Evaluating the ‘’Starting out’’ programme for young unaccompanied minors through consulting young service users’ voices.

  • Application end date: 11th February 2018
  • Funding Availability: Funded PhD project (EU/UK students only)
  • Department: School of Education and Continuing Studies
  • PhD Supervisor: Dr Lexie Scherer, Dr Ann Emerson, Dr Jodi Burkett

Project code: ECYS4130218

Project description

This bursary aims to explore the under-studied area of unaccompanied refugee minors’ experiences with English language learning on arrival in the UK. The specific focus is their experiences with, and the impact of the ‘Starting Out’ scheme, set up for when they first arrive in Portsmouth.  Run by Portsmouth Ethnic Minority Achievement Service (EMAS) ‘Starting Out’ offers English language teaching, wider pastoral support, and preparation for joining school for unaccompanied minors. This PhD will involve interviewing participants who have taken part in the scheme, applying qualitative methods, with a focus on life history interviews, and a broadly ethnographic approach. The methodology will also involve participant observation with service users engaging with toolkits provided by EMAS.  The use of such methods is part of a tradition which conducts research ‘with’ rather than ‘on’ participants, which, given the instability of their past and current circumstances, combined with factors which contribute to their vulnerability, is key.The project takes an action research based approach as it seeks to reflect on an immediate problem through progressive problem solving in order to improve the service going forward.  A key aspect of the proposed project is that it will make central methodologies which concentrate upon listening to young people’s voices involved in the project.  It is also outward facing and collaborative as it will work with EMAS, who are interested in exploring with the candidate the PhDs’ findings to enhance their activities.

Research such as Morrice’s (2011) considers the ways in which refugee children story themselves, and others such as Gardner (2012) consider the experiences of transnational children and the role language learning holds for them once settled in their ‘host nation’. The experiences of young unaccompanied minors, however, warrants further scrutiny through research. Crucially, however, the project is not only concerned with learning English for the unaccompanied minors, but in acknowledging their traumatic journeys and trajectories. ‘Starting Out’ aims to also support their wellbeing, since once dispersed, uncertainty over their citizenship can be long deferred by the Home Office (Darling, 2014) and depression and poor mental health are well-documented for individuals held in limbo between places and statuses (Bronstein and Montgomery, 2011).

The project aims to explore participants’ experiences through their own words as users of facilities and tools created by EMAS, with an emphasis on taking as a given their social competence to reflect on their lived experiences (Prout and James, 1998). EMAS has been awarded funding to develop work with these young people by the DfE, and the researcher on this project will work alongside EMAS in order to reflect on the meanings they make of the project, as well as its successes and shortcomings. One of the challenges ‘Starting Out’ faces is the very different levels of English young unaccompanied minors bring, reflective of their diverse backgrounds and often fragmented educational experiences. The aim is to generate richer and more robust understandings of what has been provided by EMAS and how it builds skills for young unaccompanied minors. In these young people’s lives, access or rights to full citizenship- in the sense of having their say about their lived experiences as well as legal rights for example to remain in the UK on a more practical level- is understudied. It is, nonetheless, crucial as part of their access to democratic citizenship, life skills, and ultimately developing opportunities for a sense of belonging in the UK.

The candidate will recognise there are complex safeguarding and ethical issues when working with young unaccompanied minors. While the project will have gone through the University ethical review process, there are also other safeguarding systems to adhere to from within EMAS and through contact with  foster families, the Virtual School, and a mental health nurse involved in the ‘Starting Out’ project. A background of working with young people or vulnerable groups would be a benefit. Participants will be aged 13-18+ and so able to give their own consent. There are also acknowledged risks to the researcher (Pickering, 2001) when engaging with participants’ traumatic experiences- the opportunity to  reflect on this is part of the work of the PhD, while the candidate would also be encouraged to use support from within the university if effected by issues raised.    

Supervisor profiles

Dr Lexie Scherer

Dr Ann Emerson

Dr Jodi Burkett

Admissions criteria

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (depending upon chosen course, minimum second class or equivalent) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.  


Informal enquiries are encouraged and can be made to Dr Lexie Scherer at alexandra.scherer@port.ac.uk (02392 846034) or Dr Ann Emerson at ann.emerson@port.ac.uk (02392 845212).

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact humssresearch@port.ac.uk.

How to Apply

You can apply online at www.port.ac.uk/applyonline.  You are required to create an account which gives you the flexibility to save the form, log out and return to it at any time convenient to you.

A link to the online application form and comprehensive guidance notes can be found at www.port.ac.uk/pgapply.

When applying, please quote project code: ECYS4130218

Interview date: TBC

Start date: October 2018.

Funding notes

The fully-funded, full-time three-year studentship provides a stipend that is in line with that offered by Research Councils UK of £14,553 per annum.

The above applies for Home/EU students only. 

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