What is Alternative Education?

Alternative Education (AE) is an initiative for students aged 13 to 16 years who have become alienated from mainstream secondary education. Many of the learners placed in Alternative Education have been long term truants or have been suspended from one or more schools. A student’s placement in AE ideally results in re-engagement and accelerated learning, with them either returning to some form of mainstream secondary or tertiary education. Typically a student may spend 12 to 18 months in an AE programme.

AE can be provided through school-based or ‘external’ programmes. External courses are often delivered by Private Training Organisations or church-based groups. Many external providers do not use registered teachers as tutors. However, staff may have backgrounds in youth work and community development. Schools receive funding from the Ministry of Education to develop or purchase AE programmes.

Approximately 3500 learners participate in AE each year. Two-thirds of these learners are Māori and two-thirds are male. Destination data collected by the Ministry of Education indicates that just over one-third of those students who leave AE each year return to secondary education, training or employment. [3] There is obvious room for improvement in achieving positive transitions and outcomes for learners through alternative education.

In terms of AE policy, schools that place a student in AE are referred to as enrolling schools. Although an enrolling school does not receive EFTS funding [4] for students in AE, these students remain on their roll. Enrolling schools have a legal obligation to maintain an oversight of the pastoral and academic needs of students they have placed in AE. This includes overseeing the transition of students to and from an AE placement, as well as monitoring their educational progress. [5]

Enrolling schools often cooperate to create consortia or clusters. One of the schools is nominated as the consortium lead school or managing school. This school has an overall responsibility for managing the relationship with the cluster’s external providers of AE. [6]

Pedagogical Leadership and ERO’s 2010 report on Good Practice in Alternative Education

In 2010 ERO conducted an evaluation of good practice in the provision of Alternative Education. The 2010 report identified the following factors underpinning good practice. [7]

  • The quality of the relationships between staff and students
  • The use of a curriculum that matched the individual needs of students
  • The passionate and compassionate approach of AE staff
  • The ability of staff to have students aspire for a more positive future for themselves
  • The ability to address the wide range of social and educational needs of students
  • The leadership and teamwork of AE providers
  • The relationships with schools
  • The relationships with whānau/families.

The 2010 ERO report included a set of indicators for high quality AE provision. In addition to the good practice features, two challenges were identified that potentially affected the ability of AE to support students back into mainstream education and training. These were:

  • the pedagogical leadership of AE providers
  • the quality of exit transitions.

The quality of exit transitions is an issue at the core of AE’s purpose. AE providers share a responsibility with enrolling schools to ensure that learners not only achieve while they are in AE, but also transfer that success through to future settings. In broad terms, the importance of all learners achieving at secondary school, including those in AE, has been emphasised in the Government’s goal of having 85 percent of 18 year olds achieving NCEA Level 2 or equivalent by 2017. Improving the achievement levels and destination outcomes of learners in AE could make a significant contribution to this goal. [8]

The challenges associated with ‘pedagogical leadership’ in AE were linked to the management of the curriculum. Many AE tutors struggled to develop consistently high quality teaching and learning contexts because of their relatively limited curriculum and assessment expertise. Many tutors were expert in responding to the individual pastoral and academic needs of students. However, their knowledge of curriculum planning and assessment limited the extent to which they could be innovative in their programmes and develop relevant, engaging and effective learning contexts for AE students. It also affected their ability to use assessment information to improve teaching and learning and to link the educational programmes of AE to, for example, the career aspirations of students.

The introduction of ‘Pedagogical Leadership’ to Alternative Education

In response to ERO’s 2010 review of AE, the government introduced new funding for ‘pedagogical leadership’ in AE. This funding was initiated at the rate of two full time equivalent teacher (FTTE) days per student place. Hence a managing school with eight student places would receive funding for 16 FTTE teacher days.

In line with this new funding, the Ministry’s contract with managing schools set out the following regarding the development of pedagogical leadership: [9]

To raise the educational outcomes of students in AE there is an identified need to ensure pedagogical leadership. This ensures:

  • cultural competence in working with diverse students and tutors and, in particular, that programmes address the identity, language and cultural needs of Māori students
  • quality curriculum, planning, and assessment
  • strategies to build engaging learning activities based on evidence
  • programme review based on self review.

Managing schools are also required to submit a plan to the Ministry about how they will use registered teachers to provide pedagogical leadership in AE. They provide a report to the Ministry about their progress in terms of the four points above. There are no explicit guidelines about the structures managing schools should use to deliver pedagogical leadership. Schools are left to decide, for example, if one person should be appointed as a pedagogical leader or if pedagogical leadership should be managed as a process involving two or more staff as required.