EQI: Centre for Evaluation, Quality & Inspection header
EQI: Centre for Evaluation,Quality & Inspection

Recent Graduates

Recent Graduates

EQI has worked with research students from around the world investigating a wide range of topics, issues and contexts. Below is a sample of the nearly 40 Doctoral graduates supervised by EQI members. Full details of completed research studies,including abstracts and copies of theses are available at www.doras.dcu.ie.




Dunne, Orla (2023) The Experiences of Gifted LGBTQ Post-Primary Students in Ireland

This mixed methods study explores the experiences of gifted LGBTQ post-primary students in Ireland. The participant sample in this study is composed of current post-primary students and recent university students, who have been identified as gifted and attended a CTYI summer programme between 2017 and 2019. The quantitative data collection method was an online anonymous questionnaire, while the qualitative data collection methods were interviews and focus groups. Quantitative data is analysed to examine the frequency of negative remarks and language about LGBTQ people, the frequency of intervention by staff, students and the respondents themselves when this language occurs and the correlation between climate and intervention. A thematic analysis of the qualitative data was conducted, which identified common themes within the negative language used. Factors that influenced participants’ willingness to intervene in situations of negative language use were also explored. The transformative paradigm guides this study, which places central importance on the lives and experiences of marginalised communities, uses transformative theory to develop the inquiry approach and links results of social inquiry to action. The study also explores identity development for gifted LGBTQ post-primary students, including the experience of coming out, social and emotional development and peer relations. This study is the first to discuss the experiences of gifted LGBTQ young people in Ireland.


Supervisor (s): Joe O’Hara & Colm O’Reilly






O'Rourke, Maree (2022) Follow the leader" Capturing the perspectives of post primary principals in the Irish voluntary school sector on implementing a distributed leadership framework.

This study investigates the perspective of voluntary secondary school principals undertaking the implementation of the Department of Education (DE) CL003/2018 on Leadership and Management within the voluntary school sector. The research question asks: What is the experience of school principals in the implementation of distributed leadership in the voluntary secondary school? The researcher conducted a thematic review of relevant peer-reviewed literature on leadership and seminal work in distributed leadership for this study. The concepts of power, motivation, and accountability emerge from the review of both policy texts and form the sub-questions within the research. The sub-questions are: 1. Does the implementation of the Department of Education (DE) CL003/2018 change the principal's role within the school's leadership framework? 2. Does the micropolitics of a school impact the implementation of a distributed leadership framework? 3. What are the strategies employed by principals to motivate staff when implementing the Department of Education (DE) CL003/2018? 4. Can distributed leadership exist without distributed responsibility and accountability? The researcher took a pragmatic approach to the research methodology, adopting a case study methodology within a mixed-method sequential quantitative > qualitative research design. The quantitative research instrument was an online survey distributed to a census population of voluntary secondary school principals in Ireland. Using Zoom, semi-structured interviews with ten voluntary secondary school principals informed the qualitative research. The findings are examined and interpreted within the context of the literature review. The researcher presents the findings from the semi-structured interviews and online survey acknowledging the implications and limitations of the study. The research identifies recommendations on continuous professional development for principals to develop sustainable leadership capacity within the voluntary secondary school sector, the essential time to hold strategic leadership team meetings and the consideration of a generic leadership title for posts of responsibility with recommendations for further research and policy development.


Supervisor: Shivaun O’Brien



Skerritt, Craig  (2022) Student voice and classroom practice in Ireland’s post-primary schools: an exploration of exercises, experiences, and emotions at the coalface.

The purpose of this mixed-methods research is to investigate how student voice takes place in relation to classroom practice in Irish post-primary schools, and the views of both school staff and students on this student voice. In doing this, particular attention is paid to the patronage and socio-economic context of schools. Several contributions to knowledge are made: a heuristic device as a starting point for future research in the Irish context is developed and presented; how student voice is likely to be enacted differently in different types of schools and schools in different settings is explored for the first time; and stakeholders’ views on student voice being used in relation to classroom practice in Irish post-primary schools are explicitly explored. This research is the first research of its kind in Ireland, providing unprecedented knowledge and insights, and will be of interest and of use to those involved in teaching, leadership and governance in schools, research in higher education, and policy and advocacy in the public and voluntary sectors. Through interviews with 101 participants in seven case study schools and a subsequent survey of principals that yielded 95 responses, this research highlights how, inter alia, students are consulted to different extents in different schools; student voice can be used to monitor teachers; and most stakeholders in Irish post-primary schools are against the idea of students being consulted on teacher performance.


Supervisor(s): Joe O’Hara and Martin Brown


Dolores, Smith (2022) A constructivist study of leadership development in organisations.

The purpose of this study was to explore executive leaders operating in a variety of institutions and their sense meaning of their leadership agency conceptualised as forms of mind. Contextually it seeks to understand the capacity of forms of mind to mature over time into new forms of mind within the broader structure running the meaning-making of Leadership inside their unique organisational context as holding environments. Through a longitudinal analysis of six different organisations, it sets out to understand to what degree individual leaders form of mind relates to their unique organisational holding environment as an expression of their Leadership. Kegan and Lahey (2009) outline how leadership development literature has not focused on the underlying ‘operating system’ of individuals and their meaning making as forms of mind suggesting that effective leadership development needs to be understood within these underlying ‘operating systems’. Furthermore, Laloux (2014) argues that understanding Leadership in organisations is through understanding the stage of development of its leaders. This study bridges the gap between these two places by focusing on examining a gender balance of individual leaders form of mind within the historical-cultural worlds of the underlying operating systems of the holding environments of their organisations. The study reveals that the application of a psychological longitudinal approach to Leadership can provide a practical and meaningful focus in which to understand leaders form of mind in relation to their organisation form of place and how this capacity for developing new cognitions of Leadership inside Constructive Developmental Theory can result in effective leadership development aligned with future organisational needs and complexities. The studys findings can inform future approaches to professional training and development of leaders inside organisations.


Supervisor: Martin Brown





Foley, Colum  (2021) The rhetoric, policy, practice gap: a study of online learning in Irish higher education. 

Online learning is an idea whose time has come. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic it was predicted that the global value of the online education market would reach €290 billion by 2025 (McCue, 2018). This figure is likely to have increased significantly in 2020 due to campus closures as teaching continued online. Thus, the demand for online learning is enormous and growing, even though it currently makes up less than 2% of the overall higher education market (HolonIQ, 2020). The Covid-19 crisis has shown policy-makers and educational leaders that new models of online learning provide a means to widen access and participation in higher education. The debate surrounding the development of online learning in Ireland for promoting access and participation in lifelong learning more generally appears to be largely aspirational in the absence of a strong policy commitment and funding model to resource fully online programmes. Set against this backdrop, this doctoral study aims to investigate a perceived gap between rhetoric, policy and practice in promoting wider access to higher education in Ireland. It involves three phases: - Phase 1 (macro-level) consists of an analysis of relevant International policy texts; - Phase 2 (meso-level) involves an analysis of Irish policy texts and institutional online learning strategies and initiatives through publicly available documentation; and - Phase 3 (micro-level) adopts a case study method to “tell the story of the development of online learning” at one Irish university. The main research findings are: - Defining online learning is problematic. The research demonstrates that a clear, universally agreed, definition of what constitutes online learning, understood by the sector and policy makers, does not exist. - Economic factors are the most influential drivers (and barriers) in the adoption of online learning in policy texts. Social and vocational drivers have influence, however, the most important driver is economic. Notably the pedagogical drivers for online learning in policy texts are relatively weak. - Good policy emanates from a collaborative process which is inclusive, transparent, and credible. In order for policy to be effective and successful, all relevant stakeholders must be encouraged to contribute in a meaningful way, through a clear process. Future development of policy for online learning in Ireland needs to be more cognisant of these requirements.



Supervisor: Martin Brown



Geoghegan, Sheila (2021) Can introducing a set of practice review documents into community nursing improve practice?

The desired outcome of this study was to develop and implement a set of practice review documents (the Tool)into community nursing with the intention of improving practice. The study explores the development of the documents in the Tool, their implementation and it then investigates if any changes occurred as a result of their implementation leading to an improvement in nursing practice. The literature associated with the study involved an examination of the role of continuous professional development and career planning in maintaining best practice. In addition, the Magnet Hospitals and the Pathway to Excellence Programmes were examined and the role they play in producing gold standard practice and how they instil these values in staff. Key issues used to improve quality in nursing were also investigated; these included maintaining competence, best practice delivery, staff retention, succession planning and capacity building. Various management approaches used to improve the quality of nursing care delivery were also observed like effective leadership, empowerment of staff, reflective practice, mentorship, staff accountability and ongoing support. Finally, the literature focused on investigating the usefulness of potential key elements being introduced through the Tool in the research, in the hope of improving practice, like case review, early identification of clinical issues and speedy intervention all of which claim to assist with a quicker improvement and/or resolution of clinical issues, which enhance the prospects of better practice outcomes and assist staff feel supported. An action research methodology was used in the research as it allowed for the development of knowledge together with the implementation of actions and it also supports the change process. Grahams et al (2006) model of action research was applied through four action research cycles: an exploratory phase; a consultation and development phase; a pilot phase and a re-development and roll-out phase. The research findings demonstrated that the documents were successful in improving practice and delivering safer healthcare while supporting staff. This in turn, leads to better staff retention and improved patient outcomes. Several recommendations were made, including the introduction of the documents for future practice.


Supervisor(s): Gerry McNamara & Martin Stynes



Guildea, Carol (2021) Continuity and reform: a case study analysis of assessment in Irish post-primary education through the evaluation of stakeholder perceptions


This research procures and analyses the perspectives of parents and students, regarding post-primary assessments. Two specific events prompted this research: 1. The reform of Junior Cycle Assessment in 2015 involving systematic reform to include the assessment of skills and competencies required for 21st century living (DES, 2012a; NCCA, 2017). 2. An Inspectorate report following a Whole School Evaluation, recommending summative data from the school entrance assessments be utilised to ‘provide a more realistic perspective on student performance.’ (DES, 2016e, p.3). The two events highlighted reform of assessment towards the formative at Junior Cycle with a simultaneous focus on summative student performance within the post-primary system. The researcher was keen to establish parent and student perspectives to assessment in post-primary education to ascertain how they as primary stakeholders experienced all aspects of the system. Subsequent to an extensive literature review, the following research questions were identified: • What is the perception of post-primary assessment among students and parents in a case study school in Ireland during a period of simultaneous continuity and reform? • What are the benefits of assessment within a post-primary school? • What are the challenges of assessment within a post-primary school? Thematic analysis of the qualitative data resulted in the emergence of three interlinked themes: • Stakeholders perceive assessment through the purpose of the assessment • Stakeholders perceive assessment through the culture of assessment • Stakeholders perceive post-primary assessment has an impact on student wellbeing. Each of the three themes are discussed in relation to the research questions and conclusions and recommendations for the case study school, for national policymakers and for future research in the area are identified.



Supervisor(s): Gerry McNamara and Joe O’Hara



Keegan, Rachel (2021) Education doctorates. exploring personal, professional and academic contributions.


Despite a lack of attention in national and European policy, professional doctorates in Ireland and the United Kingdom have grown in popularity since their introduction in the early 2000s. Such programmes offer learners an alternative to the traditional PhD, framed in a context of doctorate level study which both informs and is informed by, professional practice. Definitions of such programmes emphasise this professional practice grounding as the defining feature of the professional doctorate and yet there is little evidence of such contributions to practice, the workplace or the profession more broadly. This study focuses on two aspects of undertaking one such type of programme, the Doctor of Education (EdD). Firstly, it asks the “why”, exploring the multifaceted reasons for pursuing an EdD. Secondly, the study explores the contribution of such programmes for the learner, their workplace and their wider professional and academic communities. The study of impact or contribution is a complex one, and the researcher acknowledges that one cannot suggest a simple cause and effect relationship between programme and practice. Instead, the focus is on the perceptions of the learner to answer five central questions: 1. What motivated the students/graduates to pursue the EdD? 2. How do the students/graduates perceive the contributions of their EdD? Where and when do these occur? 3. What are the more tangible contributions of the EdD? 4. How do the students/graduates recognise and describe the more intangible contributions? 5. Are these contributions resulting from the process, the product, or both? The study adopts a mixed-method case study approach, looking at one EdD programme in an Irish context. The study commences with an extensive literature review which informed the development of a conceptual framework and a detailed survey instrument – the first phase of this mixed-method study. This is followed up with a second phase, involving in-depth interviews with 14 of the survey respondents, from a range of professional backgrounds. The study revealed wide-ranging contributions including personal and professional development, career implications, workplace and practice contributions and contributions to wider professional and academic communities.


Supervisors: Joe O’Hara & Martin Brown



Maloney, Fiona (2021) Exploring further education and training: “who is the further education and training adult learner”? 


This qualitative research focused on Further Education and Training (FET) in the Republic of Ireland and investigated who is the Further Education and Training adult learner? Analysis of academic literature produced two research questions that were explored through a case study approach: a. The characteristics of the adult FET learner b. The motivation to pursue a FET course as an adult This research provides practice based evidence, baseline research and an up to date context of the FET sector. Analysis of 165 web based questionnaires and 10 interviews confirmed the characteristics and the motivations of the Irish adult FET learner. The motivation to engage in FET was found to be complex and dependent on many variables that included the satisfaction of need, self-determination and timing. The traditional profile of FET as a second chance or remedial avenue of education was challenged, as engagement was not necessarily linear but horizontal as well as vertical; lifelong and life-wide learning at the NFQ level most appropriate to their needs. This research also confirmed that adults seek qualifications. Participants were predominantly female, aged 41-65 years who were balancing multiple responsibilities and were selfmotivated toward the achievement of goals including the achievement of qualifications, improved employment prospects, and progression to HE. Participants enjoyed universal familial support for their engagement in FET but acknowledged the financial responsibility associated with their engagement. The heterogeneous aspirations of the adult learner and their need for provision to be flexible, accessible and affordable was confirmed. The benefits of FET for learners, communities and employers was demonstrated as was the need for FET providers to remain responsive to the evolving demands of the economy, society and learners.


This qualitative research focused on Further Education and Training (FET) in the Republic of Ireland and investigated who is the Further Education and Training adult learner? Analysis of academic literature produced two research questions that were explored through a case study approach: a. The characteristics of the adult FET learner b. The motivation to pursue a FET course as an adult This research provides practice based evidence, baseline research and an up to date context of the FET sector. Analysis of 165 web based questionnaires and 10 interviews confirmed the characteristics and the motivations of the Irish adult FET learner. The motivation to engage in FET was found to be complex and dependent on many variables that included the satisfaction of need, self-determination and timing. The traditional profile of FET as a second chance or remedial avenue of education was challenged, as engagement was not necessarily linear but horizontal as well as vertical; lifelong and life-wide learning at the NFQ level most appropriate to their needs. This research also confirmed that adults seek qualifications. Participants were predominantly female, aged 41-65 years who were balancing multiple responsibilities and were selfmotivated toward the achievement of goals including the achievement of qualifications, improved employment prospects, and progression to HE. Participants enjoyed universal familial support for their engagement in FET but acknowledged the financial responsibility associated with their engagement. The heterogeneous aspirations of the adult learner and their need for provision to be flexible, accessible and affordable was confirmed. The benefits of FET for learners, communities and employers was demonstrated as was the need for FET providers to remain responsive to the evolving demands of the economy, society and learners.



Supervisor: Shivaun O’Brien



McGreevy, Sharon (2021) Evolving roles of academics in Irish institutes of technology and technological universities.


This research critically explores the changing roles and demands on academics in Irish Institutes of Technology and Technological Universities amid profound changes in HE in the past decade. Professional roles are dominant themes in the discourse of occupations yet currently there is a lack of empirical research on professional roles amongst academics working in Irish Institutes of Technology (IoTs) and Technological Universities (TUs). This study critically explores how academic roles are conceptualised and constructed. The central research problem explores how everyday roles are evolving and are perceived amongst experienced academics in IoTs and TUs in Ireland. This research is situated within an interpretivist framework and uses an exploratory case study design to address the research questions. A multiple case study design is used with four Irish IoTs selected, two moving to TU status and two currently remaining outside of the process. Qualitative data is drawn from twenty-seven interviews with academic staff, Academic Managers as well as document analysis. The qualitative interviews enabled the perceptions and understandings of individual academics and their Academic Managers and the way in which they navigate their local context to be critically explored and explained. Documentary analysis of institutional policies was used to supplement the interviews and provide a contextual evidence base as part of the qualitative aspects of this study. The research draws on the personal accounts and local perspectives focusing on the voice of the “ordinary” academics. This study provides insight into how academics navigate their everyday roles within an IoT/TU context. This research reveals evidence of both continuity and change and of divergence and convergence in academic roles. This research finds that more fluid, multifaceted and holistic roles exist among the academics in this study. This research dispels the myth of the academic “all-rounder” and finds academics in the present study focusing on elements of practice primarily involving teaching, service and to a lesser extent research.


Supervisor: Shivaun O’Brien


O'Sullivan, Michael (2021) The principal behind the report. An exploration of the evaluation perceptions of British Schools Overseas’ principals.


Thousands of schools across the globe call themselves ‘British’, but there are only a limited number that are officially recognised by the Department for Education (DfE) in England under the British Schools Overseas (BSO) voluntary inspection scheme. Approved inspection providers accredit schools and publish a report on their findings making BSOs comparable to independent schools in England. Details of BSOs are publicly recorded in a database called ‘Get Information About Schools’ (GIAS) alongside all other DfE recognised schools. The BSO inspection scheme and the locations in which BSOs are found around the world provides the backdrop to a context where comparatively little is known about the principals of BSOs, about how they are evaluated and about their evaluation perceptions. This socially constructed phenomenological inquiry explores the evaluation experiences of a sample of BSO principals from six different countries. Themes and interpretations are drawn from data gathered in semi-structured interviews conducted directly with the principals. Survey responses, document analysis and extensive field notes as well as the views of a number of experts in the field are also used. The findings indicate that BSO principals are evaluated for a variety of reasons in a range of settings, where evaluation methods are influenced by how school ownership is structured, by competencies in evaluation ability and by how the results are handled. The findings also point out challenges to the overall BSO inspection scheme. The strength of this study is its exploratory nature which is significant for international school leadership, for principal evaluation and for those who have a wider academic interest in international education. This report on the evaluation perceptions of BSO principals contributes to a previously limited corpus of knowledge on the subject.


Supervisor(s): Joe O’Hara & Martin Stynes


Cusack, Eithne (2021) A narrative history of psychiatric / mental health nursing in the asylum / mental hospital system in Ireland from 1940 to 1970. ‘Always remember they are some mother’s child’. 

Walk (1961) stated that a history of psychiatry that did not include the history of mental nurses was incomplete. Nursing in our mental health system in Ireland from a historical perspective has not been examined. The purpose of this research is to achieve narrative accounts of life, nursing care and changes across time from 1940 to 1970 from nurses who worked within the asylum system. The origins and history of nursing in this context is required to amplify the role and contribution of nurses which has rarely been described. The research will provide insight and information into life within the institutions in the mid-1900s, along with the social and psychiatric presentations of patients, the treatment modalities available, the role of those employed in nursing roles and the leadership within the sector. The historical roots of Irish psychiatric nursing have remained subsumed within the realms of the history of psychiatry. The majority of publications in this area with a few exceptions tend to focus on the structural and legislative frameworks that established firstly the Asylum system and subsequently the community approach to care. A qualitative design was chosen to conduct a narrative inquiry which involved the conduction of interviews with nurses who worked within the asylum/institution system between 1940 and 1970 nationally. Grounded in interpretive hermeneutics, narrative inquiry involves the gathering of these nurses’ narratives: oral and visual— and focusing on the meanings that people ascribe to their experiences. The findings indicate that the history of care for the mentally ill carried out within asylums and later mental institutions provided an institutional base for the establishment of the profession of nursing. Nursing was introduced into and inherited a culture influenced by the patriarchal structures which existed at that time. The study highlights how the profession of psychiatric nursing was socially constructed. It provides an insight into the context of care, the impact of social stigma on the profession, a lack of professional voice and how nurses strived to develop professional agency. The development of the profession and their influence on the preparation for and transition of care to the community is also captured. How through their practice with patients, these nurses made the asylum walls porous and contributed to the construction of a bridge between asylum care and community care, to lay the foundations for contemporary community mental health care in Ireland. The study defines the ontogenesis of psychiatric nursing.


Supervisor(s): Joe O’Hara & Elaine McDonald


O'Connor, Noel (2021) ‘Beyond rehabilitation.’ ‘An exploration of workers’ experiences in delivering drug services within the special drugs rehabilitation community employment programme.’.


Psychoactive drug use is a significant problem for most Western societies. It has been a growing problem in Ireland over the last five decades, causing a multitude of problems for individuals and communities. One of the primary rehabilitative responses available for individuals in Ireland desiring to undertake recovery is the drug rehabilitation Special Community Employment (SCE) programme. The SCE programme supports almost one thousand individuals in their recovery by maintaining stabilisation, reinforcing recovery, providing education and skills training, and developing recovery capital enabling the participant to re-enter society as a contributing member. A review of the literature on SCE indicates that several issues have arisen around funding structures, administration, governance and operations (Bruce 2004; Lawless 2006; CityWide 2013). However, little action has been taken over the last decade to address these issues. The studies referred to, adopted a broad view of the SCE programme. They examined activity across a wide range of stakeholders, including participants, families, workers, community boards and state bodies. While these studies provided excellent information, there was an evident paucity of research focused on the professional and support staff who deliver SCE in local community projects. This research study was undertaken in response to that gap in the literature.It sought to provide some insight into the SCE workers' experiences, which would contribute to the debate on operations and practices in SCEs and policy formation in the broader rehabilitation field. The research used a mixed-methods design methodology consisting of an initial questionnaire to gather quantitative data and a series of semi-structured interviews that provided qualitative data, which enhanced and elaborated on the data gathered at the quantitative phase. This mixed-methods design provided a pragmatic approach that saw both qualitative and quantitative data generated and analysed. Results suggest that SCE workers at all levels have experienced significant challenges to their effectiveness in work and their professional training and development needs. These issues are perceived to arise from the policies, procedures, administration and working conditions under which they operate within the SCE programmes. This research revealed that while social, economic policy and drug policy in Ireland has changed radically over the past decade, the SCE programme has failed to adapt in a way that adequately meets the needs of this changing environment. Several recommendations are made on foot of this study, which if adopted, would improve working conditions, enhance worker training and development and increase the effectiveness of service delivery.


Supervisor: Joe O’Hara



Quinn, Irene (2021) The Role and impact of middle leadership and management on the Implementation of school self-evaluation in primary schools in the Republic of Ireland.


This study examines the role and impact of middle leadership and management (MLM) in implementing school self-evaluation (SSE) in primary schools in the Republic of Ireland (ROI). It is a mixed methods social research combining both qualitative and quantitative methods. The methods to be employed to acquire the data for analysis are 1. A documentary analysis of the three policy documents issued by the Department of Education and Skills (DES) regarding MLM in primary schools Looking At Our Schools: A Quality Framework for Primary Schools 2016 (LAOS 2016), School Self-Evaluation Guidelines 2016 (SSE 2016) and Circular Letter 0063/2017 Leadership and Management in Primary School (Circular 0063/2017). 2. Online questionnaires completed by primary school principals and teachers. 3. Interviews of primary school principals and teachers and a retired Assistant Chief DES Inspector. The above documents are the seminal policy statements issued by the DES concerning the subject of this thesis, namely the inspection and evaluation rubric of the inspectorate (LAOS 2016), the process of self-evaluation to be conducted by schools (SSE 2016) and the role to be played in both by school senior and middle leadership and management (Circular 0063/2017). There has been a lot of research in recent years into school leadership and evaluation and this has influenced the emergence of these documents. The three key policy documents are examined closely with regard to the role of MLM in implementing SSE in schools. Concepts such as distributed, instructional and collaborative leadership are explored in the documents and are further examined in the online questionnaires and interviews. The research aims to evaluate the scope and extent of the role and impact of MLM in primary schools in implementing SSE in practice.


Supervisor(s) : Gerry McNamara & Martin Stynes




Carroll, Eamonn (2020) Student experiences of an out of school academic enrichment programme for high ability students transitioning from DEIS primary schools to DEIS secondary schools.


This study focuses on the creation and the first three cycles of the Lifelong Educational Achievement Partnership (LEAP) programme, designed to address a gap in provision for high ability students attending designated socioeconomically disadvantaged schools in the area surrounding Dublin City University (DCU). This dissertation documents the development of an action research project from the initial reflection on this gap in provision, through the planning of an appropriate intervention to the act of initiating the programme and the observation of its impact on students and on to further reflection, planning, action and observation across three years (July 2016- March 2019). The LEAP programme offered students a sustained commitment through their transition from primary to secondary school. This took the form of four terms of academic enrichment classes on a variety of subjects from journalism to forensic science to mathematics. It also offered a bridge for students to transition into the Centre for Talented Youth, Ireland’s (CTYI) secondary school programme, extending the commitment beyond the programme itself. The research focussed on giving students, as well as their parents and teachers, a chance to articulate their experiences of the LEAP programme through questionnaires and group interviews. Through a constant comparative coding approach, three key themes were identified in these data. The first of these, Impact of Programme, outlined the perceived academic, social and personal benefits students took from the programme. The second, Love of Learning, explored the passion for learning voiced by students throughout their participation on the programme. The final theme, Programme Design, considered key elements of the structure of the programme and how they related to students’ experiences of it. Overall, the research conducted for this study presents a successful intervention for an underserved population, one which offers important new knowledge about providing for this cohort. More importantly, as an action it has successfully effected positive change within participants’ lives.


Supervisor (s): Joe O’Hara & Colm O’Reilly

Redmond, Úna (2020) “Creating capital”: the impact of sustained engagement with extracurricular activities on access students’ experience of university.


Holistic student development encompasses not only academic learning but also the development of skills such as problem solving and analysis while simultaneously recognising moral and emotional growth. Earlier research focused on the benefits of engagement with extracurricular activities and the broader non-formal curriculum in university settings. Studies concerned with the involvement of widening participation groups in extracurricular activities (ECAs) expressed concern that these groups do not enjoy equal access to extracurricular activities. Consequently, they may not be able to avail of vital social interaction, which can provide opportunities for accumulating social and cultural capital. To investigate this the researcher adopted a qualitative case study approach to gather data from nine graduates of the Dublin City University (DCU) Access programme. These graduates have come through a period of intensive, high-quality engagement with ECAs as validated and certified by the DCU Uaneen Module examination process. Semi-structured interviews, as well as archival record and documentation, generated valuable insights into the experience of access students in a university setting and the creation of capital through their involvement with the learning milieu outside the classroom. The data were coded and queried using NVivo software and organised using thematic analysis. Interviews with the directors of two university access programmes provided further insights and observations. The findings are presented in a case study report with supporting evidence. The results suggest that the graduates did benefit, both personally and professionally, through their engagement and are in a position to recognise and appreciate this. Several recommendations are made which are intended to create an environment, which encourages and facilitates students who enter through the access programmes to fully and meaningfully engage with extracurricular activities thereby promoting the creation of capital and other beneficial personal and professional outcomes.


Supervisor(s): Joe O’Hara & Martin Stynes


Kelly, Mary (2020) “I don’t want to be a researcher…… I just want to teach” Exploring teacher as researcher identity amongst graduates of an Irish teacher education programme.


This study presents an understanding of how a programme of study at master’s level has helped shape the identity of a group of primary school teachers as teacher researchers. A mixed methods design was employed comprising a questionnaire survey and focus groups interviews with graduates of the programme and semi-structured interviews with stakeholders in the wider field of education. The research design was based on the epistemological position of social constructivism and drew on interpretive theoretical stances as necessary. Findings suggest that graduates value the research knowledge and skills they have acquired following their programme of study. The study also presents the research practices which many have adopted as they negotiate the identity of teacher researcher. The findings also highlight the difficulties of evolving identity sometimes conflicted with the wider school community. The findings will potentially stimulate reflection on, and dialogue around the professional development needs of all teachers in the area of research. The study has relevance for policymakers in planning and promoting professional development to embed a culture of research in schools.


Supervisor: Joe O’Hara





O'Connor, Miriam (2019) Theory to practice: exploratory study on dental nursing graduates' experience of professional practice placement and how effective it is for preparation for employment.


Background: Research has shown that Professional Practice Placement (PPP) is an important part of the learning process. Experts noted that it advanced the learning skills, confidence and professional competency and ensured a smooth transfer to the workplace. This study explored: The DN graduates’ views of their work placement experience. Research examined the graduates’ views, perceptions and experiences related to PPP. The value in the preparation for employment was also investigated. In addition, the researcher explored the graduates’ perceptions of learning, during the placement experience, supporting these insights into the value of PPP with relevant literature. This study focused on: The graduates’ perspective. Literature obtained targeted both the students’ and employers’ perspective of PPP but not the DN graduates. This lack of evidence in the value of PPP from a DN perspective led the researcher to a niche discovery thereby justifying the need for this research from the graduates’ viewpoint of PPP which proved to be very enlightening. While the research primarily concentrated on the graduates’ perceptions and those of the employers (dentists), it also explored the findings of relevant theorists and the relationship with these experts in the field of learning and its application to practice. This study focused on student-centred learning and the relevance of PPP from their perspective. This research is exploratory in nature, based on the graduates’ experience of PPP rather than on a specific hypothesis or assumption. For that reason, the positioning of this study is located within a phenomenological paradigm using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. The research is divided into four xxiii phases. The tools used were on-line questionnaire, focus group interview, individual interviews with DN graduates and written questionnaires from dentists. The study found: The graduates’ perceptions of PPP gave an insight into their preparation prior to PPP. They noted that stress and worry were factors in their lives before and during PPP but emphasised the overall experience was valuable and that it had many benefits. Graduates noted the learning achieved both in class and practice were important factors in the process of professional preparation, and the building of confidence and communication skills in preparation for employment. Conclusion: This research has provided a significant insight into learners’ experience and value of PPP from a postgrad and the dental professionals’ perspectives. This has developed novel data that has not been previously been reported. It highlights the need for on-going evaluation of the educational process which direct and influence learners’ experiences. AIT strategy has focused on a student-centred approach. This should underpin the whole PPP to maximise its potential as an educational tool in the preparation of the student for smooth transfer into the workplace. The potential of PPP requires optimisation through on-going research so that the learner gains the professional training in practice to qualify as a confident and competent DN prepared to work in any type of dental practice no matter what challenges they encounter.


Supervisor: Joe O’Hara


Foley, Judith (2019) The development of a national framework for the assessment of clinical competency of first year nursing students. 


The desired outcome of this study is to develop and implement a national competence framework to facilitate the assessment of first year nursing students undertaking the four year/four and half year degree programme in the four disciplines of Nursing in the Higher Education Institutions in Republic of Ireland. The four disciplines are General Nursing, Psychiatric Nursing, Intellectual Disability Nursing and Children’s Nursing. The total intake of nursing students is 1,683 per year. The literature associated with the study mainly involves an examination of the concept of competence and the assessment of competence. The literature further focused on aspects of learning that impacted on assessment of clinical competence, assessment of clinical competence learning, theoretical models used to assess competence. In addition, the literature related to the process of assessment to include the supporting structures and the components of assessment documentation to include the concept of reflective practice and the models in use. Quantitative and qualitative research paradigm are explored. Various research methodologies are examined and a rationale for choosing action research as the chosen research strategy is set out. Coghlan and Brannick’s model of action research is applied through three action research cycles: each involving diagnosing/constructing phase; planning action phase; taking action phase and evaluating action phase. The sample is described and related ethical considerations are highlighted along with research methods and data analysis. The research findings focusing on the views of participants involved in the assessment of nursing students which informed the final development of competence assessment framework following by roll out and implementation by all Higher Education Institutions (HEI’s) and Associated Health Care Providers (AHCP’s).


Supervisor: Shivaun O’Brien



Malone, Fiona (2018) An exploration of gender and academic management in Irish institutes of technology.


This research is situated in the area of gender. The impetus of this research is based on the significant lack of women at the higher echelons of academic management in the Institute of Technology sector. Such a study is important in order to develop an understanding of how academics experience gender in the workplace and how such experiences impact on their careers. Identifying a philosophy is essentially about identifying truth and for this study truth is the lived experience of participants. Contextually this study is conducted in an Irish Institute of Technology setting, within the naturalistic paradigm, using an exploratory case study research design. Secondary data is collected in the form of observations and documentations. Primary data is collected through seventeen semi-structured interviews with thirteen women and four men. A stratified, purposive, non-probability sampling approach is used which includes academics at different grades and disciplines from lecturer to senior academic managers. A qualitative methodology is employed using several phases of iterative thematic analysis using inductive and deductive approaches. Key research questions addressed in this study provide evidence of the existence of gendered bias speculated in the existing literature at three levels, organisational, group and individual. This study builds on previous research as it unbundles and extends the analysis of gendered practices and highlights variations in gender related issues faced by women academics in the IoT sector, such as, structural placement and control of women. Specifically, there is some evidence that, as a result of gendered bias, academic women face an additional barrier in the workplace, shame. In addition, women are more reluctant than men to put themselves forward for advancement due to these practices. A conceptual framework for analysis of gender bias at organisational and group level, and their impacts at individual level and career direction scaffold the research.


Supervisor: Shivuan O’Brien


Mac Mahon, Mary (2018) The leadership experiences of the Assistant Directors of nursing in the Dublin Academic Teaching Hospitals (DATH). 


The profession of nursing has undergone significant change in the last century but more so in the last two decades since the Report of the Commission on Nursing (1998). This Report is highlighted because of its significant contribution to the advancement of the profession. It heralded radical change both in education requirements and the structure of the profession. This study took place at a time when the Department of Health was in the process of developing systems to restructure the acute hospital system in Ireland into seven hospital groups with the objective of eventually converting the groups into Hospital Trusts similar to the English system. The aim of the study was to explore the leadership experience of the Assistant Directors of Nursing (ADON) in five of the six Dublin Academic Teaching Hospitals referred to as DATHs. Both the historical context and the current role of the nursing profession were explored including the role of the Assistant Director of Nursing. Twenty participants were interviewed using phenomenological methodology with Giorgi’s Framework being used for analysis. The role of the ADON was found to be multifaceted and is discussed in the context of the characteristics of transformational and transactional leadership. Themes identified included aspects of both these styles of leadership with a strong emphasis on Governance and patient safety. The essential meaning structure of the phenomenon that was highlighted in the study relates to the balance the Assistant Directors must maintain between their clinical role and their management role. At the time of the study, Ireland (and the world), was in an economic crisis and this was reflected in the health service budget. This was mirrored in the experiences of the ADONs. In their managerial role, they were given directives for budget savings while in their clinical professional role they were managing the clinical environment with staff shortages and a moratorium on recruitment with resultant governance and patient safety concerns. Patient safety concerns were paramount with this group and remained so when cutbacks and workloads became more demanding.


Supervisor: Shivaun O’Brien


O'Sullivan, Daniel (2018) When society itches schools must scratch Identifying challenges facing the management of foster children in post primary schools (The case of Ireland).


This study examines the challenges facing the management of foster children in post-primary schools in Ireland through the lens of the various stakeholders (principals, teachers and social workers in the education of foster children). It also seeks to articulate how those charged with the educational remit may be enabled by evaluating the difficulties, identifying the stress points, and the resources required, to increase the effectiveness of teachers and improve the learning engagement of foster children. The author presents a review of the literature by comparing the Irish experience with international practices to identify trends consistent and divergent with the different concepts of management and engagement of foster children and how these complementary, and at times contradictory, concepts have managed to influence the foster child’s learning trajectory. Finally, the study concludes by triangulating the primary research in an Irish context with both national and international literature to identify the main stress points and to propose workable solutions around resourcing and collaboration. An adaptation of Bronfenbrenner’s socio-ecological theory complemented by a socio-constructivist paradigm was considered the best approach which the author advanced by conducting concurrent exploratory qualitative research with semi-structured interviews of a cross-section of teachers, principals, and social workers. Findings suggest that the school may be the only constant in a foster child's environment, and that the relationship between the teacher and foster child was more akin to a that of a counsellor and client. In addition, systematic barriers exist that may preclude engagement with the various stakeholders, and there is also a suggestion that the educational remit relies firmly on building relationships between the foster child and their various stakeholders, focussing on the education contract to facilitate the optimum conditions for success. The findings offer blended insights to evaluate the care system in context to inform policy, while empowering all stakeholders in the timely management of the foster child’s learning experiences.


Supervisor: Martin Brown

O'Shea, Seamus (2018) An examination of the implementation of Ireland’s new higher education system performance framework in a sample of higher education institutions. 

An Examination of the Implementation of Ireland’s New Higher Education System Performance Framework in a Sample of Higher Education Institutions. Seamus O Shea, B.Sc., M.Eng. This research study seeks to examine the implementation of Ireland’s new higher education system performance framework (HESPF), through its first 2014-2016 three-year strategic compact cycle, in a sample of higher education institutions (HEIs). In particular, the study explores the extent to which the framework aids or inhibits institutional planning; whether institutional goals are being aligned with the national agenda; if the national performance indicators for the higher education sector are incentivising behaviour; and institutional capacity to support the national policy objectives. An exploratory case study design frame is used to address the research question, with cases drawn from small, medium sized, and large institutions in the Southern regional cluster. A concurrent triangulation design strategy is deployed with qualitative data drawn from 24 key informants and strategic compacts, and quantitative data elicited from 92 questionnaires. Oliver’s strategic response framework (Oliver 1991) was adapted for qualitative data analysis and factor analysis combined with ANOVA was utilised to investigate patterns and associations in quantitative data. The HESPF is generally considered a good concept that has resulted in improved accountability through a process of constructive dialogue between the HEA and HEIs. Strategic planning capacity building, self- reflection and institutional learning are regarded as strengths of the process. However, the process is regarded as not being conducted at a sufficiently strategic level, not enabled by funding, a bureaucratic overload, potentially open to deceptive tactics and there are mixed views on the extent to which it improves visibility on performance. The level of realism in the national KPIs was found to be questionable in the current funding environment and the KPIs are regarded as not impacting behaviour in any significant way. The results of this study shed light on key implementation issues in a strategic compact process that is generally aligned with the common characteristics of such performance agreements internationally (De Boer et al. 2015).


Supervisor: Joe O’Hara


Sheridan, Niamh (2018) A fusion of horizons: an exploration of text and context in the formation of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency

This thesis is an exploration of the creation of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. This state agency was formed in January 2014 with a vision of creating an organisation which would improve the safety and welfare of children in the Irish state. The creation of this agency heralded fundamental changes, including the disaggregation of children’s services from the Health Service Executive, the dissolution of other non-governmental agencies and the reorientation of community organisations working in the area of children’s services. This study focuses on the relationship between aspiration and reality and aims to explicate both the apparent and subterranean connections between one government report – ‘‘Report of the Task Force on the Child and Family Support Agency (2012)’’ and the experience of front line workers during the implementation of the findings of this report. The study is placed at the intersection between text and context and aspiration and reality, and explores the emerging paradoxes within this public sector reform process drawing on a range of disciplines, including social policy, anthropology, geography, complexity sciences and philosophy.



Supervisor(s): Joe O’Hara & Martin Stynes


O'Connor, Christopher (2018) An evaluation of novel methodologies to support reflective practice among pre-hospital emergency care practitioners.

Background: In the education of pre-hospital emergency care practitioners in Ireland, it is only in the last decade that the notion of reflective practice has been tentatively approached as a strategy for learning. Until recently it has largely been ignored as practitioners and educators alike have been slow to engage with this new way of learning. The purpose of this research project is to examine the value of employing novel methodologies, such as reflective discussion of real-life patient encounters, the use of audiovisual recording technology in medical simulation and real-life patient encounters, to facilitate reflection in order to support reflective learning and reflective practice, both individually and collaboratively, among pre-hospital emergency care practitioners. Literature: The research was informed by reviewing literature from a number of areas including: Adult Learning, Reflective Practice, Educational Research directly relating to Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and EMS & Nursing Journals and publications. Methodologies: An action research model consisting of three cycles was employed. Data was collected via an online survey questionnaire, and by conducting a series of semi-structured interviews with various stake-holders. These included all three clinical levels of pre-hospital emergency care practitioners and educators from emergency service providers, private ambulance services, and voluntary organisations. Findings: Many practitioners consider themselves to be reflective practitioners. However, very few of them use a structured model of reflection. Reflection, and reflective practice are not part of the education standards for practitioners in Ireland, and consequently receive very little attention in most education programmes. All three new methodologies were deemed to be beneficial by practitioners and educators alike. Collaborative forums were also found to be beneficial, although concerns were raised about their potential for abuse and misuse. Recommendations: Reflective practice to be included in the education standards for all levels of practitioners in Ireland. Education for course faculty regarding reflection, reflective learning, and reflective practice. Audio-visual recording of simulated scenarios to be available to students and practitioners to facilitate reflection. A learning contract to be in place prior to any collaborative forums.


Supervisor: Joe O’Hara


Langan, Eoin (2018) An evaluation of an introductory module to support students with the transition to Irish higher education


The transition from post primary to Higher Education in Ireland can be the most challenging undertaken by students on their educational journey. Wintre and Yaffe (2000, p. 10) point out that “as students transition from the support frameworks of schools, they commonly find it difficult to manage the level of autonomy and flexibility which comes as part of the higher education environment”. This transition is complex and multidimensional. This research study examines how one element of the support system that Higher Education Institutions can provide i.e. a dedicated module that introduces students to the academic and broader skills required for success in their new academic journey and beyond. Taking a mixed methods approach within the philosophical framework of pragmatism, the research gathers perspectives from both students who have undertaken the module in the Business Schools of three Irish Higher Education Institutions and academic staff who were either drivers of the adoption and/or involved with teaching the module. In addition, the research examines students’ perceptions of ‘mindset’, as outlined by psychologist Professor Carol Dweck (2008). The main findings of the research project conclude that concerns with the adequacy of the Leaving Certificate programme plus the implementation of Government Policy were the main drivers for the adoption of a dedicated module to support transition. Also, it was discovered that student’s views of the module are positive, with 70% rating their overall experience of the module as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. It is of note that students do not fully appreciate the benefits of the module until later in their studies. Confidence gained from undertaking presentations and the value of group/team work were perceived as the best aspects of the module. A more specific and targeted integration with other modules across the curricula is seen as the main area for enhancement. Student views of self-theories were positive, with 83% having either ‘a strong growth’ or ‘growth mindset’.


Supervisor: Joe O’Hara




Brennan, Fionnuala (2017) Working and learning lives springboard student experiences. 


This research examines the experience of mature students on work placement as part of Information and Communications Technology programmes at Waterford Institute of Technology. Participants have availed of free college places through the government funded Springboard initiative, which has as its aim to support unemployed people to return to the paid work force. A phenomenological approach is taken in the data gathering, analysis and presentation. Fourteen interviews were carried out, with seven men and seven women between 2015 and 2016. The phenomenon is embedded in the broader experience of the period in Ireland and in particular the experience of the South-East region. Five themes emerge and a model entitled Meaning-Making in Work Transitions is presented to accommodate these. The first is the situated nature of participant experience within their own personal context. This context includes wider society and economy, but also participants’ cultural, social and personal lives. Secondly, participants demonstrate the will and ability to reinvent themselves which is represented under the theme of adaptability. Third, work decisions for participants are taken in the context of their personal relationships which falls under the theme of relationality. The fourth theme is narratability which represents how participants create a coherent working identity, including accommodating change and transition, in the telling of their working life. The fifth and final theme is at the centre of the work transition experience, and that is meaning-making. Participants demonstrate the desire to find work that aligns with a sense of self, and allows a sense of purpose and meaning. This research adds to the developing work of Blustein (2011), Savickas (2013) and Savickas et al. (2009) in an emerging career theory for a globalised economy. Participant experience points to the value of continued funded opportunities, beyond the economic imperative for national recovery, for mature learners seeking to make a change in career.


Supervisor: Gerry McNamara


O'Reilly, Orflaith (2017) Assessment matters; academics' orientations to assessment within undergraduate nursing education. A phenomenographic informed study


Academics are very aware of the primacy of assessment in shaping student learning in higher education. For many students, it is only when faced with completing an assessment or a deadline that their serious engagement with learning material commences. Assessment serves many purposes including as a measure of the quality of teaching, student learning, institutional and programme accountability. Yet, how academics view and experience assessment has received little or no attention in the research literature. Within the context of nursing education, it has received almost none. The range and amount of assessment provided by academics, undertaken by student nurses over four years (in an Irish context) and processed within institutions provide a multitude of information about learning. It is only on successful completion of all assessment is a student deemed eligible for registration. A neglected aspect of research is how academics view and experience their assessing role in this context. This study explored views on, and experiences of, nineteen academics assessing within undergraduate nursing education in one academic unit in Ireland. This was with a view to describe if differences in orientations to assessment could be identified. A phenomenographic informed approach, with its origins in educational research, was used to explore the topic. Three orientations were described. Within the first orientation, conventional assessment was applied within foundational human science modules to large student groups. The second orientation was depicted as using more active assessing processes to engage students more deeply with learning. How participants' relate to assessment in the third orientation was integrating assessment and feedback within a module of learning. Orientations reflect a shifting emphasis from teaching, assessment, and feedback as independent activities to overlapping one’s; and these findings have implications. This study, its findings, and recommendations will interest those engaged in assessment scholarship and assessment within undergraduate nursing education.


Supervisor: Martin Brown


Dr. Alia G. M. Ashkanani

An investigation of the application of the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) to evaluate Instructors’ Perspectives on E-Learning at Kuwait University.

In one of the first studies of its kind Dr. Ashkanani sought to evaluate the  perceptions of instructors working in Kuwait University with regards to the use of e-learning in the university. The study used the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) (Davis, 1989) to assess the impact of a range of factors on e-learning usage. TAM as applied in this study suggests that there are a number of core constructs that impact on e-learning usage with two of the most important being Perceived Usefulness (PU) and Perceived Ease of Use (PEOU) . The study also sought to explore the impact of instructors’ Attitude (ATT) toward the use of e-learning at KU. Finally it examined external such as Computer Self-Efficacy (CSE), Technical Support (TS) and University Strategic Focus (USF).

Using a mixed methods approach Dr. Ashkanani’s study found that the instructors’ PU of e-learning directly affects their ATT toward the use of the system. Also, the instructors’ PEOU is found through PU to indirectly affect their ATT. In addition, CSE has a significant effect on PU, but less so on PEOU, and, indirectly so, on ATT. Also, a significant effect is found, of TS on PU and in less magnitude on PEOU, and, indirectly on ATT. USF is found to have insignificant effects on PU and a weak effect on PEOU. Moreover, based on the qualitative analysis findings, USF is argued, to be the factor resulting in the most negative attitude toward the use of e-learning by KU instructors. This is due to three causes: Poor policy setting, lack of motivation measures, and ineffective training. The study has been well received internationally and will be used to inform the development of the next iteration of e-learning in Kuwait. It demonstrates the ability of a well structured evaluation to positively impact on educational provision in under-researched context.

Supervisors: Dr. James Lovatt , Prof. Joe O’Hara and Dr. Abeer Al Hassan



 Dr. Jane O’Kelly

 How can an online community of practice support an undergraduate’s learning experience on a research module?

This study focuses on the evaluation of the introduction of an online community of practice (COP)  into the final year of an undergraduate degree in education and training. The research was undertaken through a collective case study using a mixed methods approach to examine two separate year groups of students’ reactions to, and use of a COP.

This study found that students perceived a number of benefits from participating in a COP. These included a greater connection with peers through sharing insights and resources; alleviation of stress through benchmarking with peers; high levels of affective, cognitive and psychomotor learning; direct and timely access to expert assistance and feedback, an recognition that collaboration and co-operation is not only useful but desirable when pursuing individual goals in a shared domain. There was no clear relationship between learning style, sense of community and levels of learning. Students who declared an Accommodating and/or Diverging learning style tended to interact more than those with Assimilating or Converging learning styles. This is consistent with the characteristics of these styles. The COP also provided a bridging online space for traditional and mature students to engage with each other, overcoming assumptions and stereotypical attitudes in the process.

Supervisor: Prof Joe O'Hara 


Dr. Ahmed Alblowi

An Evaluation of the Effectiveness and validity of the preparatory year programme in preparing students for studying in Taibah university in Saudi Arabia

This study is entitled ‘Evaluation of the Effectiveness and Validity of the Preparatory Year Programme at preparing Students for Studying in Taibah University’. Within the Taibah University, students are distributed to the various specializations at the university according to their results at the end of this preparatory year. It is a relatively new programme that has not been subjected to sufficient evaluation. The study explored the strengths and weaknesses of the programme with a focus on identifying ways to contribute to its improvement and development. The study used a mixed approach where the use of multiple linear regression was used to examine the ability of the admission criteria to predict the academic performance of programme students through examining the results of 3878 students. The results show that stronger acceptance criteria were provided by the achievement test followed by a student’s high-school mark and finally a capability test. To evaluate the effectiveness of the programme elements and the achievement of its objectives from the perspective of students and trainers, data was collected through 1972 student questionnaires, 98 trainer questionnaires and eight semi-structured interviews with students and four with trainers. Studying the effectiveness of the programme from the viewpoint of faculty members was done using 167 questionnaires and five semi-structured interviews. The results show the weaknesses of the university environment and the failure of the programme to meet its goals from the students’ and trainers’ viewpoints. The evaluation by faculty members of the effectiveness of the programme showed a positive view of the programme and expressed the view that students who have completed the programme have better skills and more knowledge than those who have not. The study recommended to allocate the largest proportion of a weighted percentage for acceptance to achievement test-results, followed by high school, and finally aptitude test-results. Furthermore, the study found that the teaching and assessment methods need to be reviewed, and the content and goals of the preparatory year programme would benefit from being re-aligned. 

Supervisor: Prof Gerry McNamara

Dr. Eileen Breslin

Exploring the experience of high-ability students from socio-economic disadvantaged schools participating in a summer academic programme

This thesis focuses on exploring and evaluating the experience of student participants’ in the Aiming High initiative. This initiative was launched in 2010 by the Centre of Talented Youth, Ireland (CTYI) in order to address the under-representation of high-ability second-level students from low-income families within CTYI’s older student summer programmes. The need for this programme, and in turn, for such research developed out of an awareness regarding the under-representation of students from areas of disadvantage within programmes focusing on the development of academic talent at CTYI (and within the field of gifted education). In addition, there was a general perception that these young people are less likely to take part in higher education upon completion of their secondary school studies. The study applies a qualitative case study methodology and uses of a number of research methods, (questionnaires, interviews, & focus groups) with different sets of research participants (students, parents & schools) and across a number of years (2011-2014). The research findings indicate four key themes; academic, social, and personal benefits together with a small number of negative consequences. This case addresses a deficit in the literature which calls for strategies focusing on the talent development of high-ability, low-income students through the presentation of a detailed description of this innovative programme. The findings from this case study provide important lessons about this population of students which may provide readers with valuable insights should the programme be replicated in the future.

Supervisor: Prof Joe O'Hara



Dr. Gerard McHugh

The Leadership careers of selected primary school principals

This thesis explored the leadership role of the Primary School Principal in Ireland. It examined the making of a principal (formation), becoming a principal (accession) and being a principal (incumbency). It painted a portrait of accession to principalship and investigated how participating principals perceive the role of principal early in the second decade of 21st century and moreover what inspires and sustains them in their work.A review of literature included works on leadership, leadership in education, career history approaches and the history of the Primary School Principal in Ireland. Twelve principals were interviewed for a period of between one and half and two and a half hours each.The study was located within a phenomenological paradigm using a qualitative methodology. The research tool used was the face to face semi- structured interview combined with a life story and career history approach to studying school leaders. The thesis found that Irish Primary Principals are very highly motivated, they believe they have high levels of autonomy in many areas of their work and that they are accountable to many stakeholders. Further findings are described under five themes; Values/Moral Purpose/Interests of Children; Empowerment; Frustrations; Passion and Pride and Emerging Landscapes. While principals are extremely positive about their role they acknowledge many significant frustrations accompanying the role in a time of uncertainty. A number of recommendations were made which may be of interest to principals, policy makers and researchers.

Supervisor: Prof Gerry McNamara


Dr. Bernadette McHugh

An evaluation of a blended programme of teacher education in Ireland

The purpose of this research was to examine the blended-learning primary teacher education course, the Higher Diploma in Arts in Education (HDAPE), offered by Hibernia College in Ireland with a view to ascertaining what can be learned from this unique course that might inform future practice at college and national levels. An investigation of this blended-learning course is warranted as it has not been conducted previously and thereby this research adds to the bank of knowledge on teacher education. Hibernia College is unique because it is the only private provider of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) for primary and post-primary teachers in Ireland. Furthermore it is the only provider to utilise a blended-learning approach and now as the largest provider of primary teachers in Ireland, Hibernia College exerts a significant influence on the number of primary teachers trained using the consecutive model of ITE. This researcher used a mixed methods approach gathering both qualitative and quantitative data. A qualitative investigation of the genesis of the college, the values underpinning the HDAPE programmes, how quality provision is assured and the opinions of external evaluators on the programme was undertaken through the use of interviews and document analysis. A questionnaire elicited the student experience of the programme. Finally school principals’ views were sought on their opinions of graduates from Hibernia College as practising teachers. A series of recommendations, arising from the findings, which have implications for Hibernia College (13) and for the wider education community (4) were posited along with possible future research enquiries.


Supervisor: Prof Gerry McNamara

Dr. Brian Ladden

School Evaluation: An exploration of the impact of evaluation on the teaching staff of an Irish post-primary school

This study researches the topic of evaluation in the Irish school system. In particular, it investigates the development and implementation of School Self-Evaluation (SSE) in an Irish post-primary school and assesses the impact of Whole School Evaluation (WSE) on the teaching staff in the same school. The perceptions of the teaching staff are analysed to assess the impact of the two processes on the school. The two systems of evaluation are examined for insights into how they affect factors such as leadership, the autonomy and empowerment of teachers, teamwork and the satisfaction levels of teachers; factors that have been cited as being important to the delivery of a high standard of education provision. School evaluation is a complex and multi-dimensional construct that is best studied in its natural setting. The study uses a mixed-method, case-study design within the constructivist research paradigm. The main research methods used are survey questionnaires, interviews and a focus group. The overall conclusion of this study is that both forms of evaluation impact significantly on teachers and can help improve their practices. Both processes can satisfy the accountability requirements of the stakeholders of the school and simultaneously help to improve and develop the performance of the teachers and the school. The two forms of evaluation are beneficial to the school in differing ways. The strengths of one process can compensate for the weaknesses of the other. While the findings support the overall thrust of the Department of Education and Skills (DES), viz. a dual approach to evaluation - self-evaluation coupled with light touch external evaluation, a number of issues are raised regarding how the process is currently implemented. The study found a disconnect between the stated need to embed SSE in the development of a professional planning process in the school and the narrow focus of gathering quantitative data and setting numerical targets. In relation to WSE, this study identifies a need to establish a more equitable and supportive relationship between the inspectorate and schools; one in which the inspectorate act as mentors to teachers and engage in discussion with them on how best to improve teaching and learning. The real strength of self-evaluation is its potential to improve the empowerment levels of teachers and to increase their capacity for change. It also facilitates the engagement of teachers in ongoing reflection and enables a discourse on the broader issues relating to education that creates a culture of learning and school improvement.  

Supervisor: Prof Gerry McNamara


Dr. Bernadette Ward

CAM, is there an Irish solution? A needs analysis of the Irish CAM community with a focus on training and practice

Public demand for a range of Complementary and Alternative Medicine treatments is consistent in Ireland and the wider EU. This has created the need for professionally trained therapists across a range of CAM therapies to meet this demand. The provision of education and training to CAM therapists has resulted in the emergence of a significant area of private adult education and professional employment in Ireland. This study sought to investigate and evaluate the Irish CAM community, in order to explore the historical background, current status and future needs of this sector. Taking a mixed methodology approach, within a post positivist exploratory paradigm, the study used both quantitative and qualitative research tools to explore this sector. Within that paradigm a framework for a sector needs analysis was used to guide the study. The historical background and formation of this community within an Ireland of the 70s and 80s, present status, concerns and their future needs were examined within this study. Research tools used were an online questionnaire with comment text boxes and one to one stakeholder interviews. Purposive sampling of representative CAM stakeholders was used to include Learning Providers, Professional Regulators and Practitioners, active and representative of their sector. The main themes which emerged from this study gave an in depth understanding of this community and a comparison of similar CAM communities in the UK and the EU. Data collected from both the quantitative and qualitative elements of this study helped to identify the concerns and needs of this sector which may inform policy makers in their efforts for the future. 

Supervisor: Prof Joe O'Hara

Dr. Kieran Doyle

Evaluating and improving the delivery of work-based learning

This thesis extrapolates lessons on work-based learning from a learning programme delivered by an Institute of Technology in a hotel between November 2009 and April 2011. Delivery of work-based learning to line employees involved multiple interactions between the Institute and the hotel. By focussing on these interactions, this thesis exposes dialectical tensions which largely emanate from the hotels operational imperative, but are also provoked by the academic institutes approach to delivery of learning in the workplace. Design/Methodology/Approach In order to gain a better understanding of delivery of work-based learning in a medium-sized hotel, this empirical research employs an inductive case study evaluation (Yin, 2009). Qualitative data are gathered through document review and semi-structured interviews. Stewart and Rigg’s (2011) theoretical model for design of learning solutions is used to scaffold emergent findings. These interpretative findings are then considered by experts from tertiary education and the hospitality, tourism and leisure industry, using a Delphi study. This refractive exercise with subject matter experts informed analysis of the findings, and facilitated ‘analytic generalisations’ (Yin, 2009). Findings This research reveals internal dichotomy between human resource management (people development) and operations management (systems focus) in the hotel, reflecting oscillating power tensions emanating from normative values within this establishment. The findings demonstrate that completion of a work-based learning programme may reshape self- identity and perceptions, but also risks rupturing the safety of the familiar (Zemyblas, 2005). Higher Education discourse around work-based learning encourages contemplative values; however these values are not embraced by operational management in the hotel. Overarching issues, such as accreditation and pedagogy, encourage discursive mismatches and inertia between the Institute and the workplace. These issues are compounded by absence of support resources for academics and delivery mechanisms for work-based learning.The study recommends closer tangible binds between current government agency policy and institute rhetoric to reduce the level of risk associated with work-based learning at meso (institutional) and micro (individual) environment. Originality/Value An important contribution of this research is an understanding of what work based learning actually involves and the impact of those actions. More can be gained in understanding work-based learning by researching actual behaviours rather than descriptions of potential. This research makes a contribution to defining this aspect of higher education in Ireland, and to developing a set of performance standards in delivery.

Supervisor: Prof Gerry McNamara