The Near to School Research Project


The Releasing Potential Institute is committed to funding and undertaking academic research projects alongside collaborative partners. Our most recent education research project focuses on the impact of ‘Near to School’, an education intervention course for children at risk of permanent exclusion from school. The ‘Near to School’ research project is funded by Releasing Potential and is now in its final stages of completion by the Principle Investigator at the University of Portsmouth.


Working title

‘Developing Alternative Provision for School Excluded Young People: Social Pedagogical Reflections on a Local Initiative’

Principal Investigator: Dr Kieron Hatton, Principle Lecturer in Social Work and Social Care (University of Portsmouth)

Secondary Investigator: Dr Catherine Brennan (Releasing Potential)



The University of Portsmouth was approached by the CEO of Releasing Potential (RP), a local third sector organisation. They wished to evaluate a project they run locally with the Harbour School, a specialist School working with young people who are either excluded from mainstream education or at risk of such exclusion.

Releasing Potential delivers a range of alternative education programmes across Hampshire and West Sussex, including its own full time SEN provision. The organisation promotes the efficacy of a holistic approach to education, focused on building relationships based on mutual trust with young people and their families. To this end RP offers opportunities for young people to focus on social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) which, it is intended, will improve outcomes across the spectrum of their experience at home, at school and elsewhere. A key part of the approach is to incorporate outdoor adventurous activities into the curriculum, which allow young people to build ‘soft’ skills in communication, team work, and problem solving, and to develop positive self-identity out of achievement through managed risk. This mirrors the social pedagogic approach used in our social work curricula (Hatton, 2013).

The relationship between Releasing Potential and Harbour School began in 2003, when RP delivered outdoor education sessions to groups of Harbour students. The current project ‘Near to School’ developed as a response to a need, identified by both Harbour and RP, for pro-active respite provision, which would support young people at risk of permanent exclusion, thus relieving pressure on schools and on capacity at Harbour.  Near to School is delivered in partnership between Releasing Potential and Harbour; Releasing Potential employs the Project Leader, and the Assistant is employed by Harbour. Whilst RP is responsible for all delivery and management of the course, Harbour resources are available for support when needed.

The aim of Near to School is to help young people maintain their place in mainstream education, and, in some cases, to reintegrate them into mainstream education after exclusion or temporary placement at Harbour. This is achieved through engaging them in an intensive 8- week programme of social and emotional development which takes place at The Lodge in the grounds of Harbour School, but which is run in conjunction with the schools from which the young people are referred (a cluster of 9 secondary schools in the Portsmouth area). The first 4 weeks involve attendance 3 days a week at Harbour and up to 2 days a week in the referring School. The second 4 weeks involve working directly with the young people in their own school environment. This is followed by up to 12 weeks 1:1 support for the participating young people. The programme includes elements of outdoor activities. At any one time 8 young people participate in the programme. Their ages range from 11 – 15 (year groups 7 – 10). Central to the approach is work with the young people’s families which is undertaken by the two project workers. The project is closely supported by senior staff (Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress) at the Harbour School.

The project has been running for about 7 years and the participating organisations (principally Harbour School and Releasing Potential, but also including referring schools) are keen to evaluate the impact of the project to see whether it has the potential to be rolled out more widely, at regional and national levels.



The aim of the research is to: Evaluate the impact of the Near to School (N2S)  project in reintegrating excluded young people into mainstream education;

The objectives of the research are:

  • To look at the delivery of the Near to School project over the last three years
  • To scope existing literature to identify gaps in current knowledge and to use the findings to disseminate new knowledge through peer reviewed journal s and conferences
  • To elicit the views of those professionals in Harbour School and Releasing Potential of the operation of the Near to School project
  • To elicit the views of those parents and young people participating in N2S
  • To hear the ‘voice’ of the young people using the project and their families
  • To produce recommendations about the project for use by the Harbour School and Releasing Potential
  • To produce a framework for future use with young people who have been school excluded which can be applied at regional and national level



Releasing Potential provided access to interviewees and their families, files on participants and point of entry to the staff and children using Harbour School for the project.

It is envisaged that the evaluation would involve interviews with:

  • A sample of the young people participating, n= 15 – 20
  • Their families, n= 15 – 20
  • Member of the Harbour school staff, n= 1
  • The project workers and the CEO from Releasing potential, n= 3
  • The Lead professionals from the referring schools working with excluded or potentially excluded young people (n= 7 schools x 1 representative) = 7

The interviews would be in the form of semi-structured interviews, to allow the young people, their families and the professionals involved to fully express their views about the programme and the impact it has had on the young people’s behaviour and their relationship with perceived authority figures (parents, teachers) and other young people (Goodley and Clough, 2004). There would be follow up interviews with young people and their families 9 months after the original interviews to establish whether any improvements had been sustained ( (Davies et al, 2003; Evans, 2013; Goodall and Montgomery, 2014; Hornby and Rafael, 2011; Stamou et al, 2014). The improvements will be measured by a) examining reports on behaviour of returning students from referring schools b) interviews with N2S staff c) follow up interviews with young people and their families (n = 6) (ECQ 3). The interviews with professionals would take place through individual interviews with relevant staff including staff in referring schools.

The research population was drawn from young people and their families who have accessed the Near to School project. The professionals providing the service and those facilitating the service will also be part of the research population. This comprises young people excluded from the 9 secondary schools in the Portsmouth area.

Members of the young people and their families population have not been involved in the research design, although the professionals have been fully involved. Releasing Potential have been involved in reviewing participant information sheets, consent forms and interview schedules.


Some ethical considerations

The participating young people are vulnerable as they have already been excluded from school and have faced the material and stigmatised consequences of that exclusion. However the Principal Investigator is a registered social worker with wide experience of working with vulnerable people. The staff at Harbour School are specifically trained to work with young people excluded from School and the members of Releasing Potential working on the research are respectively a registered social worker and a qualified counsellor. The research will seek to minimise harm and manage distress and the participants and their families will be advised that they can withdraw from the research at any time. Appropriate professional support is in place to ensure that participants and their families are supported throughout the research. It will be made clear at the outset to all participating young people and their families that any discussions which raise safeguarding issues will be referred appropriately.


Some theoretical reflections – Releasing Potential and social pedagogy

Social pedagogy is an academic discipline that draws on core theories from various related disciplines, such as education, sociology, psychology and philosophy. In essence, it is concerned with well-being, learning and growth. This is underpinned by humanistic values and principles which view people as active and resourceful agents, highlight the importance of including them into the wider community, and aim to tackle or prevent social problems and inequality.

This perspective of social pedagogy means that it is dynamic, creative, and process-orientated rather than mechanical, procedural, and automated   (Social Pedagogy Development Network downloaded from pedagogy.htm on 1/11/12).



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Full research outputs from the project will be available soon.


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