The dynamics of Learner Engagement: A Critical Investigation of a Visual Arts Initiative at a Pupil Referral Unit in the North-West of England


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This PhD thesis examines a range of intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamics surrounding the concept of learner engagement. It does so by critically investigating a visual arts initiative delivered to a small group of Key Stage 3 students at a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in the North West of England. Participating students took part in an artist-led workshop which aimed to enrich the school's pre-existing curriculum by expanding the range creative art activities available to students and by thematically integrating these activities with topics previously covered in other subject lessons. In order to permit a more in-depth investigation of the educational experiences of these participants, a single-case study design was employed whereby multiple sources of evidence were analysed in accordance with two key theoretical perspectives in the psychology of educational engagement. Self-determination theory was drawn upon in order to consider individual level units of analysis and cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) was employed in order to consider the wider contextual factors that
might influence the overall efficacy of the programme. Using a mixture of methods (i.e., questionnaires, interviews and classroom observations) allied to each perspective, staff and students' perceptions of their school environment were examined in order to identify how they had developed their own experientially-based understanding of what constitutes learner engagement within their particular educational environment. From here the analysis moves on to critically comparing the everyday classroom experiences of the students as they participated in the art initiative with that of students participating in subject lessons. By evaluating an educational initiative of this nature with respect to two prominent theoretical perspectives on student engagement, a more in-depth understanding is developed on the psychological processes underpinning learners' engagement amidst the everyday complexities that surround alternative educational environments. The results have implications for how teachers in this context reflect upon their practice.
Date of Award10 Oct 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorDAVID PUTWAIN (Director of Studies) & VICTOR MERRIMAN (Supervisor)


  • learner engagement
  • self-determination theory
  • cultural historical

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