early school leavers

Young early school leavers are enrolling in ever greater numbers with private providers.

In September NCVER released a report on how early school leavers aged between 15-19 years and had not completed secondary school are changing from public to private providers. Shedding light: Private ‘for profit’ training providers and young early school leavers (83 pages) reveals that in 2015 more early school leavers were enrolled with private providers than in the TAFE systems. The report shows that:

  • in Victoria, 17,900 early school leavers attended a private provider, compared to 15,400 at TAFE
  • in Queensland, 16,900 attended private providers, compared to 5,300 at TAFE
  • in South Australia, 6,300 attended private provider, compared to 2,900 at TAFE.

Benefits for early school leavers, challenges for providers

The researchers examine what has prompted this shift, and what it means for policy, providers and young people. Private providers participating in the research identified three characteristics that are attractive to early school leavers:

  • their small-scale, relatively informal learning settings mean they have an ability to engage learners face-to-face, either in small groups or individually
  • ‘close connections with employers, including their capacity to facilitate training in a workplace context, are of great benefit to young learners as they respond positively to practical, hands-on, real-world learning’
  • their focused scope of delivery ‘enables strong links with employers and the capacity to contextualise student support services for particular industry and occupational needs.’

These advantages come with a downside or two. Their small size, and the imperatives of operating in a commercial context, means some limitations on how private RTOs respond to the complex social and educational needs of this learner group. As the report observes, early school leavers ‘can, by most measures, be regarded as disadvantaged.’

They come to VET – whether through private, TAFE or community providers – with challenges that complicate the journey to successful qualification completion. Those factors can include disengagement, low motivation, drug and alcohol problems, learning difficulties, poor social and communication skills, confusion about career goals, and financial, transport and housing stress.

Private providers interviewed for the study also emphasised that for this group of learners, poor language, literacy and numeracy skills represented a frequent stumbling block.

Policy needs to adjust

The objective for policy must be to boost the life chances of this group of learners, wherever they are enrolled. The researchers make six recommendations designed to ensure early school leavers get the support they need, among them:

  • The apparent effectiveness of employment-based training, along with private RTOs’ specialisations and their closer links with industry, should prompt governments to shape policies that maximise the potential of private RTOs
  • To maximise the advantages inherent in small-scale operations, targeted assistance should be provided to suitably qualified niche providers for the express purpose of increasing their capacity to address student needs.