Regardless of what approach to quality is taken, there are still difficulties in the evaluating quality in alternative education which require additional consideration. These include:
(1) Who decides what counts as a valuable outcome?
Most of the literature on the outcomes of alternative education offers strongly futures-oriented goals of the kind that policy-makers, education systems and schools prefer – educational achievement, wellbeing, access to further education and training. However, reports from young people about their experiences in alternative education stress everyday differences – relationships, a sense of agency and identity, activities that are both enjoyable – things that are in the present. Staff are also often able to talk about the differences between the young person when they arrive, and observable changes that have happened during their time in the programme (Callwood, 2013; Goodley & Clough, 2004; Mills, McGregor, & Muspratt, 2012; Ogg, 2012; Short, 2011; Te Riele, 2006). The difference between these official and professional-participant perspectives suggests that there may be some mileage in thinking about immediate, medium term and longer term outcomes, as well as making sure that what counts as an outcome is inclusive of the full range of stakeholder views.
(2) When is an outcome achieved?
Some outcomes of alternative education may be immediate. Others may take time to be revealed, while some ‘effects’ may be apparent in the short term but not ‘hold’ over longer periods.
Variation in outcomes can perhaps be understood through a lens of the agency of the young person. They change in part because they simply grow up, but change is always in response to context. Education provides resources which can be, and are, used in specific contexts at specific times. This varies, it is not uniform across all young people. Imagine a young person who does not go onto further education when they leave an alternative provision, but returns to graduate at a much later stage; they attribute this decision to their experience in alternative education but also ‘the time being right’. At what point would we ‘find’ this outcome? The connection between time and context makes the point at which outcomes can be measured relatively difficult.
(3) Who decides if an outcome is reasonable and achievable?
As noted in the previous section, schools sometimes want alternative programmes to offer a quick fix; this is often not possible with identities, behaviours and dispositions which have been a long time in the making (Hlady, 2013). Funders can also be unrealistic about what they expect programmes to achieve – health and well-being from short-term community arts projects, remedial literacy and numeracy from a few weeks involvement in environmental and vocational education for example. It is important for anticipated outcomes to be tailored to the achievable goals of the specific programme.
(4) Should all young people be expected to achieve the same outcomes?
Despite the apparent homogeneity of young people currently in alternative provision (a majority of white working class boys), this enrolment pattern may not always be the case. And even with this population, they still have vastly different interests, needs, knowledge and skills, aspirations and contexts. Any homogeneous set of outcomes across this population is likely to miss the mark for many. The issue is how to allow for difference and common entitlement at the same time (Gutherson, Davies, & Daskiewicz, 2011).
(5) Should all alternative programmes be expected to achieve the same outcomes regardless of duration or offer?
The same argument applies to programmes. With so much variation of time, place and offer, it sees unreasonable to assume that all programmes will achieve the same thing. Nevertheless, they might all operate according to common principles and/or some common processes.
(6) Can alternative education be held solely responsible for outcomes?
How can what happens in alternative education be separated from other factors? How can outcomes be attributed to one educational experience when students often have multiple ongoing educational experiences and complex life pathways?
All of these issues make the development of a quality framework, regardless of type, very difficult.
Unpublished data from author’s work in progress
Callwood, E. L. (2013). The possible selves of young people who have experienced exclusion from school: Hopes and future aspirations. (Ed D), University of Sheffield, Sheffield.
Goodley, D., & Clough, P. (2004). Community projects and excluded young people: reflections on a participatory narrative research approach. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 8(4), 331-351.
Gutherson, P., Davies, H., & Daskiewicz, T. (2011). Achieving successful outcomes through Alternative Education Provision. Berkshire: CfBT Education Trust.
Hlady, K. (2013). Alternative education in the 21st century.(PhD) Saarbrücken, Germany: LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing.
Mills, M., McGregor, G., & Muspratt, S. (2012). Flexible learning options/centres in the ACT. Report submitted to the ACT Education and Training Directorate. Brisbane: University of Queensland/Griffith University.
Ogg, T. (2012). Boxing clever. London: Civitas.
Short, T. M. (2011). Teachers and students in alternative settings: narratives from the margins of public education. ( Ed D), University of South Australia, Adelaide.
Te Riele, K. (2006). Schooling practices for marginalised students: practices -with-hope. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 10(1), 59-74.