Why are alternatives needed?

Young people who are on the edges of formal schooling frequently tell researchers that:

  • the curriculum on offer is not interesting or relevant
  • they are bored
  • teachers are disinterested in them
  • discipline is unfair
  • they have been bullied or ridiculed and the school has done nothing to support them or has been unable to support them
  • there is no point in school as there are no jobs anyway

(e.g. Carlile, 2013; Corrigan, 1977; Eckert, 1989; Hall, 2001; Kaplan, 2013; Smyth & Hattam, 2004; Weis, 1990; Williamson, 2004; Willis, 1977)

Young people from BME heritage talk about the racism that they have experienced in school (e.g.Dance, 2002; Wright, Weekes, & McGlaughlin, 2000).

 Researchers document the ways in which these student experiences are usually not the result of individualised conscious bigotry and callousness. Rather, they show that these experiences result from policy agendas and systems of teacher education, of mandated curriculum and pedagogy, of taken for granted school administrative and disciplinary-pastoral practices (e.g. Archer, Hollingworth, & Mendick, 2010; Ball, Maguire, & Braun, 2011; Gillborn & Youdell, 2000). Researchers suggest a variety of reforms that schools must make in order to become more inclusive of all young people. Some of these solutions require policy change, while others are possible within individual schools. Some are drawn from the practical examples set by alternative schools and programmes (e.g. Kraftl, 2013; Mills & McGregor, 2013; Smyth & McInerney, 2007; Woods & Woods, 2009; Wrigley, 2003).


Archer, L., Hollingworth, S., & Mendick, H. (2010). Urban youth and education Buckingham: Open University Press.

Ball, S., Maguire, M., & Braun, A. (2011). How schools do policy. Policy enactments in secondary schools. London: Routledge.

Carlile, A. (2013). Permanent exclusion from school and institutional prejudice. Rotterdam: Sense.

Corrigan, P. (1977). Schooling the smash street kids. London: Paladin.

Dance, L. J. (2002). Tough fronts. The impact of street culture on schooling. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Eckert, P. (1989). Jocks and burnouts. Social categories and identity in the high school. New York: Teachers College Press.

Gillborn, D., & Youdell, D. (2000). Rationing education. Policy, practice, reform and equity. Buckingham & Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Hall, J. (2001). Canal town youth: Community organisation and the development of adolescent identity. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Kaplan, E. B. (2013). “We live in the shadow”. Inner-city kids tell their stories through photographs. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Kraftl, P. (2013). Geographies of alternative education: diverse learning spaces for children and young people. Bristol: Policy Press.

Mills, M., & McGregor, G. (2013). Re-engaging young people in education. Learning from alternative schools. London: Routledge.

Smyth, J., & Hattam, R. (2004). Dropping out, drifting off, being excluded: Becoming somebody without school. New York: Peter Lang.

Smyth, J., & McInerney, P. (2007). Teachers in the middle. Reclaiming the wasteland of the adolescent years of schooling. New York: Peter Lang.

Weis, L. (1990). Working class without work. High school students in a de-industrialising eocnomy. New York: Routledge.

Williamson, H. (2004). The Milltown boys revisited. . Oxford: Berg.

Willis, P. (1977). Learning to labour. How working class kids get working class jobs. London: Saxon House.

Woods, P. A., & Woods, G. (Eds.). (2009). Alternative education for the 21st century: Philosophies, approaches, visions. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wright, C., Weekes, D., & McGlaughlin, A. (2000). ‘Race’, class and gender in exclusion from school. London: Falmer.

Wrigley, T. (2003). Schools of hope: a new agenda for school improvement. Stoke on Trent: Trentham.



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