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OECD expert calls for separate senior schools to improve youth pathways

Media release 4 minute read

A Principal Administrator in the OECD’s Education and Training Division has called on Australia to adopt separate senior schooling for Year 11 and 12 students. He believes this will act as a preventative approach to early school leaving and allow better careers advice to support the educational pathways of all young people.

In delivering his paper to the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) conference, Understanding Youth Pathways: What does the research tell us?, Richard Sweet said separate senior high schools would allow larger grade cohorts to be created. This would bring a number of benefits to students, such as a wider choice of subjects, and thus encourage them to stay longer at school.

"It would also lead to the creation of the more adult learning environments that young people find an attractive feature both of TAFE and of senior high schools. Larger senior high schools as the national model would also permit more specialised advice, guidance and support services to be provided," Mr Sweet said.

Compared to the OECD as a whole, Australia’s youth pathway outcomes are mixed, according to Mr Sweet.

"On the one hand, employment rates for young adults are above the OECD average, and relatively large numbers of young adults achieve university-level tertiary qualification. On the other hand, teenage unemployment in Australia is worse that the OECD average, early school leaving appears to be comparatively high, and early school leavers appear to be relatively highly disadvantaged in the labour market, compared to their better educated peers," Mr Sweet said.

"A picture emerges of transition pathways that serve the able, qualified and enterprising relatively well, but which are not as well suited to the needs of the less able, less qualified and less enterprising."

During his presentation, Mr Sweet made a number of comparisons between Australian youth pathways and those of other OECD countries. They included the following:

  • it is more common in Australia than in most OECD countries, except Ireland and New Zealand, for upper secondary education to take place in the same institution as lower secondary schooling. This has important implications for the breadth of curriculum choice available;
  • the great majority of young Australians take a general education programme in upper secondary education or its equivalent. Eighty per cent of Australian 15-19 year-old students are in general education programmes, compared to an average of 50% for the OECD as a whole. Entry to programmes that provide specific occupational qualification is generally delayed to a later age in Australia than is the case in countries such as Germany and Austria;
  • the proportion of Australian students who enrol in private, although government dependent institutions, is around twice the OECD average;
  • young people who enter university-level tertiary education in Australia do so at the relatively early average of 19. This compares to 23 in Denmark and Sweden, which lie at the other end of the OECD spectrum;
  • a key feature of the Australian labour market is that a high proportion of students have jobs. Half of all 15-19 year-old students had a job in 1999, more than twice the OECD average, exceeded only by Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Among 20-24 year-old students, 72% had a job in 1999, the highest level in the OECD. Australia contrasts sharply with France, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Portugal and Spain where five per cent or less of teenage students work, and only around one in five 20-24 year-old students combine study with a job; and
  • the Australian labour market is also a relatively easy one for young graduates to find work in. In 1998 the unemployment rate among 25-29 year-old graduates was, at 2.7%, the fourth lowest in the OECD. This is well below the OECD average of 7.7%, and in marked contrast to the unemployment rates of over ten per cent experienced by graduates of this age in France and Turkey, and of over 20% in Greece, Italy and Spain.

A summary of the paper Meandering, diversions and steadfast purpose: Australian youth pathways in a comparative perspective by Richard Sweet is currently available.


Other papers presented today at the conference, include:

Does VET in Schools make a difference to post-school pathways?
Sue Fullarton, Australian Council for Educational Research

How effective are apprenticeship and traineeship pathways?
Chris Robinson, National Centre for Vocational Education Research

Regional and local government initiatives to support youth pathways: lessons from innovative communities
John Spierings, Dusseldorp Skills Forum

Improving pathways outcomes for young Indigenous Australians
Peter Buckskin, Assistant Secretary, Indigenous Education Branch, Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs

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