Students with Disabilities Transition from Post-primary to Tertiary Education


Principal Investigator

Alison Doyle, Disability Officer, Trinty College Dublin.


Research Aim

This research programme aims to explore the hypotheses that: 

  1. Students with disabilities encounter complex transitions from post-primary settings to FE/HE, which are determined by the bioecological framework of their geographical location, including their personal geography.
  2. A dedicated, targeted transition initiative for senior cycle students with a disability, built on a framework that takes into account the circumstances, experiences, competencies, opinions and needs of stakeholders, can promote, encourage and assist disabled students in progressing to Higher Education.

The objectives of this research are to:

  1. Document access to initiatives, advice, support and guidance using online surveys to students, parents/carers, and practitioners, embedded within a dedicated “transition” website: Pathways to Trinity;
  2. Investigate personal perceptions of transition and disability via in-depth interviews with students, parents/carers, and practitioners;
  3. Examine the transition experiences of students with disabilities after their first year of undergraduate education, through surveys and a thematic analysis of in-depth interviews;
  4. Use an emancipatory methodology that permits students with a disability and associated stakeholders to voice their transition experiences. 



Strengthening the interconnection between second and third-level education systems during both the period and act of transition is imperative for all students but in particular for those with disabilities. For this reason, students with disabilities should be assisted with planning and recording the steps in the transition process, adapting their goals and needs as they progress through their school career, and reviewing such goals collaboratively with a transition 'partner', be that a parent, teacher, Guidance Counsellor, or another practitioner.

Research approach

The research programme uses a mixed methodology concurrent-transformative-triangulation-convergent design, where qualitative and quantitative approaches are used simultaneously to “confirm, cross-validate, or corroborate findings within a single study” (Creswell, 2003, p. 217).   The design was delivered in three concurrent studies:

Study 1 – pre-transition experiences data, were obtained from the Pathways to Trinity website ( survey responses, student / parent-carer, and practitioner interviews, and discussion forum/blog postings, before college entry;

Study 2 – post-transition experiences data, was collated from student surveys and interviews gathered from students with disabilities approaching the conclusion of their first year in college. 

Study 3 – transition resources data, was collated from analysis of website traffic to Pathways to Trinity, the Pathways Transition Planning Tool and the Pathways Workshops.

Disability Service Strategy 2009-2014 phase alignment: Phase 1

Level of research: PhD in Education

Supervisor: Dr Conor Mc Guckin

Stage of research: Year 5

Phase 1