Education Gender and Alternative Education
Lisa Russell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0296


Permanent school exclusion rates are increasing for all genders, with much of the dominant discourse being framed around a widening concern about white working-class boys increasingly likely to disengage from formal education systems. Boys are more likely to receive formal fixed or permanent exclusions, but girls too are arguably at a disproportionate risk of being excluded via other means, such as school moves. Alternative education is for pupils under the school leaving age who because of exclusion, illness, or other reasons would not otherwise receive mainstream education. As such more males, then females tend to occupy alternative education provision. There is a great deal of literature about alternative education provision, much of which is international in its scope. This literature represents consistent findings across different countries and time when evaluating particular programs and exploring young people’s perceptions of such provisions, but the literature is much narrower in scope when analyzing the specificities of gender and alternative education. This bibliography is structured to present seminal studies, reports, and other key sources that serve to highlight the definitional issues with alternative education, while also identifying who alternative education tends to serve (with a focus on gender) and how such provision has been evaluated. Gender does to some extent shape the alternative education landscape, being dominated by boys. As such this bibliography serves to fill the dearth of knowledge with regards to the increasing need to highlight the differences in defining alternative education, in terms of who it is for and for what purpose, as well as to investigate how such varying provision is monitored in relation to gender.

Defining Alternative Education and Its Purpose

There is a general agreement that there is no single definition of alternative education, and that there are significant tensions and differences in the task of identifying and ordering the vast array of provision under the umbrella term “Alternative Education” (Krafti 2014; Malcolm 2022; Raywird 1994; Rix and Twinning 2007; Te Riele 2007; Thomson and Pennacchia 2016; Thomson and Russell 2007). This term is used to denote a multitude of practices and sites (Guerin and Denti 1999; O’Gorman, et al. 2015; Thomson and Russell 2009). While a range of alternative education on offer exists across different countries, there is an ongoing need to acknowledge that alternative education in itself is not a new phenomenon, rather it has existed alongside mainstream public education since the first half of the nineteenth century and has a long history located within a progressive tradition in education. Criticisms directed toward alternative education often point to the notion that there are “warehousing” sites reinforcing the cycle of educational inequality (Kim 2010; Mills, et al. 2015; Plows, et al. 2016; Nairn and Higgins 2011).

  • Guerin, G., and L. Denti. 1999. Alternative education support for youth at-risk. The Clearing House 73.2: 76–78.

    DOI: 10.1080/00098659909600151

    Authors note the increase in numbers of students who are educated in alternative education settings. These students are disproportionately from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, are differently abled, bilingual, and from minority groups. Successful alternative education programs are flexible enough to meet the needs of the young people who partake in them. However, Guerin and Denti suggest there is a dearth of research on the competencies needed to teach in alternative education.

  • Kim, J-H. 2010. Narrative inquiry into re-imagining alternative schools: A case study of Kevin Gonzales. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 24.1: 77–96.

    DOI: 10.1080/09518390903468321

    Based on the biographical journal experience of one boy’s experience of alternative education in the United States, questions arise about who benefits from alternative education. Provisions are often viewed as a “dumping ground” rather than an “idealistic haven” founded to serve the needs of young people. While no direct analysis of gender is made, it is thought that Kevin’s story helps shine a much-needed light on the role of alternative education.

  • Krafti, P. 2014. What are alternative education spaces—and why do they matter? Geography 99.3: 128–138.

    DOI: 10.1080/00167487.2014.12094406

    Based on research undertaken in fifty-nine alternative education sites in England, an overview of what it is that makes alternative education “alternative” is offered. Geography is purported as playing a role in terms of how and where education takes place. Outdoor spaces to include parks, farms, and forests are thought to be more prominently utilized, alongside differences in how they are financed, managed, and run when compared to mainstream schooling.

  • Malcolm, A. 2022. Sustaining post-16 destinations from alternative provision: A review of data and the perspectives of heads from low, mid and high performing schools. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties 27.1: 20–42.

    DOI: 10.1080/13632752.2022.2025646

    This research seeks to understand the practices of alternative education in England. Five inter-related areas are purported as important points to consider when measuring the success of post-16 destinations from alternative education provisions. These include staff perceptions, the rigor by which students are tracked, staff knowledge of the post-16 opportunities available (locally and beyond) as well as the need for a strong academic offer and well supported steps from alternative education.

  • Mills, M., G. McGregor, A. Baroutis, K. Te Reile, and D. Hayes. 2015. Alternative education and social justice: Considering issues of affective and contributive justice. Critical Studies in Education 57.1: 100–115.

    DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2016.1087413

    Based on a multi-sited ethnographic study of alternative schools across three Australian states, schools are viewed as supporting a socially unjust education system. Authors recognize yet critique Nancy Fraser’s (2009) concept of “social justice” for not sufficiently considering the specific nuances and multifaceted injustices that many marginalized young people face. An argument is made to acknowledge the importance of the “affective” and “contributive” aspects of justice in alternative education contexts.

  • Nairn, K., and J. Higgins. 2011. The emotional geographies of neoliberal school reforms: Spaces of refuge and containment. Emotion, Space and Society 4.3: 180–186.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.emospa.2010.10.001

    Drawing from a larger research project about the post high-school transitions of young people who were in school during New Zealand’s neoliberal reforms, data is drawn from four young men excluded from school and redirected into alternative education. Alternative Education operated as both a space of refuge from alienation experienced in mainstream schooling as well as a site of containment, separating these young men from their mainstream peers.

  • O’Gorman, E., N. Salmon, and C-A. Murphey. 2015. Schools as sanctuaries: A systematic review of contextual factors which contribute to student retention in alternative education. International Journal of Inclusive Education 20.5: 536–551.

    This systematic review analyzes young peoples’ perceptions regarding their decisions to stay or leave alternative education. In all, 1586 studies were screened and data from twenty-four mixed-methods studies were scrutinized. Findings suggest that provisions that provided a safe place and enabled flexibility in their approach to enable students to affirm their cultural identities tended to increase their engagement and subsequent retention in alternative education.

  • Plows, V., D. Bottrell, and Te Riele. 2016. Valued outcomes in the counter-spaces of alternative education programs: Success but on whose scale? Geographical Research 55.1: 29–37.

    DOI: 10.1111/1745-5871.12186

    Drawing on interview data with staff and students from one provision in Victoria (Australia), this paper explores how conceived, perceived, and lived spaces shape how alternative education programs measure success. Alternative education settings are referred to as “flexible learning programs” (FLPs) able to both effectively and somewhat contradictorily support young people, while also having the potential to reproduce stigma and disadvantage, offering what they call a “hybrid place.”

  • Raywird, M. A. 1994. Alternative schools. The state of the art. Educational Leadership 52.1: 26–31.

    Raywird argues that the most “authentic” alternative education is that which offers a full time and permanent education option to anyone taking an alternative route to mainstream schooling. She also recognizes that some alternative provisions are designed to cater to young people who were not coping well in mainstream settings. She divides this group of provision into “quick fix” provision and those that incorporate a more “holistic” approach.

  • Rix, J., and P. Twining. 2007. Talking about schools: Towards a typology for future education. Educational Research 48.4: 329–341.

    DOI: 10.1080/00131880701717180

    In the United Kingdom, Rix and Twining propose a descriptive typology defined by answering a set of key questions related to who the provision is for, where it is, what it entails, when it occurs in relation to mainstream school timetabling, and why and how the provision takes place, alongside a consideration of the type of school/ program. Their second preferred typology attempts to further acknowledge the provision’s purpose.

  • Te Riele, K. 2007. Educational alternatives for marginalised youth. The Australian Educational Researcher 34.3: 53–68.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF03216865

    Te Riele suggests programs should be differentiated by whether they have a youth at risk or learning choice focus. She divides alternative programs into four quadrants according to the provision purpose, its target population, its educational content, and expected outcomes and related credentials. This model has been used by an Australian private sector educational charity and as a basis for developing a national mapping of alternative education programs.

  • Thomson, P., and J. Pennacchia. 2016. Disciplinary regimes of “care” and complementary alternative education. Critical Studies in Education 57.1: 84–99.

    DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2016.1117506

    Drawing on Foucault as a theoretical frame, this paper looks in depth at two alternative education provisions in the United Kingdom taken from a national study on Alternative Education. The alternative education landscape is acknowledged as vast and diverse. The notion of “care” is often synonymous with alternative education. Three types of disciplinary regimes at work in schools include dominant performative reward and punishment, team-building, and therapeutic.

  • Thomson, P., and L. Russell. 2007. Mapping the provision of alternatives to school exclusion. York, UK: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

    Thomson and Russell take a programmatic approach to mapping alternative provision suggesting nine different programs defined via their nature. These include vocational, work skills, basic skills, life skills, activity based, environmental, art, therapeutic, work experience and academic.

  • Thomson, P., and L. Russell. 2009. Data data everywhere: But not the ones that count? Mapping the provision of alternatives to education. International Journal of Inclusive Education 13.4: 423–438.

    DOI: 10.1080/13603110801983264

    Mapping alternative education across two English Local Authorities resulted in the identification of two main types of alternative provision to include “core” provision, where a young person is on roll and may attend full time; core providers take legal responsibility for the young person’s attendance and entitlement and commonly organize a package of programs and “specialist” provision where a young person undertakes a part-time program, usually incorporating work-related basic skills.

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