Scaled-up ‘safety-net’ schooling and the ‘wicked problem’ of educational exclusion in South Australia: problem or solution?

Andrew Bills, David Armstrong, Nigel Howard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, we investigate a major, long-running policy intervention to combat
educational exclusion in South Australia (SA): the Interagency Community Action
Networks (ICAN)-Flexible Learning Options (FLO) policy and program agenda
(ICAN-FLO). SA is unique for having the only bureaucratically systematised ‘social
inclusion’ schooling approach to the problem of early school leaving in Australia.
We frame ICAN-FLO using the concept of wicked problems in policy and specify
how some problematic features of ICAN-FLO since its inception in 2007 are predicted by this concept. Problems with ICAN-FLO include a lack of public accountability; shortcomings in transparency about attainment of students enrolled in ICAN-FLO; and the consequent danger that public confidence in ICAN-FLO will be undermined.

Constructive suggestions to address these weaknesses are offered, including, more conceptual policy work in partnership with collective and independent stakeholder inquiry and research. We conclude that one ever-present danger with bureaucratically scaled-up social inclusion initiatives like ICAN-FLO is that such initiatives become a parallel ‘safety-net’ education system for the disadvantaged and thereby corrode the principle of an inclusive mainstream education system meeting the needs of all children and young people in SA or elsewhere.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-261
Number of pages23
JournalAustralian Educational Researcher
Issue number2
Early online date30 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • Wicked Public Policy problems
  • Students at risk
  • Marginalisation
  • Bureaucratic risk-averse behaviour


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