30 October 2013
A report by the Council of Australian Governments Reform Council shows mixed progress on education.
Participation in preschool is high and school outcomes in the early years are improving. Nationally, average scores improved in Years 3 and 5 in reading and in Year 5 in numeracy, but there were no improvements in Years 7 and 9. Australia is also performing behind top countries in these key areas. Year 12 attainment has increased, particularly for Indigenous students. More than a quarter of young people are not fully engaged in work or study after leaving school and this has worsened over five years.
While 85% of people aged 20 to 24 had completed year 12 or equivalent as of 2011, up from 82.8% five years ago, the national target of 90% year 12 completion by 2015 is not likely to be met.
And although the rate of young people studying full-time increased, this gain was outstripped by a big decline in full-time employment. The proportion of people aged 17 to 24 who were fully involved in work or study after school dropped from 73.9% to 72.7% over the five years.
Results are much bleaker among disadvantaged students.
The report shows 41.7 % of those from the poorest backgrounds were disengaged from work or study, more than double the 17.4% rate in the most well-off group, with a widening of the gap between 2006 and 2011.
The report shows no improvement in indigenous school attendance over this period, although year 12 attainment has improved 6.5 percentage points.
But after leaving school, 60.6% of indigenous young people were not fully engaged in work or study – well above the 26% rate among the rest of the youth population.
A companion report on vocational education found more Australians were training but fewer were reaping the benefits. The proportion of working-aged people with post-school qualifications increased six percentage points in the five years to 2011, but the proportion with improved employment status after they trained fell by five percentage points.
COAG Reform Council deputy chairman Greg Craven (vice-chancellor, Australian Catholic University) said the global financial crisis would be one of the influences behind the lower post-school participation rate.
But he said the increase in year 12 completion was important because of a direct link between outcomes of parents and children and that some of the early education strategies were starting to pay off in primary school results, although not yet evident at secondary level.
One of the key determinants is level of education of parents, so there’s reason to think if things are going up at the start of school and there’s significant improvement at the end of school, you may well see the start of a measured gradual improvement in the middle.