Dr Andrew Bills, Educational Leadership Academic: Policy, Politics and Practice at Flinders University’s College of Education, Psychology and Social Work.
Thousands of young Australians face an uncertain future due to disadvantage and not engaging with secondary school education – and Flinders academic Dr Andrew Bills says much more needs to be done to get them into meaningful employment and education pathways.
A major new insight, A Case for Radical Pragmatic Leaders and Personalised Learning Schools – Risky Public Policy Business (Cambridge Publishing UK, 2020), captures the Flinders University researcher’s challenge to all education systems to better cater for disadvantaged students and support them into satisfying work.
The new book calls for principals – as well as teachers – to be heard and taken more seriously by bureaucrats in the policy realm.
“We need to look afresh at all education systems developing cultures of interdisciplinary inquiry and research in partnership with universities, whereby policy is constructed by the evidence presenting across all components of education systems, particularly in schools who are closest to knowing what forms of policy are most needed,” Dr Bills says.
This would make the policy development approach an ongoing iterative process where all members of the education community are equally valued and heard, he says, “similar to what Emeritus Professor Alan Reid called for in 2004 in the Department for Education, which was never taken by the department”.
In recent years, Dr Bills and fellow researcher Nigel Howard have closely examined secondary school redesign, learning engagement, school inclusion, dropout rates, and the career aspirations of young people in mainstream secondary schools across Australia.
This includes ongoing policy research of South Australia’s Flexible Learning Options program, which commenced in 2007 to help disadvantaged students to complete senior secondary education and meet their career aspirations.
Every state has flexible learning options. More than 70,000 Australian students of high school age were enrolled in flexible learning programs in 2019. This is up from 30,000 only five years ago.
Some of this policy work on the FLO system is also included in a newly released interim findings report from the National Youth Commission – What Future? Inquiry into Youth Employment and Transitions.
While FLO models keep young people engaged in education to some degree, Dr Bills says the long-term outcomes and models of alternative school education warrant further collaborative research.
“While thousands of young people go through the FLO program in South Australia … few tend to complete their SA Certificate of Education, which limits their options for post-school education and training,” Dr Bills says in the National Youth Commission interim report.
“If we flipped this policy on its head and had schools positioned with the same levels of social and youth work support that FLOs have, then the problem of early school leaving, and SACE attainment can be better addressed,” he says.
Doing mainstream schooling differently is more important than ever as the economic downturn and other cutbacks expand under the pandemic, Dr Bills adds.
The National Youth Commission Australia (NYCA) inquiry was prompted by concerns that an increasing number of young people are struggling to make the transition from education to employment and independence. It also addresses the lack of any major initiative by Australian governments to investigate and address these escalating problems.