespread recognition, with children’s participation growing significantly within policy, practice and research arenas. The dominant focus and growth, however, has been in relation to the collective/representative voice of children within formal participatory mechanisms and structures. Considered to a lesser extent, but equally important, is children’s right to participate informally within their everyday lives. A lack of focus on children’s informal everyday lived participation within the school context, a key site in relation to most children’s everyday lives, has resulted in a gap in knowledge with regard to what such participation looks like, how it can be assessed or measured, and thus, how its facilitation can be assured in accordance with the UNCRC. This research addresses this gap by generating knowledge which contributes to our ability to ensure that each and every child’s right to participate within their everyday school lives is respected, developed and facilitated. This thesis identifies and engages in an exposition of the factors that both influence, and act as, barriers and enablers to children’s lived participation within a school context, in addition to the spatial/relational process(es) by which such barriers and enablers are (re)constructed. Using a rights-based participatory methodology, comprising interviews, focus groups and observations, data was gathered and analysed from five Irish primary schools. Employing a spatially/relationally orientated theoretical framework that forefronts the concepts of power and educational paradigms, the perspectives of educators and children were analysed, both in and of themselves, and in relation to the interactions and practices observed within each school. The findings reveal that within each school a particular educational paradigm prevailed, which was both shaped by, while also shaping, student/educator power-dynamics. This research exposes the significant role a school’s educational paradigm and associated power-dynamics play in the production of particular specifications of people and spaces, and the related mechanisms, structures and norms that determine the level and quality of participation afforded to children. Inextricably interconnected beliefs, values and practices concerning children, education and participation which constitute the educational paradigm as it relates to children’s lived participation, underpin both pedagogical practice and student/educator relationships – two key sites of barriers/enablers of children’s lived participation. Ultimately the findings reveal that the development of participatory school cultures requires a whole-school approach to achieving a more egalitarian hierarchical school structure and educator/student power-dynamics. A paradigmatic shift that encompasses a rights-based perspective of the child is an integral aspect of such a whole-school approach. This research generates original knowledge which furthers a spatial/relational, rights-based conceptualisation of participation that encompasses, and extends beyond, current conceptualisations grounded in decision-making events, to include everyday practices, encounters and relationships. These findings are significant in that they provide knowledge that can contribute to the progression of children’s participatory rights within a school context, while also having important theoretical implications for how children’s participation is conceptualised.
Children , Participation , Rights , School
O'Sullivan, J. M. 2021. An exploration of the barriers and enablers of children’s lived participation within the primary school context. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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