Family factors in early school leaving

CFCA Paper No. 16 – July 2013

Early school leaving

Early school leaving has been described as a long-term and multi-dimensional process, rather than a single event, that begins with a process of disengagement (Dale, 2010; Ferguson et al., 2005). An "early school leaver" in this paper refers to a young person who exits the school system without completing Year 12 or taking up an alternative pathway.

Young people who disengage from school early are at a high risk for poorer current and future employment prospects. For example, research shows that young people who complete Year 10 or 11, without taking up alternative pathways (VET), are one-and-a-half times less likely to be in full-time ongoing work or education, compared to those who complete Year 12. Data from the 2010 Longitudinal Study of Australian Youth (LSAY) revealed that among 22-year-olds who were not engaged in full-time employment or ongoing education, over one-third had left school in Year 9; 16.5% left in Year 10; and 11.3% left in Year 11 (Robinson & Lamb, 2012). Around half of young people who leave school early are likely to be disengaged from any form of education, training or work in the following year (Curtis & McMillian 2008).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, in particular, are over represented within early school leaver figures, at three times that of non-Aboriginal young people (Curtis & McMillan, 2008). Factors influencing school completion rates for Aboriginal young people are multi-dimensional, including physical (e.g., geographic location), cultural (e.g., discrimination), economic (e.g., costs of schooling), and informational (e.g., low levels of literacy) (Helme & Lamb, 2011).

Early school leavers are at much greater risk for remaining unemployed in the longer term, earning considerably lower wages when they are employed, and are likely to struggle to accumulate wealth over their life span (Deloitte Access Economics, 2012). Long-term unemployment can lead to many other risk factors for young people, including:

  • social exclusion;
  • long-term welfare dependence;
  • reduced life satisfaction;
  • mental health problems; and
  • increased vulnerability to involvement in criminal activities.

Ultimately, these outcomes can result in higher costs to society in the form of health, welfare and criminal justice burdens (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training [Cedefop], 2010).