Education is one of the most significant influences on lifelong wellbeing for young people. In addition to its importance as a pathway into economic participation, successful experiences of education are connected with positive outcomes across multiple dimensions of social inclusion, health and personal wellbeing.

However, traditional approaches to education don’t work for a surprisingly large number of young people. The emerging Flexible and Inclusive Education sector across Australia is tackling this issue directly, offering a diverse range of educational opportunities that provide positive pathways to the future.

 

The need for flexible and inclusive education

Across Australia approximately one quarter of 19-year-olds have not completed Year 12 or equivalent.1 The figure for Victoria is similar, with approximately 10,000 young people in Years 9 to 12 leaving education completely each year.2

There are many contributing factors to these patterns. Personal and life challenges can have a major impact, ranging from anxiety and other mental health issues to family issues, learning difficulties, physical health issues, problematic substance use or housing problems. Experiences of bullying and harassment often contribute to educational disengagement, as do challenges in coping with the social aspects of schooling. Lack of cultural responsiveness of schools can be a further issue.

The underlying theme is of poor fit between the needs of vulnerable young people, and the responses able to be offered through mainstream schools.

Disengagement from education has enormous costs for the individual and for society, including financial, social and health and wellbeing impacts.3 While many mainstream schools make efforts to avoid disengagement, there is a need for more far-reaching and innovative responses to these issues.

Keeping young people engaged in education

Flexible and inclusive learning programs (FILPs) play an important role in enabling significant numbers of young people to remain in education. FILPs share a common vision of “enable[ing] young people for whom schooling previously has not worked well, to learn and to achieve valued credentials, improved wellbeing, and enhanced life opportunities”.4

While flexible and inclusive learning programs (FILPs) across Australia are diverse, these programs almost all cater for young people ‘at risk of non-completion’ and/or for ‘early school leavers’.5 Research consistently shows that young people who have experienced higher levels of disadvantage fare less well in education. Unsurprisingly the young people catered for by FILPs come disproportionately from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

Mostly FILPs cater for young people between the ages of 15-19, with a number of programs also catering for young people aged 11-14, and some also catering for those aged 20 or older. Some programs focus on a particular population, for example on young mums, indigenous young people, young people who are homeless, or young people in out of home care.

The diversity of FILPs

Flexible and inclusive learning programs operate in a variety of structures. In Victoria, providers include Learn Locals, TAFEs, Adult Community Education providers, not-for-profit and private community services and training organisations, non-school senior secondary providers, government and independent schools.6

Flexible and inclusive learning programs come in many shapes and forms, but they have in common a desire to change the way schooling is provided to better suit young people for whom traditional schooling approaches have not worked well.7

The Putting the Jigsaw Together project built a database of FILPs around Australia, based on a very systematic search. In July 2014 the database contained over 900 such programs.8 An updated and smaller version of this database can be found on the YouthPlus website.9 While many of the programs were quite small (under 100 students), te Riele estimated conservatively that 70,000 students were educated in these programs each year.10 Together these programs are a significant sector.

An emerging sector

The contribution of FILPs both to individual students and to society is significant, but can be easy to overlook. Each of these programs is often small, and like the students they cater to, they are often somewhat marginalised, seen for example as ‘somewhere to send difficult students’, and of little relevance to mainstream education.

In the few years since the Putting the Jigsaw Together report, there has been a growing recognition of the value of FILPs coming together as a sector. The Flexible Learning Victoria (FLV) pilot project undertaken during 2015-16, was highly successful in starting to develop local networks of flexible and inclusive learning providers around Victoria.11

Building a sector has a range of aims and benefits.

Supporting appropriate professional learning

As the Professional Learning in Flexible Learning Programs report highlighted, accessing relevant professional learning can be difficult for FILPs.12 The project therefore developed a database of relevant professional learning options, which is managed by VALA (Victorian Applied Learning Association).13

Advocacy for the sector

FILPs are often small with little power or resource to advocate for themselves or their students. However, when they come together as a sector, more powerful advocacy is possible.

Supporting FILPs to network and build partnerships

The nature of funding means that FILPs can sometimes find themselves in competition for scarce resources and/or for students, and at the same time somewhat marginalised and isolated. The Flexible Learning Victoria project found that when FILPs are able to come together, build trusting relationships and partnerships, powerful outcomes are possible for their students.14

Undertaking research for the sector

Working collaboratively enables research that benefits all FILP providers. For example the Flexible Learning Victoria project undertook research looking at how to measure or understand success for young people in FILPs.15

In 2016 the first national Doing School Differently conference was highly successful in bringing together FILP providers from around Australia. The second Doing School Differently conference held in 2018, saw the launch of the Australian Association for Flexible and Inclusive Education.16

Sharing learnings

The last 10 to 15 years has seen a proliferation of FILPs developing innovative and exciting programs and approaches, building on developments over the previous decades, such as the evolution of alternative community schools in the 1970s. The highly effective practices and deep experience of some these programs in working with disengaged young people, has potential to also provide a valuable resource for mainstream schools.17 For example, in their use of trauma informed practice, some Flexible and Inclusive Education providers are well ahead of many mainstream schools, and have valuable lessons to offer about how these approaches can be implemented in thoughtful and practical ways.

Evaluation can play an important role in supporting new and evolving programs to assess if their approaches are supporting young people in the ways they intend, to continue to develop and refine their programs and practices, to affirm good practices, and to communicate to others what they are learning.

 

Consultancy for education providers

Lirata Consulting provides a range of consultancy services for education providers, with a particular focus on models that better meet the needs of vulnerable young people. We assist with program development, planning, review and evaluation. Our team have strong knowledge of flexible and inclusive education approaches.

 

For further information or assistance, please contact Karen Rosauer at Lirata Consulting.

Mobile: +61 (0)409 601 627
Landline: +61 (0)3 9457 2547
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 

Download

Pathways to the Future: Flexible and Inclusive Education (PDF 293 KB)

External resources

The following resources provide further information about flexible and inclusive education:

 

Notes

1. Lamb, S., Jackson, J., Walstab, A. and; Huo, S. (2015). Educational opportunity in Australia 2015: Who succeeds and who misses out, Centre for International Research on Education Systems, Victoria University, for the Mitchell Institute, Melbourne: Mitchell Institute. Retrieved from http://www.mitchellinstitute.org.au/reports/educational-opportunity-in-australia-2015-who-succeeds-and-who-misses-out/

2. Department of Education and Training. (2015). Education State. Retrieved from http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/educationstate/Pages/default.aspx

3. For example see: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2017. Australia’s welfare 2017. Australia’s welfare series no. 13. AUS 214. Canberra: AIHW. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/australias-welfare-2017/contents/table-of-contents ; Lamb, S. and; Huo, S. (2017). Counting the costs of lost opportunity in Australian education. Mitchell Institute report No. 02/2017. Mitchell Institute, Melbourne. Retrieved from http://www.mitchellinstitute.org.au/reports/costs-of-lost-opportunity/ ; Lamb, S., Jackson, J., Walstab, A. and; Huo, S. (2015). Educational opportunity in Australia 2015: Who succeeds and who misses out, Centre for International Research on Education Systems, Victoria University, for the Mitchell Institute, Melbourne: Mitchell Institute. Retrieved from http://www.mitchellinstitute.org.au/reports/educational-opportunity-in-australia-2015-who-succeeds-and-who-misses-out/ ; Vinson, T. and; Rawsthorne, M. (2015). Dropping Off the Edge 2015: Persistent communal disadvantage in Australia. Melbourne: Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services Australia. Retrieved from https://dote.org.au

4. te Riele, K. (2014). Putting the jigsaw together: Flexible Learning Programs in Australia Final Report. Melbourne: The Victoria Institute for Education, Diversity and Lifelong Learning. Page 76. Retrieved from http://dusseldorp.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Victoria-Institue-1-7-MB2.pdf

5. te Riele, K. (2014). Putting the jigsaw together: Flexible Learning Programs in Australia Final Report. Melbourne: The Victoria Institute for Education, Diversity and Lifelong Learning. Page 39. Retrieved from http://dusseldorp.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Victoria-Institue-1-7-MB2.pdf

6. Bottrell, D. and; Rosauer, K. (2017). Evaluation of Flexible Learning Victoria. Melbourne: The Victoria Institute for Education, Diversity and Lifelong Learning. Retrieved from https://www.bgkllen.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Supporting-the-Flexible-Learning-Sector-Final-web-version.pdf

7. Australian Association for Flexible and Inclusive Education. (2018). The hub for excellence in flexible and inclusive education. Retrieved from https://aafie.org.au/

8. te Riele, K. (2014). Putting the jigsaw together: Flexible Learning Programs in Australia Final Report. Melbourne: The Victoria Institute for Education, Diversity and Lifelong Learning. Page 36. Retrieved from http://dusseldorp.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Victoria-Institue-1-7-MB2.pdf

9. Youth Plus Institute. (2018). National Flexible Learning Options Program Database. Retrieved from https://youthplusinstitute.org.au/program-database/

10. te Riele, K. (2014). Putting the jigsaw together: Flexible Learning Programs in Australia Final Report. Melbourne: The Victoria Institute for Education, Diversity and Lifelong Learning. Page 40. Retrieved from http://dusseldorp.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Victoria-Institue-1-7-MB2.pdf

11. Bottrell, D. and; Rosauer, K. (2017). Evaluation of Flexible Learning Victoria. Melbourne: The Victoria Institute for Education, Diversity and Lifelong Learning. Retrieved from https://www.bgkllen.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Supporting-the-Flexible-Learning-Sector-Final-web-version.pdf

12. Plows, V. and; te Riele, K. (2016). Professional learning in flexible learning programs: Supporting staff with socially inclusive schooling. Melbourne: The Victoria Institute for Education, Diversity and Lifelong Learning. Retrieved from https://www.vu.edu.au/sites/default/files/victoria-institute/pdfs/Professional_Learning_in_Flexible_Learning_%28Web%29.pdf

13. Victorian Applied Learning Association. (2018). Directory of Professional Learning for Flexible Learning Programs (Vic). Retrieved from http://www.vala.asn.au/professional-learning/index.htm

14. Bottrell, D. and; Rosauer, K. (2017). Evaluation of Flexible Learning Victoria. Melbourne: The Victoria Institute for Education, Diversity and Lifelong Learning. Retrieved from https://www.bgkllen.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Supporting-the-Flexible-Learning-Sector-Final-web-version.pdf

15. Johns, N. and Parker, D. (2017). A Successful Journey: Defining the measures of success for young people in flexible learning programs. Melbourne: Bayside Glen Eira Kingston LLEN. Retrieved from https://www.bgkllen.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/BGK1243-Journey-Publication_FA_Web.pdf

16. Australian Association for Flexible and Inclusive Education. (2018). The hub for excellence in flexible and inclusive education. Retrieved from https://aafie.org.au

17. te Riele, K. (2014). Putting the jigsaw together: Flexible Learning Programs in Australia Final Report. Melbourne: The Victoria Institute for Education, Diversity and Lifelong Learning. Retrieved from http://dusseldorp.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Victoria-Institue-1-7-MB2.pdf