organisational challenges for alternative education

Selecting and training staff

Some US school districts require staff who work in alternative provision to possess the highest levels of teacher qualifications as well as additional training in relevant areas such as counselling, special education and therapeutic approaches (Foley & Pang, 2006). However, many US states also face chronic shortages of staff and have developed a range of responses, many of which are variations of the on-the-job training (McLeskey, Tyler, & Flippin, 2004). This is much more like the situation in England where alternative education providers may employ teachers, youth workers, social workers and/or health workers and then offer some kind of on-site CPD support.

There is very little research which focuses directly on staff in alternative education provision other than the copious examinations of their practice. However, MGregor and Mills (2012) did interview a group of teachers in alternative schools and found that their sense of vocation and commitment had been reignited by working in this sector.

Both OfSTED (2011) and Thomson and Russell (2007) noted that professional development was an issue for many staff. Thomson and Russell also reported that small providers in particular found it very difficult to run and/or pay for staff professional development and that there were few opportunities for staff across programmes and providers to get together to share experience and expertise. Kilpatrick et al (2007) also noted issues of stigma and uncertainty of employment despite the commitment of staff to their work.

There appears to be no systematic UK study of the employment processes or conditions of staff across alternative education services. Given the critical importance of staff to the success of programmes, this is clearly an area for further investigation.

Funding stability

While there has been some examination in England of the very different cost structures of alternative education (see OfSTED 2011), there is less discussion of the ways in which costs impact on what is on offer and who has access to it.

Some research (e.g. Aron 2003, 2006, Te Riele, 2012) emphasises the importance of funding sources; this is an indicator of the stability of programmes. Uncertainty about funding can lead to undesirable consequences:

  • the pressure to find ongoing sources of funds can impact on the time that staff in alternative programmes have to actually undertake their core mission
  • providers cannot advertise their programmes if they are not sure of their funding
  • if staff are not sure that their employment will continue they may start to look for other work
  • schools cannot schedule alternative education options if they cannot rely on providers.

Funding for charities is a particular issue in the UK at present[1]. The current evaluation of the trial of commissioning in eleven local authorities (Institute of Education (University of London) and the National Foundation for Educational Research ( NFER), 2013) reports that there are currently instances of alternative education provision having to close at short notice, leaving schools and students without planned-for services. They, together with OfSTED (2011) register unease at the potential for schools to choose alternative education on the basis of cost (c.f. Thomson and Russell, 2007).

[1]See the blog maintained by New Philanthropy Capital for ongoing discussion of funding issues


Foley, R. M., & Pang, L.-S. (2006). Alternative education programs: program and student characteristics. The High School Journal, 89(3), 10-21.

Institute of Education (University of London) and the National Foundation for Educational Research ( NFER). (2013). Evaluation of the school exclusion trial (responsibility for alternative provision for permanently excluded children). Department for Education.

Kilpatrick, R., McCarten, C., & McKeown, P. (2007). Out of the box – Alternative education provision ( AEP) in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

McGregor, G., & Mills, M. (2012). Teaching in the ‘margins’: rekindling a passion for teaching. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 35(1), 1-18.

McLeskey, J., Tyler, N., & Flippin, S. S. (2004). The supply and demand of special education teachers. A review of research regarding the chronic shortage of special education teachers. The Journal of Special Education, 38(4), 5-21.


Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: