FINDING A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE
Alternative Education is not an ‘add-on’ alternative to education. For some students, and for a variety of reasons, alternatives to the usual classroom education must be found. Alternative Education is helping pave the way.
IN SEPTEMBER LAST YEAR, the Education Review Office highlighted challenges facing schools, teachers and providers in delivering education to students for whom the mainstream classroom is not the best choice.
While the goal is to return the students to other education options, for some their Individual Education Plan may mean moving through an Alternative Education Programme to a community-based course, a trade programme, tertiary study or employment.
Alternative Education (AE) funding is allocated to schools as part of the Education Act which requires a safe place to study and an appropriate curriculum for every student from the age of six to 16. The AE funding is applied to students aged 13–15 years who are in the classroom.
Some schools keep the student enrolled and pass on an appropriate part of the funding to a community provider to deliver an educational programme to meet the AE students’ needs. Others work directly with the students within the existing school environment.
The Alternative Education National Body (AENB) supports the AE sector. The group is made up of many of the providers and schools in the sector with the vision Whakapakari te rangatahi hei pai oranga moo apopo – Moving Forward with Pride, Strengthening Young People for Tomorrow. The AENB seeks to promote good practice for AE provision, facilitate relational networks and communication for providers, and advocate on important issues on behalf of AE providers.
Adrian Schoone, the current chair of the AENB, said he thought he would only leave mainstream teaching and management for two years in order to help out an AE provider with the development and implementation of curriculum.
“Now, some eight years later, I’m still involved in AE. I’m inspired by the passionate AE workforce who strive to make indelible changes to the lives of alienated young people. Alternative Education touches some of the most at-risk communities and contributes to community transformation, given the students and families they come in to contact with. This is where the multi-agency approach can best be realised.”
The 2010 ERO identified the importance of strong pedagogical leadership in AE delivery, and the importance of developing positive exit transitions for students.
“Pedagogical leadership,” the ERO report stated, “has the potential to enhance teaching and learning in Alternative Education.” Pedagogical leadership can support the integration of curriculum materials and the work of the tutors to make te kura materials more relevant and engaging for students. Similarly, it can give tutors even more strategies to build engaging learning activities for students outside correspondence education.
The evaluation also showed the importance of building high-quality exit transitions for students. Combining the academic and vocational trajectories of students into destinations that provide a foundation for student future success is key to this.
There are also questions about what a good training programme might be for a student exiting from Alternative Education, especially if they have yet to gain qualifications. More work may be required by the Ministry and the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) to put in place pathways for Alternative Education students. Alternatively the Ministry and the TEC may need to do more work in helping providers access available pathways. Currently, many students go to youth training; Manukau and Christchurch polytechnics have developed ‘pre-tertiary’ courses for students with a similar academic background to those in Alternative Education.
“The challenge for providers is in making stronger links between exit transitions, IEPs and their ‘whole student’ focus. Ideally, families are also fully engaged in this process too so that they can provide support for student pathways,” ERO said.
A 2009 New Zealand Council for Educational Research report that interviewed a selected cohort of Alternative Education students found that all of the students (100 per cent) interviewed said they enjoyed being at AE and 95 per cent said they enjoyed learning again. This is a promising and exciting step towards the vision articulated in The New Zealand Curriculum for young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners.
2010 changes and funding boost to Alternative Education
Late last year, Education Minister Anne Tolley and Associate Education Minister Pita Sharples announced a funding increase of $1.5 million alongside changes to help Alternative Education better meet the needs of students.
From 2011 each Alternative Education provider will be required to involve a registered teacher and will receive funding to cover the costs. In addition, funding for each Alternative Education place will rise as part of an overall 8.4 per cent funding increase.
Anne Tolley said the involvement of registered teachers in all providers means staff can receive advice, professional guidance and support. She said providers and activity centres will now need to supply the Ministry with consistent information on the progress made by students to properly measure the success of the programmes being offered.
Associate minister Pita Sharples said AE is accessed by more than 3000 young people every year, and “has for too long been a dumping ground for some of our most at-risk students”.
Dr Sharples said the new approach to Alternative Education builds on other initiatives designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, such as the doubling of funding to tackle truancy, and the roll-out of the Positive Behaviour for Learning Action Plan.