Study reveals more needs to be done to help disadvantaged students complete Year 12 - Education Matters Magazine
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Study reveals more needs to be done to help disadvantaged students complete Year 12

A longitudinal study on the post-school transitions of young people experiencing disadvantage has found that responding to early warning signs and providing more personalised support, including with careers, are crucial to help more students in need finish Year 12 and have stronger post-school outcomes.

The report, published by The Smith Family, comes as research by Jobs and Skills Australia shows that while 90 per cent of jobs over the next decade will need a post-school qualification, Year 12 completion rates are declining, particularly for young people experiencing disadvantage.

Image: The Smith Family

The Pathways, Engagement and Transitions (PET) research aims to understand and strengthen the post-school pathways students experiencing disadvantage take.

This is the third study in the series and is focused on the experiences of young people who were in Year 10 in 2020, particularly those who left school before completing Year 12.

The study drew on survey responses from 2,000 young people in 2021, 2022 and 2023, as well as in-depth interviews with 29 of them.

The survey data found that:

  • 57 per cent of students who had poor attendance (under 70 per cent) in Year 9 left school before finishing Year 12. This is compared to just 19 per cent of students who had high attendance (90 per cent-100 per cent).
  • 45 per cent of students who achieved a D or E grade in Year 9 English left school early. This is compared to 21 per cent of students who received an A, B or C grade.
  • 39 per cent of students who couldn’t recall receiving careers advice left school early, compared to 13 per cent who could recall careers advice.

Head of Research and Advocacy at The Smith Family, Ms Anne Hampshire, said the PET research shows achievement and attendance are among the strongest predictors for young people who are likely to leave school early, more so than demographic characteristics such as gender or where a young person lives.

The PET research also shows many early school leavers intended to complete Year 12.

“Our findings show that 92 per cent of students who started Year 11, but didn’t complete school, said they had intended to finish Year 12. This means there’s a tremendous opportunity to help more young people to realise that goal, through better use of data and more individualised assistance including for literacy and numeracy, better support with mental health and quality careers support,” Ms Hampshire said.

“As our interviews show, careers support helps some young people see the value of completing Year 12, while for others it helps identify the opportunities available through an apprenticeship, and the steps to obtain one.”

The PET research confirms the importance of Year 12 completion. Three in four young people who completed Year 12 were in work and/or study in 2023, compared to only two in three of the young people who left school early.

Young people also spoke about financial concerns as they moved through high school and beyond, with 44 per cent of early school leavers and 34 per cent of Year 12 completers worried often or all the time about paying for essentials.

Some flagged they couldn’t keep up with schoolwork, especially during the COVID years, as they didn’t have access to a laptop, and some didn’t pursue post-school study or left study because of financial pressures.

The PET survey also found that there are a range of reasons that contribute to young people leaving before completing Year 12 and for half of young people who left there are multiple reasons. ‘Push’ factors, which generally result in more negative outcomes post-school include:

  • Not liking school (32 per cent)
  • Health or mental health issues (31 per cent)
  • Not doing well or missing a lot of school (28 per cent)
  • Having problems with students or teachers or being asked to leave (17 per cent)
  • Being bullied at school (13 per cent)

These students were more likely to not be in work or study post school or be in more unskilled roles, with limited opportunities for career progression. Students who left early due to ‘pull’ factors had much better outcomes. Pull factors include:

  • Wanted to get a job/apprenticeship/traineeship (31 per cent)
  • Wanted to do training or other course (16 per cent) For these young people, just under half were in more highly skilled roles that have better career outcomes.

“For students who feel ‘pushed’ out of school, the same factors that see them leave can follow them throughout their post-school transitions. If we want to see positive outcomes for all students, we must strengthen supports in school,” Ms Hampshire said.

Based on the findings in this research, The Smith Family said it wants to see:

  • Continuous monitoring of warning signs throughout school to identify young people at elevated risk of early school leaving.
  • Providing students experiencing these challenges with more individualised support while at school to strengthen school engagement and completion.
  • Increased provision of individualised career advice and support throughout the secondary years, with a focus on delivering supports which help young people articulate their post-school plans and the steps required to achieve this plan.
  • Increased support and information to parents and carers regarding school completion and how they can support their children’s post-school pathways.
  • Increased provision of appropriate and accessible support in and outside of school for young people experiencing mental health issues.

“We have a tremendous opportunity now to make changes, through the National School Reform Agreement, to ensure that no young person is left behind,” Ms Hampshire said.

“We need to get post-school transitions right, not just for this generation, but for generations to come. If more young people can find a pathway to post-school work or study, it’s not just good for them, but for their communities, the economy, and Australia as a whole.”

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