Enabling the Work of Flexible Learning Programs through Collaboration & Partnership

About the Symposium

Collaboration and partnership are widely considered valuable, perhaps even indispensable, to support the work of schools in disadvantaged contexts (Bentley and Cazaly, 2015, Black, 2008; Seddon et al, 2008). This applies even more so to Flexible Learning Programs (FLPs), which provide access to educational opportunities for young people who, for varied and complex reasons, have disengaged from or sought alternatives to traditional schooling models. FLPs often are the last chance for marginalised young people to gain high school level knowledge, skills and credentials. Typically, these settings take a holistic approach to young people and their education. They also tend to be relatively small, although they may operate under the umbrella of a larger non-government or charitable organisation. For these reasons, formal and informal partnerships are a core component that enable FLPs to provide educational opportunities for their students (Ellum, 2014; Mills and McGregor, 2010; Te Riele, 2014). These partnerships may be with colleagues  within the FLP, in the host organisation, and in other FLPs. They may also involve inter-agency collaboration with staff elsewhere, such as in community organisations, in workplaces, and in a range of service agencies.

The papers in this symposium examine different forms and aspects of such partnerships. The major angle is on examining the potential contributions of this collaborative work to enabling FLPs to meet their mission of providing high quality / high equity education. Specific papers tackle this theme through a focus on the nature and processes of PL in FLPs; collaborative professional learning; three-way partnership involving the educational provider, industry partner and students; the delivery of wrap-around services; and community engagement.

A particular strength of this symposium is that it includes papers from significant funded projects as well as by newer voices in the field.

Presentation: Added Value of Partnerships & Collaborations for Flexible Learning Options, Kimberley Wilson, PhD

This presentation will focus on current research activity involving Flexible Learning Options in five states in Australia, as part of an ARC Linkage project titled ‘Gauging the Value of Flexible Learning Options for Disenfranchised Youth and the Wider Community’. The wider remit of this project is to explore the impact of FLO participation on academic and well-being outcomes for young people, and, more broadly, long term economic and societal outcomes.

Understanding the mechanisms at play in FLOs is critical to developing insight as to how such outcomes are manifested in everyday practice. Core to the work of FLOs is providing a ‘full-service’ school, which, through community partnerships, enables the delivery of wrap-around services such as “the provision of crèches, housing support, advocacy services, meals and physical and mental health counselling” (Mills & McGregor, 2010, p.9).

Interviews with staff and young people at FLO sites across Australia reinforce the significance of such partnerships in enabling the holistic care that underpins an inclusive approach to youth re-engagement. Data collected also draws attention to the need to better understand holistic outcomes, including related improvements in housing, security and well-being; that have been traditionally under-valued in comparison to more traditional schooling outcomes, such as academic results and other credentialed forms of learning.

Author Biography

AARE ARC Linkage - KimberleyJPGKimberley Wilson is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the ARC Linkage Project ‘Gauging the Value of Flexible Learning Options for Disenfranchised Youth and the Australian Community’. Her work with charitable and not-for-profit organisations over the years has involved working very closely with families experiencing disadvantage, and has required the development of an understanding of how to support and encourage the education of children and youth from diverse backgrounds. Kimberley has been supporting the curriculum projects of the Youth+ Edmund Rice Education Australia Flexible Learning Centres since 2008. She has published a number of articles, co-authored a book chapter and presented at national and international education conferences around the topic of more effectively engaging youth in education through a responsive and flexible curriculum approach.