Media releases

Report highlights importance of flexible learning programs

A new report calls for recognition of alternative education’s role in stopping disadvantaged students from slipping through the cracks.

The ‘Putting the Jigsaw Together’ project report by Victoria University researchers, funded by the Ian Potter Foundation, is being launched September 5.

This nation-wide study underlines the growing importance of alternative education in plugging the holes so young people facing challenges such as poverty, homelessness, or being a carer don’t slip through.

Victoria University lead researcher Associate Professor Kitty te Riele said the report specified where investment in this sector would be most effective in reducing the over-representation of these disadvantaged youth among early school-leavers.

“Helping these young people complete year 12 is not just important for them as individuals who deserve a second chance, it also leads to improved participation, productivity and earning capacity and reduced welfare and health costs, meaning there’s a real social benefit from this,” she said. “Our report makes it clear what’s working so this can be targeted more confidently.”

Nationally there are currently more than 70,000 young Australians at over 900 alternative education sites, which offer flexible pathways for marginalised young people to finish school.

But two major programs supporting this sector are no longer being funded after 2014: Youth Connections and Partnerships Brokers.

“This disparate sector of flexible learning programs doesn’t always get the voice it needs at the table. Now is a crucial time for the sector as funding is ending for key programs supporting alternative education, begging the question of how we will meet our COAG targets of 90% of young people finishing Year 12?,” Associate Professor te Riele said.

Brief vignettes of 20 sites and detailed case studies on eight programs – covering a variety of flexible learning programs in regional and metropolitan areas across Australia – identified several innovative ways these programs achieve successful learning where others have failed.

“Many successful programs were underpinned by a commitment to every student’s right to a quality education, and a recognition that every young person has strengths,” Associate Professor te Riele said. “The case studies also highlight the importance of government regulations that enable flexibility in curriculum and staffing for these tailor-made approaches to work, and the invaluable role of local businesses, community associations and philanthropic organisations.”

Janet Hirst, CEO of The Ian Potter Foundation said the research was important for the entire philanthropic sector, as well as government. 

“As a funder of education programs we receive a large number of enquiries for support, but questions about efficacy and sustainability have made it difficult to support many of those requests,” she said. “This new information will help direct support to the programs with the greatest potential for success.”

The research also informed the Dusseldorp Forum website with details of over 900 programs from standalone alternative schools, innovative programs working within mainstream schools and flexible Year 10 or 12 equivalent programs in TAFE and community colleges. 

“This website has been a major achievement in increasing the sector’s visibility, allowing providers to see what is working elsewhere in Australia and for those needing the services to access what’s available,” she said.

Other researchers involved from Victoria University include Dr Vicky Plows, Dr Dorothy Bottrell, Luke Swain, Esther Chan, Dr Vida Voncina and Erin Reid.


Available for interview:

Associate Professor Kitty te Riele, lead researcher

The Victoria Institute, Victoria University

(03) 9919 4132; 0418 296 614; kit[email protected] 


Media contact:

Michael Quin, Senior research writer

Marketing & Advancement, Victoria University

(03) 9919 9491; 0431 815 409; [email protected]



See all media releases