A long road to home: The impacts of the 'New School Leaving Age' on young people in NSW

Year: 2012

Author: Groundwater-Smith, Susan, Mockler, Nicole

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper will explore the ways in which education policy in Australia, along with many other international jurisdictions, has led to an increase in the school leaving age for young people. It will argue that the case for increased school retention rates has been in accord with the remit of the OECD, which has argued for young people's greater participation in Australian schooling as one that will contribute to national economic competitiveness (OECD, 2009) but with little reference to other purposes of schooling such as enhanced civic engagement (Ball, 2001, Hodgson, 2011). The paper will argue that the basis of the OECD's position on the economic returns from schooling is one that deserves to be challenged in that the returns, while benefiting the many, may have little, or even negative impact upon marginalized youth (Dockery, 2005). Among those impacted upon we count the students themselves, as the consequential stakeholders, who bear the costs of decisions made on their behalf, although they are rarely consulted.

We draw upon a NSW Department of Education and Communities study in which young people from all regions across the state participated in focus groups and an on-line survey.  From this study it has been possible to identify a number of implications for policy and practice, relating to the structure and enactment of the curriculum in the senior school. In particular, from a NSW perspective, it is clear that the current senior studies curriculum with its competitive academic bent may well serve the majority of students but can be alienating for many of those young people who are often blamed for their own failure. Furthermore, the study highlighted the need for teachers to be further supported in their professional learning to develop engaging and inclusive pedagogical practices, targeted to meet the needs of such students such that school might be seen as an engaging, useful and relevant place to be.



Ball, S. (2001) Global policies and vernacular politics in education. Curriculo sem Fronteiras, 1 (2) pp. 27 – 43 www.curriculosemfronteiras.org Accessed 15th December, 2011.

Dockery, A. (2005) Assessing the value of additional years of schooling for the non academically inclined. LSAY Research Reports. Longitudinal surveys of Australian youth research report #38. ACEReSearch.

Hodgson, D. (2011) Policy rationalities and policy technologies: a programme for analysing the raised school-leaving age in Western Australia

OECD (2009) Jobs for Youth: Australia. Paris: OECD.