Community education providers who work with some of New Zealand’s mostvulnerable young people are increasingly finding themselves facing the possibility of closure.Falling student numbers and a funding model that fails to acknowledge theimportance of unlocking the potential of those ‘Not in Education,Employment, or Training’ (NEETS) are behind the uncertainty.There have been concerns among community providers – supported by research– that current completion, progression, and retention targets mean thatsome private education providers are ‘cherry picking’ students they feelare more likely to complete courses. This has resulted in communityproviders finding themselves working with students who need more time andsupport to succeed.These smaller community providers are full of success stories, however,staff and community members stress that this success is often incremental,with smaller achievements which do not always fit into the current narrow,outcomes-focused understanding of success set out by successivegovernments.As Dr Stuart Middleton, specialist adviser to the chief executive atManukau Institute of Technology, wrote in an article on NEETs,“People settle into learning at different points in their lives. To offerone shot at getting onto the rungs of the skills ladder is cruel andshort-sighted”. Courses such as those offered by smaller communityproviders offer an important means of getting back onto the ladder.National President, Michael Gilchrist, says “We need an education systemthat recognises the diversity of skills and learning styles among our youngpeople. The system must support, not punish, education providers who caterto this diversity. It must support providers who are prepared to take anholistic approach. That means building on the strengths of each individual,recognising all their achievements - and simply investing the time andattention in their students that they need and deserve”.That also means that funding and how we evaluate the achievements ofstudents must change, he says.The current Government has an ambitious work plan ahead of them, with oneof the Government priorities to ensure ‘that everyone is earning, learning,caring or volunteering’. If the Government is to succeed in this priority,New Zealand’s polytechnics and community education providers need to bebetter supported, with a better appreciation for a student’s successrelative to where they start on the education ladder.