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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2001  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 06/06/2001   
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Contents >> Education >> Participation in Education: Trends in completing school

Participation in Education: Trends in completing school

Between 1985 and 1992, the retention of school students to Year 12 increased from 46% to 77%. By 1995 it had decreased to 72%, and has remained stable since then.

After a long period of steady growth over the 1980s, the retention of school students to Year 12 declined slightly throughout the 1990s. The apparent retention rate reached its peak in 1992 at 77%, but by 1995 it had fallen to 72% and remained stable until 1999. The overall increase in the retention rate is associated with the growing importance of educational qualifications for employment outcomes. In the early 1990s, high unemployment among other factors also prompted more would-be early school leavers to complete Year 12 than before.1

The decline in the apparent retention rate since 1992 suggests that options for early school leavers increased as the decade progressed. Not only did the unemployment rate for 15-24 year olds fall, but also the number of people undertaking vocational education and training increased, from 966,800 to 1.6 million between 1990 and 1999.2 This suggests that there may have been more alternatives in the late 1990s for people not wishing to pursue the academic pathway of school and university.


Completing school in Australia
This article draws on data from the ABS National School Statistics Collection and ABS Transition from Education to Work Survey. These two collections gather different but complementary data on people who do not complete the highest level of school.

The ABS National School Statistics Collection is an annual census of schools in Australia. Published as Schools, Australia (ABS cat. no. 4221.0), it contains information on the characteristics of schools, students and staff, as well as data on school participation.

The apparent retention rate is the number of full-time students currently in Year 12 divided by the number of full-time students in the first year of secondary school (Year 7 in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania; Year 8 in Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia) when the Year 12 cohort began secondary school. Care should be taken in interpreting apparent retention rates, as they do not account for students repeating a year or migrating in or out of the Australian school student population.

The ABS Transition from Education to Work Survey is conducted every May as a supplement to the Labour Force Survey. It contains a range of key indicators relating to the educational participation and attainment of people aged 15-64 years as well as data on people in transition between education and work. It looks at a variety of demographic and educational characteristics according to whether the highest level of school was completed.

Early school leavers are people who did not complete the highest level of school (Year 12). They encompass all people who completed Year 11, Year 10 or earlier years.


Early school leavers
In 2000, of the 2 million people aged 15-24 years who had left school, one third reported that they left school before completing Year 12. Young men were more likely to have been early school leavers than young women (39% compared with 27%). This could be associated with the fact that men are more likely than women to take up apprenticeships, reflecting the larger number of apprenticeships available in occupations that traditionally attract men.3

In 2000, 15-24 year olds born in Australia were more likely to have been early school leavers than 15-24 year olds born outside Australia (36% compared with 19%). This could be associated with the fact that in recent years, Australia's immigration policies have targeted skilled migrants from well-educated backgrounds and with English language proficiency (see Australian Social Trends, 2001, Coming to Australia). In addition, a large proportion of young people come to Australia from overseas to study, and many are likely to have completed Year 12 or to be in the process of completing Year 12. In 1999-2000, of 15-24 year olds arriving in Australia for visits of more than 12 months, 77% said their main purpose for travelling was education.4


APPARENT RETENTION RATE(a) TO YEAR 12
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE (a) FOR 15-24 YEAR OLDS
(a) Full-time students only.

Source: National School Statistics Collection, Australia, 1985-1988 (ABS cat. no. 4221.0);
Schools, Australia, 1989-1999 (ABS cat. no. 4221.0).
(a) Original series. Data have not been revised to reflect definitional changes introduced in April 2001.

Source: ABS 1985-1999 Labour Force Surveys.


The likelihood of completing Year 12 also varied according to area of residence. Young people living in areas other than capital cities were more likely to have been early school leavers than those living in capital cities (45% compared with 27%). In addition, retention rates varied considerably according to the type of school attended. In 2000, 39% of 15-24 year olds who had attended a government school reported that they had not completed Year 12, compared with 17% of those who had attended a non-government school.

A large proportion of people who had not completed Year 12 stated that they left because they wanted to work rather than study. In 1997, 43% of early school leavers aged 15-24 years reported that their main reason for not completing school was because they had or wanted a job. Work-related reasons were more commonly reported as the main reason for leaving than schooling-related or personal or family reasons.

EARLY SCHOOL LEAVERS AGED 15-24 YEARS(a), 2000

Left school before completing Year 12
All people(a) aged 15-24 years
%
'000

Sex
    Male
38.5
1,026.9
    Female
27.3
972.5
Country of birth
    Australia
35.9
1,669.0
    Outside Australia
18.7
330.4
Area of residence
    Capital city
27.0
1,318.6
    Balance of state
44.8
680.8
Type of school
    Government
39.4
1,441.5
    Non-government
16.8
557.9
Total
33.1
1,999.4

(a) Excludes 15-24 year olds still at school and 15-24 year olds who never attended school.

Source: ABS 2000 Transition from Education to Work Survey.


Education and the labour market
Completing the final year of school has become increasingly important for the labour market outcomes of young people over the past 20 to 30 years. In parallel with rising Year 12 apparent retention rates in the 1980s and early 1990s, the labour market in Australia changed. Fewer jobs were offered in manufacturing and other industries which have traditionally employed young people without qualifications.3 This may have prompted more students to complete Year 12 and to consider post-school study as an alternative to looking for work.

In addition, skill requirements in the labour force have shifted over the past 20 to 30 years, with higher levels of qualification required for many occupations than was previously the case. For example, until the 1980s, registered nursing in Australia was taught firstly in hospitals and then Colleges of Advanced Education. Between 1984 and 1993, study for registered nursing was transferred to universities and standardised across institutions.5

However, after 1992, both the retention rate for students to Year 12 and the unemployment rate for 15-24 year olds declined. Both of these trends may suggest a greater number of jobs available to young adults. Alternatively, early school leavers could be taking up the diverse range of training and education opportunities outside school that have become available in recent years.

MAIN REASON FOR LEAVING SCHOOL BEFORE COMPLETING YEAR 12(a), 1997

Type of reason(b)
%

Work-related reasons
46.0
    Little difference to job prospects
3.5
    Got (or wanted) a job or apprenticeship
42.5
Schooling-related reasons(c)
23.3
    Did not do well or failed subjects
6.1
    Did not like school or teachers
15.4
Personal or family reasons(d)
18.0
    Lost interest or motivation
13.5
    Own ill-health, injury or disability
3.4
Other reasons
12.7
Total
100.0

(a) 15-24 year olds only.
(b) Respondents nominated one reason only.
(c) Includes people who gave other schooling-related reasons.
(d) Includes people who gave other personal or family reasons.

Source: Education and Training Experience, Australia, 1997 (ABS cat. no. 6278.0).


Employment outcomes
Employment outcomes are likely to vary for early school leavers depending on whether they take up the courses and programs available to them. In general, early school leavers in 2000 had higher unemployment rates than people who had completed Year 12 and people who had post-school educational qualifications.

For people aged 15-24 years who had left school, those with post-school educational qualifications were more likely to be in the labour force (either employed or looking for work) than early school leavers or people who had only completed Year 12. Moreover, of people in the labour force, those with post school educational qualifications were the most likely to have found full-time employment (74%).

Almost two thirds (63%) of early school leavers in the labour force were working full-time. However, this group was also about three times as likely to be unemployed and seeking full-time work (18%) as people who had post-school educational qualifications (7%) and people who had completed Year 12 (6%).

People in the labour force who had completed Year 12 were the least likely to be working full-time (46%), but this is associated with the fact that almost half of this group were studying for post-school educational qualifications, and thus were not seeking full-time work. This is reinforced by the fact that this group was the most likely of the three groups to be working part-time (44%).

EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT AND LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF PEOPLE AGED 15-24 YEARS(a), 2000

Highest level of educational attainment

Labour force status
With post-school educational qualifications(b)
Completed Year 12
Left school before completing Year 12
Total
%
%
%
%

Employment rate
91.8
89.6
80.9
88.2
    Full-time
73.5
46.0
62.5
59.2
    Part-time
18.2
43.7
18.3
29.1
Unemployment rate
8.2
10.4
19.1
11.8
    Looking for full-time work
6.6
6.4
17.5
9.1
    Looking for part-time work
1.6
4.0
1.6
2.6
In the labour force
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
'000
'000
In the labour force
543.9
687.9
390.5
1,622.3

%
%
%
%
Labour force participation rate
90.4
76.1
79.0
81.1

(a) Excludes people who are still at school and who never attended school.
(b) Includes people who did not complete the highest level of school who have post-school qualifications.

Source: ABS 2000 Transition from Education to Work Survey.


Vocational qualifications
A skilled vocational course provides an individual with the knowledge and skills needed to work in a vocation or trade that requires a high level of skill in a range of activities. It usually includes a component of on-the-job training. The entry requirement is Year 10 and courses take between two and four years.

A basic vocational course provides skills for employment at the operative level of various industries. It often requires the completion of Year 10 but may have no formal entry requirements, and lasts for between a semester and a year.

An apprentice is a person who enters into a legal contract with an employer to serve a period of training and to work for the employer to attain qualifications in a recognised trade.

A trainee is a person who enters into an agreement with an employer to work for that employer and receive on-the-job training for a specified period of time.


Post-school education
Although early school leavers aged 15-24 years are more likely to be unemployed than others, not all enter the labour force on leaving school. According to vocational education and training statistics2, early school leavers comprised 56% of participants in vocational education and training in 1999. Participation in these courses rose by 70% between 1990 and 1999. This suggests that more early school leavers may be gaining skills and qualifications than in the past.

Almost 20% of early school leavers aged 15-24 years were undertaking some form of study in 2000, compared with 47% of 15-24 year olds who had completed Year 12. Most of these early school leavers were undertaking TAFE courses (16%), while most people who had completed Year 12 were undertaking higher education courses (33%). This difference partly reflects the different entry requirements of higher education and TAFE courses.

EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION ATTENDANCE AND LEVEL OF COURSE OF PEOPLE AGED 15-24 YEARS(a), 2000

Highest year of school completed

Year 12
Earlier than Year 12
%
%

Attending in May 2000
47.4
19.5
Type of institution
    Higher education
33.2
1.5
    TAFE
11.2
15.8
    Other Tertiary
3.0
2.2
Level of course
    Higher degree
1.0
-
    Postgraduate diploma
1.1
*0.0
    Bachelor degree
30.6
1.0
    Undergraduate diploma
5.0
1.6
    Associate diploma
2.1
*0.7
    Skilled vocational course
4.1
10.1
    Basic vocational course
3.3
5.0
    Secondary school course
*0.1
1.0
Not attending in May 2000(b)
52.6
80.5

'000
'000
Total
1,338.2
661.2

(a) Excludes 15-24 year olds still at school and 15-24 year olds who never attended school.
(b) Includes 15-24 year olds studying non-recognised courses (less than one semester or uncodeable).

Source: ABS 2000 Transition from Education to Work Survey.


Early school leavers attending an education institution were most commonly undertaking a skilled vocational course (10%), or a basic vocational course (5%). A small proportion (1%) were studying a secondary school course and were therefore in the process of completing Year 12 at a TAFE or other tertiary institution.

Most apprenticeships and traineeships do not require completion of Year 12. As they provide employment during and after training (see Australian Social Trends, 2000, Developments in contracted training: apprentices and trainees), they may be another path to employment available to early school leavers. Of apprentices and trainees in training in 2000, more than half (59%) had left school before completing Year 12.

HIGHEST LEVEL OF SCHOOL COMPLETED(a) OF APPRENTICES AND TRAINEES IN TRAINING 2000

(a) People for whom the highest level of school completed was unknown were excluded prior to the calculation of percentages.

Source: National Centre for Vocational Education, Research, Australian Apprentices and Trainees Collection, December 2000.


Endnotes
1 Lewis, P.E.T. and Koshy, P. 1999, 'Youth employment, unemployment and school participation', Australian Journal of Education, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 42-57.

2 National Centre for Vocational Education Research 1999, Vocational Education and Training Statistics, http://www.ncver.edu.au/statistics/vet/ann99/ID99/index.htm and http://www.ncver.edu.au/vet/ann99/glance99/timeall.htm (Accessed 1 May 2001).

3 Lamb, S., Dwyer, P. and Wyn, J. 2000, Non-Completion of School in Australia: The Changing Patterns of Participation and Outcomes, Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth Research Report 16, Australian Council for Education Research, Melbourne.

4 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000, Migration, 1999-2000, cat. no. 3412.0, ABS, Canberra.

5 National Review of Nurse Education in the Higher Education Sector 1994, Nursing Education in Australian Universities, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.



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