who has access to alternative education?

Administrative guidelines generally offer a list of those eligible for alternative education including: school refusers and phobics, young parents, those with chronic illness as well as descriptors of those characterised variously as ‘marginalised’, ‘vulnerable’ ‘at risk’ or ‘disengaged’ and/or ‘disruptive. These lists are very specific when attached to funding. Indeed, one of the consequences of directing funding to schools and school districts is the development of relatively tight definitions of who is entitled to access to alternative provision.

New Zealand, for example, which already requires schools and networks of schools to commission alternative education programmes, describes those who attend full time alternative schools as ‘alienated from the mainstream, who drop out or who are excluded’. This is very explicitly delineated as

13-15 year olds who have either:

  • been out of school for two terms or more, or
  • had multiple exclusions ( from more than one school) , or
  • a history of dropping out of mainstream school after being reintegrated, or
  • dropped out of Correspondence School after enrolment as an ‘at risk; student, or
  • been referred by a school and verified for Alternative Education following a meeting of representatives of the school the students and his or her parents or caregivers, representatives of other agencies involved with the students and the AE Coordinators[1].

The Pennsylvania Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2013) caters for:

Disruptive students – those who show disregard for school authority, use drugs, carry weapons, engage in violent or threatening behaviour, committed a criminal act on school property, or demonstrate misconduct that would merit suspension or expulsion. Students returning from delinquency placement should be dealt with individually, not automatically placed in AEDY.

These narrower eligibility criteria can be compared to looser criteria for state funded and provided provision e.g. In Indiana, “the programs and models designed to meet the needs of disaffected youth are as diverse as the students themselves”. In Indiana, eligibility includes anyone “who intends to withdraw, or who has withdrawn before graduation[2]. Here, alternative education is seen as a way of avoiding students leaving without their final high school qualification. This is the equivalent of the Australian focus on Early School Leavers, and that of NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) in the UK.

It is inevitable that those who advocate that an authentic alternative education is one which operates as a choice and without any form of compulsion are perturbed by policies that require diagnosis, intervention by school authorities and the use of referral panels. However, there is also significant disquiet from the practice and research communities about aspects of these kinds of processes. This is often expressed in debates about terminology – the next post.


Pennsylvania Department of Education. (2013). 2013-15 Alternative education for disruptive youth guidelines. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Department of Education.


[2] http://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/career-education/alt-ed-q.pdf


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