Parent participation in early years settings in Northern Ireland
: implications for policy and practice

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study examines parental experience of 'participation' within Early Years (EY) settings in Northern Ireland. With these services designed to ensure improved short and long term outcomes for the child (HM Treasury, 1998) and society, parents have been designated by policy as the primary agents of such outcomes (DHSSPS, 2009; DE, 2012a) as a consequence of their EYS involvement. With a stated acknowledgement of the lack of 'robust assessment' of service user involvement in this context to date (Perry, 2016), this study aims to bridge that gap by exploring and analysing experiences of parent 'participation' across three cohorts in this specific region of UK: Northern Ireland. Driven by regional economic, social and educational policies focussed on the regeneration of NI following a prolonged period of political unrest and deprivation (NIE, 2016b), Early Years education is promoted as a guarantor of such regeneration with parent involvement a key component. These parent cohorts are derived from NI EY services in the public, private and voluntary sectors. This study consists of two phases: i) the identification of the key legislative and policy drivers of parent participation to inform the formulation of key themes for discussion with study recruits and ii) the collection and analysis of recruit experiences based on the themes identified. Analysis of these findings indicates that parents experience involvement rather than participation in EY services. This is not a concern for parents and there was a consistent report of a lack of interest in becoming involved in this way. The primary driver of parental involvement is self-identified need, either their own or that of their child, with negligible interest in involvement as a means to securing educational input for their child. There is mixed evidence of ideation on direct parent involvement in EY services as essential. These findings call into question the current policy-driven paradigm of parent participation and its political support.
Date of AwardDec 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDiane Hazlett (Supervisor) & Jackie Lambe (Supervisor)


  • Participation
  • Service User Participation
  • Co-production
  • Early Years

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