Schooling and youth participation in education and society

Publication Date



Paper presented to the Monash University-ACER Centre for the Economics of Education and Training Annual Conference Melbourne, 1 November 2007


Economic and social changes have made a solid educational foundation more important than ever before. Young people with low levels of literacy and numeracy or who do not complete school or a vocational equivalent are more likely to experience multiple periods of time outside the workforce and are less likely to engage in further education or training after leaving school. The lack of engagement in further learning increases the ongoing risks of not being employed and social marginalisation. Employment is projected to continue growing much more quickly in occupations that require post-school qualifications than in lower skilled occupations. However, Australia’s secondary school completion rates are low relative to many other OECD countries, and apparent retention rates to Year 12 have changed little over the past decade. This paper uses longitudinal data to examine the role that schooling plays in influencing young people’s educational intentions, and their likelihood of completing secondary school and participating in post-school education and training. It finds that engagement in school and positive attitudes towards school contribute to the completion of secondary school and participation in tertiary education, over and above the effects of literacy and numeracy. Most of the social background factors associated with school completion operate by influencing intentions that are formed by relatively early in secondary school. This implies that policies to increase school completion rates cannot rely just on changes in Years 10-12, but also need to focus on what happens early in school.