23 SES 06 B, School Leaving
Parallel Paper Session
This paper aims to explore the intersection between the downwards, homogenizing policy pressure for more young people up to increasing ages to be studying and the upwards, diversifying movement of various alternative schools catering for these young people.
The downwards pressure has developed due to a policy consensus, especially among ‘western’ industrialised nations, that more highly skilled people are needed in the contemporary knowledge based economy and therefore educational attainment needs to be lifted. Within this discourse, unemployment and vulnerability in the labour market are perceived as caused by a deficit in young people’s own qualifications. As a result, governments around the world have adopted initiatives aimed at increasing educational attainment. This is evident for example in the shift in the discourse in the United Kingdom, from 16+ to 14-19 and the setting of a new target for school (or equivalent) completion in Australia.
With school credentials increasingly necessary, and therefore more young people remaining in (or returning to) schooling who would traditionally have left early, educational practice has responded with a diversity of alternative schooling initiatives. These include vocational initiatives (an early example are the Danish Production Schools), project-based approaches (such as the UK Studio Schools), democratic schools (eg. Eigenwijs in the Netherlands), and flexible programs (such as Flexi schools in Australia). This has led to a diversifying of educational provision for young people, countering the homogenising pressure from policy that almost all young people must be students. In other words, practice tells policy that ‘one size does not fit all’.
The first two parts of the paper will analyse these conflicting policy and practice trends, drawing on examples from both Europe and Australia. The paper then moves on to discuss how these trends meet, leading to an emerging policy agenda (especially in Australia) around alternative education provision for ‘youth at risk’. We analyse how both schooling itself and equity are being contested and re-conceptualised at this intersection of policy and practice.
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