Improving the educational outcomes for young people has been a key social policy focus of state governments across Australia, evidenced for example by moves to increase the school leaving age; reform of certificates of education; and expansion of vocational education and training in schools. In South Australia a major component of this activity has been the school retention focus of the Social Inclusion Initiative. Established as a whole of government endeavour, it has been driven by the independent Social Inclusion Board and an Inter Ministerial Committee. Over the past three years, a number of demonstration programs have resulted in an increased capacity to respond to the complexity of issues relating to early school leaving and an increased capacity to make a difference through benefit to young people who have remained engaged or re-engaged with learning in a range of different environments. Systems change has been more incremental in nature. The policy challenge now presents of how to effectively embed ‘school retention’ into mainstream policy and practice across the agencies. In an era of striving for evidence based policy, this paper from the 2007 Australian Social Policy Conference explores the implications for the development of policy that encapsulates learning from demonstration programs, both in relation to ongoing benefit for young people and for systems change.