Report

The impact of the raised school leaving age

1 Nov 2012
Description

This audit examined how well the Department of Education and Communities monitors and supports young people at school or on an approved alternate pathway until they reach 17 years of age.

Studies here and overseas have found that teenagers who leave school early are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed, earn lower wages, have poorer health or be involved in criminal activities. The longer a young person remains at school the better their prospects are.

In New South Wales, compulsory school attendance was set to 15 years of age in 1943. While most other States had raised the school leaving age to 17 years of age by 2009, in New South Wales it remained at 15 until 2010.

The NSW Government passed laws to raise the school leaving age from 15 to 17 years of age, effective from 1 January 2010. This means that all students in the State must complete Year 10 of secondary schooling or turn 17 years of age, whichever comes first. If students complete Year 10 but are not yet 17 years of age they must continue in full-time education, training, paid work, or a combination of these activities, until they turn 17 years of age. Where a student has completed Year 10 and chooses one of the options other than school, principals verify that they have either obtained full-time paid work or have been accepted into a vocational education program.

A wide choice of subjects, flexible timetables and targeted careers advice was to be made available to help students choose an appropriate career path. Schools were also to implement strategies and programs to support the group of students who would have traditionally left school when they turned 15 years of age, often during Year 10. However they must now remain at school until they turn 17 years of age.

The NSW Government estimated that student numbers would increase gradually to about 8,900 additional students per year either at school or in vocational education and training programs. To support this initiative, the NSW Government estimated that more than $300 million would be required over four years from 2009–10 to support government schools and Technical and Further Education Commission (TAFE).

In 2010, 98 per cent of the 54,607 students enrolled in Year 10 at government schools were under 17 years of age. This group of students, the 2010 cohort, are the first to be affected by the raised school leaving age.

Parents are responsible for the participation of their children in compulsory education and training. Since 2010, in addition to parents facing legal action, young people over 12 years of age can now also face legal action under certain circumstances.

These changes made it clear that participation in full-time education, training, paid employment or a combination of these was compulsory for young people who are 15 to 17 years of age.

This audit examined how well the Department of Education and Communities (the Department) monitors and supports young people at school or on an approved alternate pathway until they reach 17 years of age.

While these changes in legislation affect students at both government and non-government schools, this audit looked at students attending government schools only.

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2012
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