4250.0.55.001 - Perspectives on Education and Training: Social Inclusion, 2009  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/08/2011  First Issue
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Summary of findings
Data source and definitions


‘Social inclusion’ refers to opportunities, resources, and human capability. Most generally, it is understood as the extent to which both individuals and populations have the choice and capacity to participate in society (Hayes, Gray and Edwards, 2008; Australian Social Inclusion Board, 2010). Education is particularly important to the concept of social inclusion since it helps equip people with the necessary life-skills and qualifications to establish social networks, make informed choices, and participate in cultural, economic and political life (Klasen, 2000). Education, therefore, acts as a strong protective factor against social exclusion, that is, the lack of opportunity, capability and resources for societal engagement. This is especially true for ‘at risk’ population groups such as people who have a mental illness or disability, people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, and people from low socioeconomic backgrounds who are subject to inter-generational disadvantage. Although having these particular ‘at risk’ characteristics does not necessarily mean that people will experience social exclusion, people in these situations are more likely to face barriers to participation in society because of their circumstances (Klasen, 2000, pp.4-5).

This article assesses barriers to participation for each of the 'at risk' groups on two levels: self-assessed barriers to access/participation in education (potential exclusion from education); and the prospect that the participation of these groups in wider society would be inhibited by poor educational outcomes (potential exclusion due to low education). These themes have been addressed through the examination of populations of interest in terms of their levels of highest educational attainment and current study, engagement in work and study, barriers to formal learning, and participation in non-formal learning activities.

The emphasis of the analysis was on young people aged 15-24 years in order to provide insight into those who may still be at school and starting to consider opportunities for further education, as well as those who have already left school and gone onto other endeavours. Attainment and current study, however, have only been assessed for people aged 20-24 years to explore the transition between school-based education, further study in vocational or higher education and employment. Comparisons to 25-64 year olds have also been included, where relevant, to provide a more holistic picture of the participation and barriers faced by the wider population and to provide insight into possible generational change.


The results of this analysis showed that the outcomes of the ‘at risk’ groups varied considerably according to their particular circumstance, and while most people seemed to have achieved relatively good outcomes in education and training, particularly with more young people studying than previous generations, some groups continue to face major challenges. Particular disadvantages identified in the analysis were for people with specific obstacles to their full participation in society, such as those with mental or nervous conditions, severe physical disabilities and people with poor English skills.

Even so, of all reported barriers to learning across the ‘at risk’ groups, the types of barriers reported most often tended to be lack of time, finances and too much work. This suggests that while certain characteristics such as having a disability or mental illness, may be associated with specific disadvantages, individuals at risk of social exclusion may also be experiencing common underlying problems that may stem from or compound their circumstance.

Data in this article are drawn from the four-yearly ABS Survey of Education and Training (SET), most recently conducted in 2009. This survey collects detailed information on the qualifications of the Australian population, participation in non-formal learning activities including work related training and a broad set of socio-demographic characteristics. Information from the ABS Survey of Education and Training complements that available from the annual ABS Survey of Education and Work (SEW). For more information see Education and Training Experience, Australia (cat. no. 6278.0) and Education and Work, Australia (cat. no. 6227.0)

Employed full time: Employed persons who usually worked 35 hours or more a week (in all jobs) and those who, although usually working less than 35 hours a week, worked 35 hours or more during the reference week.

Employed part time
: Employed persons who usually worked less than 35 hours a week (in all jobs) and either did so during the reference week, or were not at work in the reference week.

Not employed: All persons who are either unemployed or not in the labour force.

Fully engaged
: Persons who, in the survey reference week, were in full-time work or in full-time education, or in part-time work combined with part-time education.

Not fully engaged: Includes people who, in the survey reference week, were neither studying or working, were working part time (and not studying), or were studying part time (and not working).

Level of highest educational attainment: Level of highest educational attainment identifies the highest achievement a person has attained in any area of study. It is a measure based on information from a person's highest year of school completed and the level of any non-school qualifications that have been completed. Certificate I, II, and 'Certificate not further defined' are included in the below Year 12 attainment category.

Formal learning: Structured, taught learning that takes place in institutions and organisations and leads to a recognised qualification issued by a relevant body. A learning activity is formal if it leads to a learning achievement that is possible to position within the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and includes workplace training if such training results in a qualification.

Non-formal learning: Structured, taught learning which differs from formal learning in that it does not lead to a qualification within the AQF. It includes non-accredited workplace training, that is, training that does not lead to a recognised qualification. Non-formal learning includes adult education courses (such as introduction to computing), hobby and recreational courses, personal enrichment courses (such as public speaking), first aid courses, bridging courses, statements of attainment and work related courses.

Work related training: Non-formal courses where the main purpose for participating in the learning is for one of the following: to get a job, to get a different job or promotion, it was a requirement of their job, wanted extra skills for their job, to start own business, to develop existing business or to try for a different career.

Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA): Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) is a product developed especially for those interested in the assessment of the welfare of Australian communities. The ABS has developed four indexes to allow ranking of regions/areas, providing a method of determining the level of social and economic well-being in each region. Each of the four indexes summarises different aspects of the socio-economic conditions of people living in an area; each is based upon a different set of social and economic information from the 2006 Census. The indexes provide more general measures of socio-economic status than is given by measuring, for example, income or unemployment alone.

SEIFA Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage (IRSD): This SEIFA Index combines a number of variables (such as income, education and unemployment) of people, families and dwellings within an area, and uses this information to rank areas on a scale of relative disadvantage. The first quintile represents the areas of most disadvantage and the fifth quintile represents the areas of least relative disadvantage.

The concept of relative socio-economic disadvantage is neither simple, nor well defined. SEIFA uses a broad definition of relative socio-economic disadvantage in terms people's access to material and social resources, and their ability to participate in society. While SEIFA represents an average of all people living in an area, SEIFA does not represent the individual situation of each person. Larger areas are more likely to have greater diversity of people and households.

For further information on this and other SEIFA Indexes, see Information Paper: An Introduction to Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), 2006 (cat. no. 2039.0)

Young people: In this article, 'young people' refers to people aged 15-24 years in the majority of instances. Where more refined age groupings are used to distinguish 15-19 year olds or 20-24 year olds, these age ranges are specified.