“Owning ‘the problem’”: Building educational capacity through community networks of support

Year: 2016

Author: McGregor, Glenda, Mills, Martin

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Education policies shaped by neoliberal paradigms of the entrepreneurial, self-responsible individual are contributing to the marginalization of disadvantaged students who have the least resources to support their individual educational journeys. Such students comprise the disengaged, disenfranchised and ‘disappeared’ young people from mainstream schools. Education policies routinely construct this ‘problem’ in terms of student deficit and pathology (Ecclestone & Hayes, 2009). A survey conducted by the Department of Education and Training (DET), Queensland, reveals that a majority of school leaders believe that schooling non-attendance is due to: family ‘issues’, parent apathy, student illness, school refusal and family holiday (DET Queensland, 2016, p. 4). In-school factors of pedagogy, curriculum, conflict with teachers and bullying were not cited as significant (DET Queensland, 2016, p. 5). Such views stand in stark contrast to those of young people who exit the system early (Smyth & McInerney, 2012). The advance of alternative educational provision in Australia and elsewhere is testament to growing community concerns about the need to meet the needs of these young people. In the last decade much research has explored a wide range of alternative models of schooling (Mills & McGregor, 2014; Kraftl, 2013; te Riele, 2006). Strongly emerging from this research is the notion of ‘community’: webs of relational and practical supports that begin in schools but extend through porous boundaries into the broader community, utilizing local resources (Black et. al, 2010). This presentation draws upon recent research funded by the ARC and Youth Affairs Network of Queensland. This research investigated alternative educational provision across diverse geolocations in Queensland. At one alternative site, Woodlands Flexischool, located in a ‘rural city’, the head of campus explained its origins: ‘The community owned I am going to say the word "problem". I don't like the word ‘problem’, but that is how it initially started the “problem” of disengagement - the community owned it first’. Further investigations revealed a history of commitment from their community that included: the university; businesses; the city council; and various community groups. Here we present an analysis of this grass-roots response to the educational needs of marginalized young people; it provides a positive alternative to approaches that either punish or pathologise the individual. We explore its evolution into a model of alternative schooling that has captured the attention of policy makers and provides significant lessons for other communities, particularly those in rural and remote areas of Australia.