Tuesday, 16 Oct 2001

Coming from a low socioeconomic background, attending a government school, being male, having Australian-born parents, and growing up in a non-metropolitan area still remain significant predictors of school non-completion.

These are the findings of a paper presented today by Dr Gary Marks and Dr Julie McMillan, at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) conference, Understanding Youth Pathways: What does the research tell us?

Their data is based upon ACER’s Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) project, which follows the experiences of young people as they move from school into post-secondary education, training and work. It focuses on the national cohort of 13 613 students who were in year 9 in 1995 and examines their experiences up to 2000. It is the most up-to-date and detailed information on recent school leavers in Australia.

"Our research indicates that factors such as gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, region, school sector and achievement in middle schooling continue to be important factors related to the non-completion of school," said ACER Principal Research Fellow and Project Manager of LSAY, Dr Gary Marks.

According to the paper, of the national cohort of 13 613 young people who were in Year 9 in 1995:

  • 26 per cent of males compared with 16 per cent of females did not complete secondary school;
  • 26 per cent of young people whose parents were unskilled manual workers left school before completion of Year 12, compared with only 15 per cent of those whose parents were professionals or managers;
  • 24 per cent of students whose parents were born in English speaking countries, compared with 12 per cent of those whose parents were born in non-English speaking countries, did not complete secondary school;
  • 29 per cent of students who attended school in rural and remote areas did not complete Year 12, compared with 26 per cent of students from regional areas, and 17 per cent of students from metropolitan areas;
  • 26 per cent of students who attended government schools did not complete Year 12, compared with 12 per cent of Catholic school students, and 11 per cent of independent school students; and
  • 40 per cent of students whose literacy/numeracy performance was very low in Year 9 did not complete school. In contrast, only 8 per cent of students whose performance was very high left school early.

According to ACER Research Fellow, Dr Julie McMillan, nearly 80 per cent of the non-completers from the 1995 Year 9 cohort indicated that wanting to get a job or apprenticeship was an important consideration in their decision to leave school. Furthermore, nearly half of the non-completers said that this was the main reason why they left school. About 76 per cent indicated that ‘to earn my own money’ was an important consideration, although only 5 per cent indicated that this was their main reason for leaving school.

She added that school-related factors were less prominent among the reasons given for non-completion.

"Less than a third of non-completers indicated that not liking school, not doing well at school, or the subject/course choice offered by the school was their main reason for leaving school. Very few students left school because of advice from teachers," Dr McMillan said.

Dr Marks said their study indicates a number of interesting consequences regarding school non-completion. They are:

  • 35 per cent of school non-completers, compared with two-thirds of school completers, were engaged in some form of post-secondary education and training;
  • just over three-quarters of male non-completers were working full-time, compared with only 55 per cent of female non-completers;
  • non-completers were most commonly found in apprenticeships, traineeships and other TAFE study, with only 1 per cent studying towards a bachelors or higher degree in 2001. In contrast, completers were concentrated in courses leading to bachelors and higher degrees (41 per cent);
  • male non-completers were more likely to be unemployed, and female non-completers were more likely to be outside the labour force (and not studying), than were completers who had not undertaken higher education.

According to Dr Marks, it’s not all negative for those who do not complete school.

"The most common reason given by non-completers for leaving school was to gain employment, and the majority (67 per cent) were indeed in full-time employment in 2000. Furthermore, the majority of employed non-completers displayed high levels of work satisfaction, and over half were in the type of work they would like as a career. Job mobility, while high, was mostly in order to obtain better jobs," Dr Marks said.