This article has explored the concept of social inclusion and in particular whether some groups are at risk of being socially excluded. Education acts as a protective factor against social exclusion, therefore, educational attainment, and engagement in education or training and employment of 'at risk' groups, have been explored. The groups examined here included people who live in disadvantaged areas, people whose parents have low levels of education, people with disabilities or long-term health conditions, as well as people with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD).
People living in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas (lowest SEIFA quintiles) were, on average, less engaged in study and had lower levels of attainment. While young people had higher levels of educational attainment than older people in all SEIFA quintiles, the difference was least in the most disadvantaged areas. Young people in disadvantaged areas also reported a higher incidence of barriers to participating in further education.
The issue of inter-generational disadvantage was examined by looking at the possible influence of parental background on young people's educational attainment. Young people who had a parent with a Bachelor degree were much more likely to have a degree themselves than were other young people. While people with parents whose highest educational attainment was Year 12 or below performed less well themselves, more than half held or were studying towards a Certificate III or higher qualification.
People with a disability or long-term health condition were more likely than those without such conditions to have poorer outcomes in educational attainment and participation as well as engagement in full-time work. However, there was considerable variation here. People with mental or nervous conditions had worse outcomes than did people with physical disabilities in their educational attainment or participation and engagement in full-time work. People with severe or profound activity limitations were similarly disadvantaged when compared to those with a lesser degree of restriction due to disability.
People from CALD backgrounds did not show up as being ‘at risk’ of social exclusion because of poor educational outcomes. In fact, people who spoke a language other than English at home had, on average, higher educational attainment and greater participation in full-time study than people who were born in Australia and mainly spoke English at home. However, proficiency in English was shown to be a critical factor in determining educational outcomes. People who were proficient in English were twice as likely to have, or be studying towards, a university degree than people not proficient in English. Poor English proficiency was also associated with lower engagement in full-time work and participation in work related training.
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.