Secondary Schools and Alternative Education (April 2011) 30/05/2011


Alternative Education (AE) is an initiative for students aged 13 to 16 who have become alienated from mainstream education. Many of the students placed in Alternative Education have been long term truants or have been suspended from one or more schools. AE is provided through school-based and off-site courses. Schools receive funding from the Ministry of Education to develop or purchase these courses. Approximately 3500 students participate in AE each year.

Under the Alternative Education policy, schools that place students in AE are referred to as enrolling schools. AE students remain on the roll of their enrolling school even though they may be placed in an off-site course. Enrolling schools are obliged to maintain an oversight of the pastoral and academic needs of students they have placed in AE. This includes overseeing the transition of students to and from an AE placement, as well as monitoring their educational progress.

This report focuses on two main areas. The first discusses how well secondary schools engage all students in Years 9 to 11. As part of this evaluation ERO looked at aspects such as the academic and pastoral initiatives schools used to help students to succeed at school. By investigating these aspects ERO was able to understand the context in which schools have made decisions to place students in AE.

The second focus is on how well secondary schools have met their obligations as enrolling schools to:

  • support the transition of students into, and out of, AE
  • work with AE providers
  • monitor the performance of students in AE
  • monitor the performance of AE providers.

The information for this evaluation was collected during Terms 3 and 4 of 2010, from 44 secondary schools as part of their scheduled education review. Of these schools, 35 had placed students in Alternative Education.

Overall, this evaluation found that the majority of the enrolling schools studied did not provide enough support for the students they had placed in AE. Almost two thirds of the schools that had placed students in Alternative Education did not meet their legal obligations as set out in the 1989 Education Act and the Ministry of Education’s AE guidelines. While some had suitable approaches for engaging their students on-site, almost all of these schools had very little involvement in AE once a student was in AE. Moreover these schools had not sufficiently worked with providers and families to help the transition of students back to mainstream school or other supportive destination.

A group of 13 secondary schools did demonstrate good practice in support of the students they placed in Alternative Education. These schools provided high quality oversight of the transition processes for students entering and leaving AE. They involved families in the process of placing students in AE. They worked in partnership with AE providers to give students access to special education services, counsellors, computers, libraries and specialist classrooms. They monitored how well AE worked for their students and they provided assistance to students to entering and exiting from AE.

Based on the Ministry of Education’s destination data, this group of 13 schools had a higher proportion of students leave AE and go back to school or go onto training or employment (47 percent compared to 40 percent). Especially significant was the proportion of students who returned to school these schools - 34 percent of AE leavers compared to 13 percent of students from other schools.

Significantly, the schools that provided the most support for the students they placed in Alternative Education were also highly effective in engaging all their students in Years 9 to 11. These schools applied a broad range of strategies to engage students across the pastoral, social, sporting, cultural and academic domains. The personnel at these schools demonstrated flexibility and commitment in meeting the individual needs of students.

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