What then must we do? Rethinking social inclusion policy for educational attainment in South Australia

Andrew Maynard Bills, Nigel Howard

Abstract


This paper enquires into the internal logics and outcomes of a key educational retention policy mandate within South Australia’s (SA) 14 year social inclusion (SI) policy agenda, with subsequent recommendations offered to improve schooling engagement and life opportunities for ‘at-risk’ young people post-school. We argue that the last 14 years of social inclusion policy in SA has been highly successful in re-engaging and retaining more ‘at-risk’ young people in various forms of secondary schooling, but that this increase in retention has not been matched by a similar increase in educational attainment (successful school completion). As a consequence, we contend that the SA SI policy lens should be turned toward the possibilities of conventional secondary schools to learn from various alternative schooling programs and redesign themselves in more socially just ways to keep more young people positively engaged and successful in schooling. Whilst SI policy with its engagement in learning intent has succeeded in keeping a larger percentage of ‘at-risk’ young people engaged in negotiated learning programs beyond the ‘school fence’, we argue that with reduced teacher involvement and constrained curricula offerings in these negotiated learning programs, the policy approach inadvertently minimises their chances of successful school completion. We conclude by offering findings from recent research demonstrating more hopeful ways to improve school completion for ‘at-risk’ young people inside non-conventional secondary schools, articulated by seven SA secondary school principals courageously pursuing ‘doing schooling differently’ agendas.

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