a typology of alternative education?

It is challenging to create some sense of order from the diversity of alternative education provision. When we go to national and international literatures we find three interesting points:

(1)   The range of alternative education on offer in the UK is not dissimilar to that found in other places.

(2)   Alternative education has existed alongside mainstream public education since the first half of the nineteenth century (Miller, 2007; Sliwka, 2008)

(3)   There is general agreement that there is no single definition of alternative education, and that there are significant tensions and differences toward the task of imposing some kind of order on the diverse range of alternative education that exists.

In the early 90s the US educational reform scholar Mary Ann Raywid (1990, p. 31) noted

Programs differ according to their missions (providing a more humane and effective education; segregating, containing and reforming and disruptive population, healing the wounded). They differ as to what to look to and begin working on when education fails (the student’s misbehavior, the student’s psyche, or the school’s environment.) They differ according to the functions formally assigned them, and the expectations and demands of those to whom they report…

In this statement, Raywid identified important and ongoing tensions and debates about alternative education. There are differences between disciplines in the way that they understand alternate education, but there are key debates that transcend these differences. These centre on some key questions around enrolment and purpose:

(1)   whether alternative education is only for those who do not fit into the mainstream,

(2)   whether the problem for those students is the result of something about them, or something about the schooling system, and

(3)   whether the goal of alternative education is to ‘fix’ the student in order that they can re-enter mainstream education and training, or offer a different pathway to outcomes which includes education and training, but also encompasses citizenship, spiritual and aesthetic development and so on.

The answers to these questions are at the heart of the task of making sense of the wide range of what counts as alternative education.

Raywid’s view (1994) was that the most ‘authentic’ alternative education was that which offered a full time and permanent education option to anyone who chose to take a route different from the mainstream. However, she recognized that there were also alternative education options designed specifically for populations of young people who were not faring well in their mainstream schools, and she divided these into two types – those which attempted a ‘quick fix’ and those which offered a more holistic approach. She was clearly in favour of an alternative education which was ‘genuinely transformative’ of both outcomes for young people, and of the practices of schooling. However, she also considered that the holistic approach taken in ‘remedial’ alternatives was potentially of benefit to young people, even if it did not change mainstream schools (see Fig 1).

Type of schools Outcomes
Type I alternatives make school challenging and fulfilling for all involved. Their efforts have yielded many innovations, a number of which are now widely recommended as improvement measures for all schools. Type I alternatives virtually always reflect organizational and administrative departures from the traditional, as well as programmatic innovations.Type I alternatives are schools of choice and are usually popular. They sometimes resemble magnet schools and in some locales constitute some or all of the options in choice systems. They are likely to reflect programmatic themes or emphases pertaining to content or instructional strategy, or both.” Cost effective. Successes more pronounced and longer lasting.Small, ownership, chosen not referred, mini-schools within mainstream, free from district interference. Creative engaging pedagogies.These schools generate and sustain community within them, make learning engaging and provide the school organization and structure needed to sustain the first two.
“Last-Chance Programs. Type II alternatives are programs to which students are sentenced—usually as one last chance prior to expulsion. They include in-school suspension programs, cool-out rooms, and longer-term placements for the chronically disruptive. They have been likened to “soft jails,” and they have nothing to do with options or choice.Typically, Type II programs focus on behavior modification, and little attention is paid to modifying curriculum or pedagogy. In fact, some of these programs require students to perform the work of the regular classes from which they have been removed. Others simply focus on the basics, emphasizing rote, skills, and drill.” Yield few benefits to those who attend. Do not change drop out, referral rates, suspension or exclusion,
“Remedial Focus. Type III alternatives are for students who are presumed to need remediation or rehabilitation—academic, social/emotional, or both. The assumption is that after successful treatment students can return to mainstream programs. Therefore, Type III alternatives often focus on remedial work and on stimulating social and emotional growth—often through emphasizing the school itself as a community” Behaviour attendance and academic attainment improves. But costly, and behaviour often returns when students return to school.

Figure 1. Raywid’s three part typology of alternative schooling.

Other US scholars have sought to add to Raywid’s typology, primarily to cater for the range of alternatives on offer to young people not faring well in mainstream education. Lange and Sletton (2002) for example offered ‘second chance schooling’ as a fourth type. ‘Second chance’ schooling dealt with ‘at risk’ populations and had links to multiple health and welfare agencies which attempted to deal with individual and social issues that young people faced.

There are critiques of Raywid’s typology. Heinrich (2005) for example, a practitioner, suggested that Raywid’s approach worked from the assumption of a student or curricular deficit. Heinrich maintained that the success in alternative education could not be achieved by segregating students from their peers in mainstream schools who, he suggested, should also spend time in alternative provision while those from the alternative should maintain contact with the mainstream. He argued for an alternative education which combined a humanistic philosophy, a progressive pedagogy with insistence on behavioural compliance and an overall goal of emancipation. He was most insistent that the notion of ‘second chance’ education was coercive, and that of ‘another chance’ was preferable. Kellermayer (1995, 1998) also takes this position, arguing that most alternative provisions are pseudo-alternatives – ineffective and often punitive, they isolate and segregate students from peers in the mainstream. Kellermayer suggests that ‘genuine’ alternatives are voluntary, distinctive from traditional education and offer a student-centred learning environment and a comprehensive set of objectives.


Heinrich, R. S. (2005). Expansion of an alternative school typology. The Journal of At-Risk Issues, 11(1), 25-37.

Kellmayer, D. M. (1995). How to establish an alternative school. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Kellmayer, D. M. (1998). Building educational alternatives for at-risk youth. The High School Magazine, 6(2), 26-31.

Lange, C. M., & Sletten, S. J. (2002). Alternative education: a brief history and research synthesis. Alexandria VA: National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

Miller, R. (2007). A brief history of alternative education. http://www.educationrevolution.org/history: http://www.educationrevolution.org.

Raywid, M. A. (1990). Alternative education: the definition problem. Changing Schools, November 25-33.

Raywid, M. A. (1994). Alternative schools. The state of the art. Educational Leadership, 52(1), 26-31.

Sliwka, A. (2008). The contribution of alternative education. In CERI (Ed.), Innovating to learn, learning to innovate. Paris: OECD.


One comment

  1. […] Raywid’s three types or variations on her typology of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: