Joanne Callaghan


I studied BSc (Hons) Psychology at the University of York (1998-2001), it was during this time that my particular interest in developmental psychology began and I focused my study in the final year on developmental disorders.  I then worked towards a primary PGCE (2001-2002) with a literacy specialism at the University of Leeds.  Following on from this I worked as a class teacher in a mainstream primary school in key stage 2 for 12 years (2002-2014).  During this time I taught all of the year groups in key stage 2 and worked as both music and literacy subject leader. 

In 2005 I began shadowing the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator (SENDCo) with a particular focus on developing provision and supporting pupils with complex needs within school.  In 2007 I was appointed as SENDCo, Inclusion Manager and member of the school senior leadership team (2007-2014). My work experience during this time contributed significantly to my perspective and provided me with insight into the challenges and reality of facilitating inclusive practice to provide relevant educational experiences for a diverse range of students.   

This motivated me to study for a full-time MA in SEN at the University of Leeds (2014-2015).  As part of this I had the opportunity to carry out an independent piece of research, where I explored an inclusive methodological approach and began to investigate the transition from primary to secondary school.  Part of this was published as a case study in an article in Hillary Place Papers ( about the link between inclusive research and inclusive education. 

Since completing my MA (2015-present) I have worked as a Specialist Teacher working to support a wide range of primary and secondary school settings to meet the needs of students with cognition and learning difficulties and complex needs.  As part of my professional development in my role as a Specialist Teacher, I completed a Post Graduate Certificate in Specific Learning Difficulties, Dyslexia through Edge Hill University (2016-2017) which led to me becoming a registered Associate Member of the British Dyslexia Association (AMBDA) and I now hold a valid Assessment Practicing Certificate (APC). My work focuses upon carrying out assessments with pupils with a broad spectrum of cognition and learning difficulties to support pupils and schools, providing support and advice for SENDCo’s and developing and delivering training to a range of professionals. 

My work experience is directly relevant to my PhD study and means that I can apply my experience to my interpretations and future development of theory.   Since starting my PhD I have become a member of the International Network of Transitions Researchers ( which is an inter-disciplinary and cross university research centre based at the University of Dundee.

Research interests

My background is in psychology and education and my wider research interests include reading, dyslexia, mental health and wellbeing in education, applying psychological concepts to education, transitions, motivation and engagement, inclusion and participation. 

Overview of Proposed PhD Research

The transition from primary to secondary school is generally identified as an experience that can be problematic for many children, with challenging transition experiences linked to negative wellbeing and attainment outcomes.  It is understood that some pupils are more vulnerable to negative experiences than others, however, there is a lack of evidence about the differing effects of the transition for those who face additional educational barriers. The impact of the transition on psychological wellbeing factors is currently uncertain and it is recommended in the literature that further research is needed into this area.   

The existing research indicates that competency beliefs are challenged during transition and although high self-efficacy is protective, feelings of school connectedness and value beliefs are known to decline. Initial associations between self-efficacy and school connectedness have been made, and both self-efficacy and school connectedness are linked to self-esteem.  Task value beliefs impact on engagement and all three factors are linked to motivation and achievement. It is therefore of current research interest to find out more about the impact of transition on self-efficacy and task value, school connectedness and their relationships to each other, in order to contribute to the wider understanding of psychological wellbeing factors during this transfer and the development of the inclusivity of the process. 

There is also very little known about the impact of transition on students experiencing reading difficulties as a distinct group, despite the importance of reading skills for life outcomes, the demands on literacy skills increasing in the secondary school context and how reading difficulties have been found to be resistant to intervention for pupils of this age.  Research suggests that it is important to target motivational attributes as well as cognitive skills when teaching reading.  Therefore, in order to contribute towards the development of reading intervention for pupils with difficulties at this age, this research is interested in exploring reading self-efficacy and task value beliefs alongside school connectedness for pupils during this transition and therefore aims to answer these questions:

  • Does the primary to secondary transition impact upon pupils’ reading self-efficacy, task value and school connectedness?
  • To what extent does reading self-efficacy predict levels of reading task value and school connectedness?

This research also aims to take a participatory approach and draws upon the principles of inclusive research with children and it therefore regards child participants as ‘experts in their own lives’.  These inclusive aims, with regards to the social diversity of literacy practices, are supported by the multiliteracies theoretical perspective (Kalantzis et al., 2016).  This is consistent with the inclusive approach in that it emphasises epistemic diversity, the importance of individual literate identities and multiple perspectives of literacy practices, including a complex view of learning to read that takes into account the individual context.  The multiliteracies perspective will be utilised as a lens throughout this project and highlights the cruciality of collaborating with participants to find out more about their own perceptions of what makes a ‘successful reader’, alongside their reading self-efficacy, task value beliefs and school connectedness during their transition and seeks to answer these questions:

  • How do pupils perceive ‘good’ and ‘struggling’ readers and does this change following their transition from primary to secondary school? 
  • Do levels of reading self-efficacy, task value and school connectedness influence pupils’ perceptions of reading and does this change following their transition?

Overall, this exploratory research aims to further understanding of reading self-efficacy and task value alongside school connectedness and pupil perceptions of ‘successful reading’ during the primary to secondary school transition.  It aims to contribute to the development of the inclusivity of the transition process through taking a participatory approach, and therefore the actual impact on inclusive education that can be achieved through use of a participatory methodology will also be critically considered.  Based on the research evidence and through application of the multiliteracies perspective, recommendations will be offered for enhancing reading curriculum and intervention considering the impact of reading self-efficacy, task value, feelings of school connectedness and of pupils’ perceptions of reading during this transition phase, to work towards improved reading and wellbeing outcomes for young people.


  • MA Special Educational Needs
  • Post Graduate Certificate Specific Learning Difficulties, Dyslexia
  • AMBDA Assessment Practicing Certificate Dyslexia
  • Post Graduate Certificate Education (Literacy)
  • BSc (Hons) Psychology

Research groups and institutes

  • ICY: Inclusion, Childhood & Youth Research Centre