“The kids who were there loved it”: Alternative education as both ephemeral and durable

Year: 2018

Author: Comber, Barbara, Howard, Nigel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The short-term efficacy of alternative programs for students outside of mainstream schooling are not in doubt.  Students and graduates contrast the openness, acceptance and relevance of the alternative placement to “my old school” (McInerney 2009, Te Riele 2012, McGregor, Mills et al. 2015).). In the grey literature, students and the parents talk about “owing their life to the placement in the alternative” or “ having discovered a family”(ARTD 2013). These self-reported claims, by students and adults, to feeling respected, to being part of something and belonging are important.  Despite the impassioned voices of the students and teachers, such programs are reported in terms of “soft outcomes”, such as, increased attendance, decreased incidents, increased wellbeing, engagement in unfinished accredited courses or achievement in low level VET. While significant in their own right, the outcomes for these alternative programs may not contribute to success in the narrow band of learning outcomes that are increasingly defining success for mainstream schooling.
To paraphrase Gert Biesta (Biesta 2010 p17) we need to get away from the Learnification of Alternative Education and develop our understanding of education as part of a wider democratic society that involves young people in action that is of significance to themselves and their community.  This means going beyond “activities and engagement” and involving young people in creating in their local environment and having impact with what they do.
This paper is a conversation between Barbara Comber and Nigel Howard as they explore Literacy, Poverty and Social Justice as a way of reimagining education in the senior years.
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