This paper explores the experiences of 12 young people, all teenagers, who have chosen to attend alternative schools known as flexible learning options within the Australian context. Using a phenomenological approach, the study seeks to understand their experiences outside the normalised public discourse that they had ‘disengaged’ from mainstream school. A phenomenological approach is employed because of its potential to draw attention to predetermined assumptions about, in this study’s case, student disengagement, a concept commonly framed within a pathologised and deficit perspective. The study gives evidence for the utility of a phenomenological approach in providing insight into how macrosystem policy, such as a nationalistic neoliberal agenda, influences ‘schooling’ and subsequently students’ experiences with schools. The implications of this study with attention to the nexus between methodology and policy are discussed, especially in drawing attention to how phenomenology as a qualitative methodology provides a means of agency for the disenfranchised to challenge existing policy and public assumptions.