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Year 12 subject choice linked to further study, job opportunities

Media release 4 minute read

The subjects chosen by Year 12 students can affect their opportunities for further education and employment, a report released by ACER has revealed.

"The results of the report indicate that students have different post-school education and training experiences depending on the subjects they take in senior school", the study’s authors, Dr Stephen Lamb and Ms Katrina Ball, said.

In the year after completing Year 12, two-thirds of the students who studied science, maths and business studies combinations of subjects entered university or vocational education and training. This was higher than for students undertaking studies from most other parts of the Year 12 curriculum.

Students doing vocational education and technology courses in Year 12 more often sought entry to the workforce than entry to further education. These students had the highest rate of participation in full-time work at age 19. However, while many obtain full-time jobs, there are also many who do not. Over 20 per cent were either unemployed, in part-time work and not studying, or not in the labour force and not studying.

This was also true for those from courses in health sciences and physical education and some arts and humanities courses. For example, over 40 per cent of those who took a course involving history, geography, general maths and art were in full-time jobs at age 19, but a further 20 per cent were either unemployed, in part-time work and not studying, or not in the labour force and not studying.

"Different courses lead to different educational and work opportunities", the authors said.

The importance of these findings relates partly to differences in the patterns of subject choice. The research points to substantial differences between student subject choice according to gender, early school achievement, socioeconomic status, school sector and ethnicity.

Within the sample studied, one in five boys, but only one in twelve girls enrolled in maths and sciences in Year 12. Girls who did enrol in these subjects tended to take biological sciences or chemistry with maths and humanities. More than 25 per cent of these girls combined maths, sciences and humanities, compared with 15 per cent of boys.

The report found that nearly 25 percent of students of high socioeconomic status took maths and science, compared with 15 per cent of students of low socioeconomic status.

The findings were also important because curriculum was found to have an independent effect on outcomes.

"Students from the same background, of the same sex, attending the same type of school and with the same levels of achievement at age 14 have different work and further study experiences depending on the subjects they take in Year 12", the authors said.

The report is the first national analysis to draw attention to the important influence of subject choice in Year 12 on what happens after leaving school. It also confirms earlier research that shows completing Year 12 is beneficial. In almost all instances Year 12 students had better employment outcomes than young people who left school before completing Year 12.

The findings of the report have important implications for curriculum policy and the counselling and information services provided for students. In an attempt to cater for diversity of students, many schools are now offering a greater range of subjects. However, some courses do not have clearly articulated links with further education and training and with employment. This may work to increase inequality in post-school education, training and employment outcomes.

The study is based on data collected between 1990 and 1997. It forms part of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth research program, which is conducted by ACER and supported by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.

Lamb, Stephen & Ball, Katrina. (1999) Curriculum and Careers: The Education and Labour Market Consequences of Year 12 Subject Choice, Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth, Research Report No. 12, Melbourne: ACER.

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