Improving Learner Academic Outcomes in Further Education: The Role of Mental Well-Being and Personal Resources

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The purpose of this thesis was to examine factors that impact on FE learner academic outcomes in Wales. Supplementing this aim, emphasis was placed on providing greater insights into the potential impact of mental well-being (MWB) on academic metrics.

Conducted in partnership with Coleg-y-Cymoedd, this thesis consists of three empirical research studies that adopted a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods and extended periods of data collection. Collectively, these studies were designed to address four objectives: (a) uncover the reasons why learners drop-out from their chosen course; (b) examine the potential impact of MWB on learner metrics (e.g., retention, engagement, attainment); (c) investigate current strategies aimed at promoting MWB and personal resources for learners; and (d) design, deliver, and evaluate an intervention strategy aimed at improving learner MWB and personal resources.

Following interviews with learners (n = 85) who had withdrawn from FE over a two-year period, in study one, results indicated that personal reasons, specifically mental health and well-being, were most prevalent and influential causes for withdrawal. In addition, a learner’s (in)ability to cope with the demands they experienced had an impact on their MWB. While factors that contributed to a FE learner’s decision to withdraw were identified, the extent of the relationships was not established.

Consequently, in study two, a longitudinal, quantitative research design was utilised to examine the impact of MWB and resilience on FE learner academic outcomes. Findings reported that MWB alone was not a significant predictor of any academic outcome, however, it was highlighted that MWB was below the Welsh National Average across time. The findings identified academic resilience (AR) as a significant predictor of MWB, engagement and retention, thus positing that AR should be recognised as a fundamental personal resource for sustaining higher levels of functioning during demanding academic situations. Studies one and two helped to substantiate a need for further efforts to be made to promote the MWB and resilience of learners in FE. Thus, a multi-phase, mixed-methods research design was adopted for study three to develop an evidence and contextually informed intervention to enhance learner MWB and resilience.

Phase one of study three explored the strategies currently in place within the participating FE institution that aim to promote learner MWB and resilience, and to gain insight into potential opportunities to improve the effectiveness of those strategies and/or to integrate novel approaches. Phase one findings informed the development, delivery, and evaluation of a bespoke intervention (phase two). This intervention aimed to improve learners’ understanding of MWB, resilience, and stress, as well as improve their ability to maintain their own MWB, improve their resilience, and manage demands they experience through effective coping. Following the brief 4-week intervention, participants reported increased knowledge and understanding of MWB and resilience, and an increased ability to utilise coping strategies to manage demands. Statistical analysis demonstrated no significant difference in MWB, resilience, and perceived stress scores between intervention and control groups, however, the intervention group fared better overall.

The research presented in this thesis offers novel insights into the relationships that exist between MWB, resilience and academic metrics in a previously under researched educational context (e.g., FE). It exemplifies how greater efforts are required by FE institutions to facilitate environments that are conducive in supporting learner MWB and provide opportunities for learners to engage with strategies that directly target the development of both MWB and resilience. Such efforts increase the likelihood of learners being able to cope with the demands they face, function more effectively as result of greater levels of MWB and facilitate improved academic metrics.
Date of Award2024
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBrendan Cropley (Supervisor) & David Shearer (Supervisor)

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