Our most vulnerable learners are being failed by Alternative Education, new research finds

New research from the Education Review Office (ERO) has found that Alternative Education in New Zealand is failing some of our most vulnerable young people.  

Alternative Education provides education for over 2000 of our most disengaged young people. Many of these learners have been exposed to crime, violence, and trauma, and many are in the youth justice system. One in six of these young people have been in Oranga Tamariki care.  

Despite the hard work of those working with these young people and of the learners themselves, Alternative Education is failing the very young people it should support.

Learners in Alternative Education have significantly worse outcomes than other young people, worse even than those who are similarly disengaged. We know that the long-term costs for these learners, their whānau and society can be devastating.

ERO found that less than one in 10 of these young people go on to achieve NCEA Level 2. By 18, over a third had police proceedings against them for an offence, and by age 20, almost seven in 10 are receiving benefits.   

Alternative Education is failing because of the current model – with a lack of qualified teachers, inadequate funding and no accountability.

ERO found that only one in five educators in Alternative Education are registered teachers and many providers do not have access to the full range of education resources. Alternative Education receives less funding than less disadvantaged young people in other settings and providers often have to fundraise just to remain viable. Many of the facilities are rundown. There is no clear accountability.  

Alternative Education is a missed opportunity to change these young people’s life trajectories. We know that when they are in Alternative Education they attend more and have a stronger sense of belonging.

Concerningly, ERO last reviewed Alternative Education 12 years ago and found that it was not meeting the needs of some of our most disadvantaged young people. Disappointingly, this is still the case - the current model is not providing a quality education or enabling these learners to succeed. 

There needs to be a complete and urgent reform of Alternative Education. Every learner deserves a qualified teacher, access to a wide education programme and a range of pathways, and appropriate facilities.

A new model needs to combine quality teaching and the wider support and specialist help these young people need. We also need to do more to meet young people’s needs earlier so they can remain and thrive in mainstream schools.

Reforming the Alternative Education model has the potential to significantly improve education experiences and outcomes for disengaged learners – and dramatically improve their lives.