National and international researchers (e.g. Aron, 2006; Gutherson, Davies, & Daskiewicz, 2011; Thomson & Russell, 2009; White, Martin, & Jeffes, 2012) suggest that alternative education providers are not always good at stating what are their programme goals, their expectations for students, and how these will be monitored and measured.
OfSTED (2011) were particularly concerned about the variable nature of evaluation practices and the lack of information available to schools about the ‘track record’ of alternative education providers. Thomson and Russell (2007) observed that, in their study, most providers did undertake evaluation, often that required by project funders. They noted that busy workers often found it difficult to find the time to collect and analyse anything but the most basic data, but many were interested in evaluation. They were particularly keen on possibilities of evaluation that might track young people after they left their programmes: they had no resources to do this kind of longitudinal work. Thomson and Russell argued that the lack of any common evaluative framework or foci for alternative education meant that aggregating and comparing data across provisions was impossible, and was also a hindrance to ensuring that statutory entitlements were being met.
But a solution to the monitoring and evaluation problem is not simple. Because alternative programmes have a wide range of educational, social, cultural, therapeutic and vocational offers and expectations it is not a straightforward matter to design an evaluative framework that allows for difference as well as for common issues. It is worth noting however that in many US school districts, and in some Australian locations, that programmes that do not contribute to a common database cannot be funded and/or commissioned.
OfSTED (2011) argue that all alternative provision should be inspected.
There is of course a question about whether evaluation should always be designed from the point of the provider, or the school. There is very little research which examines what young people want from their involvement in alternative education, and what their aspirations might mean for evaluation. Some providers do encourage young people to set goals, but this is not the same as asking them about their expectations of what providers will do.
Aron, L. Y. (2006). An overview of alternative education. Washington DC: The Urban Institute.
Gutherson, P., Davies, H., & Daskiewicz, T. (2011). Achieving successful outcomes through Alternative Education Provision. Berkshire: CfBT Education Trust.
Thomson, P., & Russell, L. (2009). Data data everywhere: but not the ones that count? Mapping the provision of alternatives to exclusion. International Journal of Inclusive Education.
White, R., Martin, K., & Jeffes, J. (2012). The back on track alternative provision pilots. Final report. London: National Foundation for Educational Research.