As part of a wider study of curriculum design and student agency, the Adolescent Literacy, Identity And School (ALIAS) study focused upon experiences of curriculum, learning, literacy, assessment and identity in alternative education settings in Ireland. Post-primary alternative education settings do valuable and important work for students who, for a variety of reasons and circumstances, find themselves outside the remit of mainstream settings. This paper reports on key findings from these alternative settings which included a Youthreach centre, a voluntary education setting and a special school. These settings, their students and their teachers work at the limits of the formal education system and therefore this paper turns a timely gaze in their direction. The focus of our findings here is on the experience of attending an alternative setting for students, curriculum mediation, pedagogical approaches and assessment. The study also concerns itself with the implicit identity work enacted by learners in these settings.
The theoretical framework scaffolding this study draws largely on sociocultural theories of understanding learning and identity. We draw on ‘ funds of knowledge’ (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992) perspectives on learning and identity as well as on ‘positional identities’ and ‘figured worlds’ (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998) of learning and identity to delve into the experiences of teachers and learners in post-primary alternative education settings.
The paper draws upon data generated through site visits and in-depth individual interviews (n=10) with teachers, volunteers and administrators in these alternative education settings. This data was cross-coded by the research team members and a thematic analysis is emerged from the data.
The emergent findings discussed here focus upon unpacking these alternative education settings through the following lenses: mediating curriculum; literacy experiences and learning; how identities are positioned; pedagogical practices; interactions with assessment; and future possibilities for alternative education settings. Vignettes of data will be introduced in order to unpack the world of alternative education through the words of the teachers
This paper speaks to the conference theme through a focus on the in-between spaces of post-primary education in Ireland. We also focus on the in-between spaces of policy and practice, particularly in terms our examination of the mediated nature of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment in these research settings.