Friday, 8 Oct 1999

Boys are more likely than girls to leave school early, and this cannot be fully explained by differences in academic achievement, attitudes to school or aspirations, according to a study released by ACER today.

Around nine per cent of young people leave school before Year 11 – ten per cent of boys and seven per cent of girls.

The report’s main author, Dr Gary Marks, said "Many boys who leave school early obtain apprenticeships, which often provide a future career path. However, the decision to leave school early without going onto an apprenticeship or traineeship should be made with caution because the long term job prospects for early school leavers without qualifications are not good."

Among boys, those in regional and rural areas are more likely to leave school early than those in major metropolitan areas. The reason for this difference could not be fully explained by other factors such as school achievement or social background.

The study also found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are much more likely to leave school early. Twenty one percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students left school before Year 11, with a slightly higher proportion of boys than girls. Their high rate of early school leaving may be due to pessimism about their ability to remain at school, a lack of encouragement to do so, or a feeling that remaining at school would not "pay off" in terms of further education or better jobs.

"This shows that we should be making more of an effort to increase the school retention rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. It is an important issue because leaving school early increases the chance of becoming unemployed and affects earning capacity," Dr Marks, said

Of social background and school related factors, school achievement had the largest influence on earlier school leaving.

The study also found that students of non-English speaking backgrounds are less likely to leave school early, and students’ positive attitudes to school decreased the likelihood of early school leaving.

More than 50 per cent of the students who leave school early say the main reason they left was to find a job or apprenticeship. A further 13 per cent said they left because they did not like school. Only a small proportion indicated that financial factors were the main reason they had left school.

Over 70 per cent of early school leavers were working full time, a further 8 per cent were working part time and 11 per cent were looking for work. However, there are some worrying signs in the labour market experiences of early school leavers. The proportion of female school leavers working in full-time jobs is much lower than that for males. Substantial proportions of both sexes are working in the types of jobs where there are few opportunities for training or career advancement.

The study was based on over 10 000 young people who were contacted annually for three years since they were in Year 9 in 1995. It forms part of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth research program, which is conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research and supported by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.

Marks, Gary & Fleming, Nicole. (1999) Early School Leaving in Australia: Findings from the 1995 Year 9 LSAY Cohort, Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth, Research Report No. 11, Melbourne: ACER.