In December, Prof. Sue McGinty and Kimberley Wilson represented the research collaboration at the 2014 International Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), hosted by the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. The symposium, “The Dilemma of “Measuring the Influence” of Flexible Learning Option Provision on Disenfranchised Youth,” was presented by Kimberley Wilson to a large, receptive audience.

Abstract: Youth disengagement is an ongoing concern in Australia with large numbers of young people not achieving Year 12 or equivalent, notwithstanding government school retention initiatives (COAG, 2012). To address this issue, state and non-government organisations across Australia have endeavoured to develop appropriate programs to meet the needs of young people aged 12–20 who have formally disengaged from school.  These programs typically sit outside or alongside mainstream schooling programs and are broadly identified as
Flexible Learning Options (FLOs) (Brader & McGinty, 2005; Te Riele, 2012).

According to a recent report commissioned by the Dusseldorp Skills Forum, approximately 33,000 of the most severely disenfranchised group of young people in Australia are currently being provided for by Flexible Learning Options (Te Riele, 2012).  Catering to a diverse clientele, the flexible learning sector has developed as a broad kaleidoscope of programs spanning the nation and most concentrated in recognised areas of social, economic and geographical disadvantage. As the sector burgeons, there is an increasing amount of research directed at mapping the extent, nature and reach of flexible learning provision (Te Riele, 2012). What remains missing from the research literature is a reliable measure of the impact of flexible learning options in relation to lifetime outcomes for potentially the most disadvantaged group of young people in Australia.


AARE Symposium Presentation 2014 Wilson, McGinty

The presentation focused on current research activity involving Flexible Learning Options in five states in Australia. Despite the commonly cited reference to the significant influence of FLOs on young people, the value of the educational opportunity afforded by FLOs is often undermined by presentation of a limited range of outcomes with a heavy emphasis on those considered both ‘intangible’ and ‘soft’. There is little data that links these so-called intangible outcomes to a measurable impact on disenfranchised young people’s life trajectories.  In an attempt to determine the ‘measurable value’ of FLO participation, this presentation will focus on the quantitative, semi-quantitative and qualitative methodology and methods implemented to determine such outcomes in an Australian Research Council funded Linkage Project. Further, preliminary data arising from the research will be presented focusing on participant identified attributes of FLOs and how these attributes influence outcomes. Of significance to the presentation is the consideration of the relationship identified between the intangible outcomes identified by FLO participants, to tangible outcomes more readily understood by the wider community.

Kimberley Wilson (James Cook University) Presenter
Sue McGinty (James Cook University) Presenter
Brian Lewthwaite (James Cook University)
Kitty Te Riele (Victoria University)
Riccardo Welters (James Cook University)
Mark Thomas (James Cook University)
George Myconos (BSL)
Valda Wallace (James Cook University)
Hurriyet Babacan (James Cook University)


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