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Bleak outlook for those who don’t finish school

Media release 5 minute read

Finishing Year 12 has become even more important for young people seeking work.

The proportion of young people who completed Year 12 doubled from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, but those who left school early during the 1990s were more at risk of unemployment.

The report, Non-completion of school in Australia: The changing patterns of participation and outcomes, was released by the Australian Council for Educational Research today.

The proportion of early school leavers declined substantially from about 65 per cent to 25 per cent between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s. The smaller group of young people who did not complete Year 12 in the mid-1990s experienced longer periods of unemployment.

The percentage of those males who did not complete Year 12 who were unemployed for most of their first post-school year doubled between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s — from 14 to 30 per cent. This change in the prevalence of unemployment occurred despite the much smaller numbers of non-completers in the mid-1990s. The situation for females was similar, with 23 per cent of those who did not complete Year 12 being unemployed for most of their first post-school year in the early 1980s compared to 37 per cent in the mid-1990s.

"This report has made it clear that those who do not complete school find it hard to gain secure jobs and face a greater risk of exclusion in a society that requires active learning well beyond the school years. It’s particularly important that we develop policies that encourage young people to complete Year 12 and improve their opportunities for further learning," says Dr Phillip McKenzie, Deputy Head of Policy Research at ACER.

The combined effects of labour market changes, economic recession and changes in income support and curriculum policy helped to keep young people at school during the 1980s and early 1990s.

In the mid-1990s a higher proportion of students completed Year 12 than in the early 1980s. In 1982, about 35 percent completed Year 12, and by 1994, the proportion had doubled to 76 per cent. The gap between those who did and did not complete Year 12 narrowed most among those from low socio-economic backgrounds, and those from government schools.

Despite these substantial improvements, the main indicators of non-completion stayed the same. Those who do not complete Year 12 are still more likely to be from lower socio-economic status backgrounds, rural areas, and government schools. They were more often young people with low levels of achievement in literacy and numeracy, especially among males.

Some gaps even increased. For example, compared to the early 1980s, non-completers in the mid-1990s were more likely to come from rural areas.

The main reasons given by young people for not completing Year 12 focus on getting a job or an apprenticeship or earning some money. In the early 1980s, 67 per cent of males reported this as their main reason for not completing school. The rate in the mid-1990s remained almost the same: 65 per cent.

Negative experiences of school are increasingly a motivation for young people to leave school before completing Year 12. In the early 1980s 16 per cent of males said their main reason for not completing Year 12 was that they did not like school or they were not good enough at school work. By the mid-1990s, 21 per cent cited this reason. For females, the rate increased from 24 percent to 27 per cent in the early 1990s.

"Those who do not finish school are often those who do not do well at school. Raising the levels of achievement of those at risk is essential," Dr McKenzie said. "We also need to make sure that those who do not complete school have opportunities later on to re-enter education and training."

"It is also important to ensure that young people are not just participating in education and training to occupy their time but are engaged in programs that are appealing, relevant to their futures, and which promote skills and knowledge that will ensure their long-term employability and active participation in society," Dr McKenzie said.

The report also emphasised the important role played by apprenticeships in providing a structured pathway to employment for those who did not complete Year 12. However, this was more so for males than females, with relatively few apprenticeships being taken up by girls in the mid-1990s.

The study looked at approximately 5300 students from the 1980s and 1990s. Current ACER research is following up the employment outcomes of young people who left school in the late 1990s

The report forms part of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) research program, which is jointly managed by ACER and the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA). The report was written in conjunction with the Youth Research Centre of the University of Melbourne.

Lamb, Stephen, Dwyer, Peter and Wyn, Johanna (2000). Non-completion of school in Australia: The changing patterns of participation and outcomes, LSAY Research Report No. 16, Melbourne: ACER.

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