Qualitative Research


Each HeadStart area (Blackpool, Cornwall, Hull, Kent, Newham and Wolverhampton) has been developing and implementing a range of interventions and practices aimed at supporting young people’s wellbeing. Some of these have involved focusing on young people who might be under significant stress or who are at risk of experiencing a range of emotional and behavioural difficulties. We sometimes call these young people ‘at risk’. Based on the local context, each area involved in HeadStart has taken a slightly different approach to how they identify these young people who may need some extra support.

The HeadStart Learning Team are carrying out some qualitative research to find out more about these young people and the kinds of support that they receive.

Typically, the purpose of a qualitative study is to explore, often through research interviews or focus groups, what people say in terms of their opinions, perceptions, and experiences of particular situations, feelings, or issues. For example, the aim of one qualitative study might be to explore what young people’s experiences of having depression are like, to try and describe what it can mean or feel like to young people to be under stress.

Aims of this qualitative study

  • To examine young people’s perceptions and experiences of vulnerability, risk, and coping
  • To examine young people’s engagement with a range of support over a 5-year period
  • To examine young people’s perceptions of the short- and long-term impact of support on their mental wellbeing (and the mechanisms behind this)
  • To examine young people’s perceptions of other factors promoting or hindering their mental wellbeing

How will we do this?

Annual (once per year) face-to-face interviews or conversations will be conducted by members of the HeadStart Learning Team with 10-15 young people at each partnership (max. 1 hour in length) over a 5-year period. For the majority of the partnerships, these young people will be identified at 1-2 schools per partnership. These young people will have had different experiences of risk, e.g. some may have experienced more risk factors (or stressors) in their lives, whereas others may have experienced fewer.

We will aim to work closely with a subset of schools in each of the HeadStart areas to carry out this qualitative research. In most of the HeadStart areas, the interviews will have commenced when the young people were in Year 7 (January–July 2017), with the final timepoint being when these young people are in Year 11. All interviews will be audio recorded and transcribed.

We are asking schools (or other relevant HeadStart team members) to help in introducing the qualitative study to young people, in terms of:

  • explaining the aims and nature of the research,
  • gaining signed parental consent for young people to take part, and
  • arranging the interviews with young people.

We will support schools in this process by providing detailed guidance, information sheets, and materials.

We will need to schedule the interviews all in the same 5-day period at any given local area (partnership). Ideally, the interviews could be conducted on school premises (e.g. at lunch time and immediately after school) to minimise time/expense spent travelling between interview locations. However, if necessary, interviews could also be conducted in home and community settings.