A Successful Journey
Defining the measures of success for young people in flexible learning programs
This report was carried out from January 2016 to February 2017. This research was completed by Flexible Learning Victoria (FLV), a project created in October 2015 under the “Leading Practice and Leading Change in Youth Education” project funded by the Adult, Community and Further Education (ACFE) Board. Consortium members overseeing the project are SkillsPlus (Lead), Narre Community Learning Centre, Melbourne City Mission and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, with project management by the Bayside Glen Eira Kingston LLEN (BGKLLEN).
Young people in Flexible Learning Programs (FLPs) have often experienced significant trauma and have complex barriers to learning. As such, standard measures of success, such as completing Year 12, are largely insufficient. FLPs therefore define and measure success differently.
The purpose of this research was to explore and define how providers of FLPs measure the success of the young people who attend their programs. It aimed to answer the question ‘What are the measures of success for young people participating in alternative and flexible learning organisations in southern metropolitan Melbourne?’.
The research was limited to the collection of data from FLPs within the southern metropolitan Melbourne region and was informed by data collected in four overlapping phases:
1. Survey of FLPs in southern metropolitan Melbourne: an online survey was distributed to approximately thirty FLPs.
2. Focus Group Interview: Seven members of the FLV Steering Committee took part in a focus group.
3. Telephone Interviews: Eight FLPs were selected and approached to take part in phone interviews.
4. Case Study Collation: Eight FLPs were invited to write a case study of approximately 300–500 words in length regarding a young person who had experienced success in their setting.
Measures of Success
Too often young people are set up to fail by being judged by the same benchmark, regardless of their life circumstances. Albert Einstein wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This research looked at how success can be measured in a manner that ensures the characteristics and circumstances of the individual are considered. Thematic analysis revealed that a holistic approach to measuring success was common in FLPs. Ten initial categories of measures of success used within FLPs were summarised into the following four overarching groupings:
Personal wellbeing and social wellbeing are considered highly important measures of success for young people. 96% of FLP staff reported that personal wellbeing was either very important or important as a measure of success for FLPs, making it the most important way they evaluated the progress of young people attending their program. As wellbeing barriers were often the greatest obstacle to education progress, achieving growth in this area was crucial to improvement in other areas.
2. ENGAGING WITH THE PROGRAM
Engagement and participation is a highly valued measure of success. Engagement was achieved by individualising curriculum and building positive relationships between staff and students. Positive engagement lead to more effective learning and better attendance. Programs put a high premium on attendance and achieved this by creating engaging programs.
3. ACADEMIC OUTCOMES
Academic improvement and skill development were also highly valued. Improved basic skills such as literacy and numeracy linked to increased confidence for young people and the ability to actively pursue career aspirations. Practical curriculum and applied learning techniques helped to achieve these. Certification was important but viewed as possible only when wellbeing challenges were overcome.
4. COMMUNITY CONNECTION
Community engagement and post-program destinations rated as either very important or important by 65% of participants. These two measures were interconnected, with positive community engagement often leading to and supporting a positive post program transition. Linking students to ‘the real world’ improved learning and engagement and helped them envision their future once they finished in the program.
A variety of tools was used to capture these broad measures of success. These ranged from standard academic tools such as issuing certificates through to highly individualised tools for more complex indicators such as wellbeing outcomes.
Research Findings and Considerations
The research report identified seven key areas that require further consideration:
1. Raise the profile of and funding for wellbeing measures
2. Enable academic opportunities for young people not in mainstream education by equitably supporting FLPs
3. Create better student engagement through more flexible curriculum design and relational implementation
4. Focus on real world learning to stimulate community involvement and post-program pathways
5. Facilitate higher levels of student engagement in defining their own measures of success
6. Embrace a broader definition of success, and open dialogue about these broader measures.
7. Give recognition to and acknowledgment of the specialist nature of FLPs
Broadening the definition and measures of success beyond the traditional academic measures is clearly in the best interests of young people. For staff working in FLPs, their ability to view a variety of outcomes as a success enabled them to look beyond the usual paradigm of judging success by academic measures. This was particularly significant for young people going through personal difficulties who were facing academic challenges. A more holistic approach to measuring success creates positives outcomes for disadvantaged young people, enabling them to experience success in education, often for the first time in many years.