Critical moments from the education journeys of students in Alternative Education settings: Teacher inquiries for transformation

Funding year: 
3 years
Auckland University of Technology
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2021
Project end date: 
April 2024
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Adrian Schoone
Research team members: 
Prof. Eileen Piggot-Irvine, Dr. Hana Turner-Adams (Auckland University of Technology), Dr Judy Bruce (University of Canterbury)
Research partners: 
Auckland City Education Services (Mount Albert Grammar School) and Waitakere Alternative Education Consortium (Green Bay High School)

Intro / Project description

This research explores how teachers can inquire into the education journeys of students arriving in Alternative Education (AE) settings. Annually, approximately 3500 secondary students are referred to AE due to suspensions, exclusions and truancy. Arguably, this cohort is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most challenging to engage. Most often, students enter AE with a ‘blank slate’; teachers receive inadequate information on students’ schooling histories or achievements. Using action research, teachers in AE will explore critical moments from their students’ education journeys and consider how this knowledge can inform planning and pedagogy; and provide insights for the wider education sector.


This research aims to shed light on past experiences of AE students in the formal education system. Central to this research is understanding how teachers can seek this information and how their planning and pedagogy can be informed as a result of gaining new insights.

This research asks:

How can teachers inquire about critical moments from students’ past experiences in the formal education system?

How can this knowledge inform teachers’ planning and pedagogy?

What can schools learn from the insights gained from this inquiry to improve education experiences for vulnerable students?

This research will contribute to existing frameworks of culturally responsive pedagogy and Funds of Knowledge in that it seeks to broaden teachers’ perspectives and understandings of the socio-cultural context of teaching. It is positioned within studies that seek to explore and understand education biographies as a basis for education theorizing. The research also fosters teachers’ agency and inquiring capabilities through participating in a scaffolded action research project.

Why is this research important? 

There is a lack of historical education information of students in AE. This gap leaves teachers bereft of information on which to base responsive pedagogical approaches, has delayed or prevented students receiving additional education support, and has obscured the lived experiences of students and whānau. This research privileges student voice. Students having an opportunity to narrate experiences may assist in shifting prevailing discourses surrounding youth ‘at-risk’. Key insights drawn from an analysis of the stories collectively should promote system-wide considerations for change.

What we plan to do   

The research proposes to take place at two AE settings, one in West Auckland (operated by Green Bay High School) and one in Central Auckland (operated by Mount Albert Grammar). Using action research, teachers in AE will undertake inquiries with students to explore past education experiences to create in-depth case studies. These inquiries may involve arts-based approaches, talanoa and story-telling or other qualitative methods.  Going one step further in the inquiry, teachers will use these case studies as a basis for designing bespoke interventions for pedagogical improvement. An analysis of the case studies will contribute to reporting on key insights into factors that may strengthen the schooling systems, processes and/or pedagogies, particularly for vulnerable populations. This will form part of the final report of the project.

Contact details

Researchers with partners, left to right: Karyl Puklowski, Dr Adrian Schoone, Frank Veacock, Dr Judy Bruce, Scott Samson, Dr Hana Turner-Adams, Professor Eileen Piggot-Irvine

Name: Dr Adrian Schoone

School of Education, Faculty of Culture and Society, Auckland University of Technology

(09) 921 9999 ext 6137