Improving the educational outcomes of the various disadvantaged groups, such as Indigenous Australians, people with a disability, learners with low prior educational attainment and individuals from non-English speaking backgrounds, is a focus of many government policy initiatives centred on social inclusion.

This research takes a regional approach to investigate the educational outcomes for disadvantaged groups, to account for variation in the characteristics of local populations, industries, infrastructure and communities, and then identifies effective practices for improving outcomes for disadvantaged learners.

The research was conducted in three stages. Firstly, a range of data sources was used to identify regions with both high participation and high completion rates of disadvantaged learners in vocational education and training (VET). Secondly, it reports on a national survey of registered training organisations (RTOs) to determine the strategies used to engage and support disadvantaged learners. Lastly, the research more thoroughly explores the high-performing regions through case studies including public, private and community providers, aiming to better understand why they achieve higher-than-average results with disadvantaged learners.

Key messages:

Supporting disadvantaged learners is successful when it is an institution-wide commitment. The institute should have a defined set of initiatives in place, such as providing learning support and matching more experienced staff with high-need learners, rather than relying on ad hoc practices.

Building strong relationships with employers and other service agencies in the community is important but requires adequate resourcing. These relationships, which help training providers gain a better understanding of the local community, the types of disadvantaged learners within it, and the available employment and labour market opportunities, enable them to better support their students.

While diverse groups of disadvantaged learners are widely offered support, it is necessary to customise the support to the individual, particularly for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) learners and learners with low levels of prior educational attainment. Support includes tailored services to the individual’s specific learning needs, such as extra literacy and numeracy support, as well as promoting the benefits of specific outreach programs in the community.

The development of regional frameworks that coordinate relationships between local community groups, VET providers and regional labour markets would likely benefit all involved. Collaboration helps to develop a comprehensive and coherent approach to the engagement of disadvantaged learners and may help to strengthen the relationship between VET completion and relevant job opportunities.

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