School retention through alternative schooling

Currently, only 59% of students from low socio-economic backgrounds in Australia finish Year 12 (Gillard 2009). Many of the reasons for this lack of retention relate to circumstances beyond the control of schools.

However, this is not always the case. In 2008, in Queensland alone, over 58,000 students in the government system were suspended, excluded or had their enrolments cancelled for a variety of reasons (Education Queensland n.d).

Excluding some students from the benefits of schooling can damage a student's sense of self and have indirect negative impact on society. Therefore this issue has become a significant social justice concern.

Research objective

In Australia, as elsewhere, there are clear social justice concerns relating to the provision of education services to the most marginalised within the community. There have been a number of insightful critiques of education systems’ failure to disrupt unjust practices in schools. However, attempts to envisage alternatives have remained on the margins of both educational provision and research.

This project will serve to fill this gap in research literature. We aim to investigate how mainstream schools can become more socially just and inclusive of all young people, by analysing alternative schools specifically designed for this purpose.

The project is informed by, although not restricted to, Nancy Fraser’s (1997; 2009) framework of social justice in terms of distribution, recognition and representation.

The important focus of this study is learning from the social justice practices and cultures evident in some alternative schools. This will help create an improved educational experience and school retention of marginalised young people.


The project will aim to answer several questions around school retention, including:

  • what are the key features of alternative schools that keep young people in meaningful education?
  • to what degree, do the alternative case study schools reflect an ethos of social justice? Is it conceptually grounded in principles of distributing educational benefits, recognition of difference, and representation via student and teacher voices?
  • what are the features of alternative schools that could be adopted by mainstream schools in order to better meet the needs of all students?

Project team

  • Professor Kitty te Riele, The Victoria Institute
  • Professor Martin Mills, University of Queensland (lead Chief Investigator)
  • Dr Glenda McGregor, Griffiths University
  • Associate Professor Deb Hayes, University of Sydney


This discovery project is generously funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) for the 2012-2014 period.

Several entities are collaborating to produce the research, including:

  • University of Queensland (lead organisation)
  • Griffith University
  • The University of Sydney


The project will produce refereed journal articles, a book and plain language reports in order to showcase findings for scholarly and professional audiences.


For further information contact:

Professor Kitty te Riele
Phone: +61 3 6226 6705
Email: [email protected]