An exploratory study of classroom assistant support for special educational needs in post-primary schools in Northern Ireland

  • Christina Curran

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Little is known about the work of Classroom Assistants (CAs) supporting pupils with special educational needs (SEN) in post-primary schools in Northern Ireland (NI) despite the substantial increases in the employment of, and expenditure on, this workforce. The aim of this doctoral research is to investigate the experiences and perceptions of CAs employed in post-primary schools in NI to support pupils with SEN. A mixed method exploratory sequential study was conducted across a sample of 12 post-primary schools. The first phase featured a CA questionnaire which drew 78 responses. This was followed by a second phase of qualitative semi-structured telephone interviews with 19 CAs.

Findings indicate that the profile of assistants at post-primary level includes the employment and deployment of CAs with an uneven qualification and occupational background. The multi-faceted CA role has evolved to include the provision of a wide range of support, including significant levels of involvement in learning as well as pastoral, social, behavioural and organisational support for pupils with SEN. CAs offered wide ranging characterisations of their support roles, classroom practice and experience as paraprofessional members of the education workforce. Recommendations are offered for policy, practice, and further research.
Date of AwardJun 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorUna O'Connor Bones (Supervisor) & Linda Clarke (Supervisor)


  • Classroom assistants
  • Post-primary
  • Special educational needs SEN

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