For many this time of year is about going back to school. Whether it’s a reminder of our own school days, or actively supporting children in our care as they head back to the classroom.

While school days can be a positive experience, of course, for many it can be a challenging time. Indeed our recent Youth Survey showed that one of the leading issues of personal concern to young people in Australia today were school and study problems.

What concerned me greatly was how many respondents - just over half so around 12,000 – were not confident about their ability to succeed in their post-school goals. It saddened me because at this age (15 to 19 years old) their aspirations should not feel out of reach.

The most common barriers cited by 22% were academic ability, financial difficulty by 14% and mental health by 13%. Moreover, twice the proportion of young people in regional areas than those in major cities felt that where they lived was a barrier to achieving their future plans (12% compared to 5%).

In terms of academic ability, we know socioeconomic status (SES) impacts on educational outcomes. About 40% of Australia's 19-year-olds from lower SES families are leaving school early compared with about 10% of the wealthiest. A quarter of Australian school students are not finishing Year 12, and completion rates are much worse in remote and economically disadvantaged communities.

It correlates all too uncomfortably with the second biggest barrier being financial difficulty. We know young people adjust their aspirations in response to financial constraints early in their school life and aiming too low can limit the fulfilment of their potential.

I believe we have a social and economic duty to ensure we are supporting disadvantaged young people to reach their potential.

How do we reach out to those young people and support them?

Well, for a start, we intervene early. Quality childcare is a key component of ensuring all children are ready for school. Once at school, we need to support their journey. Programs like Communities for Children provide valuable supports where they are most needed, but they need to be expanded both in geographic reach and to be available for older children.

We also need a flexible, case management model that supports young people who need additional support through the education system. An intensive program that starts while they are at school, continues as they transition into further study, an apprenticeship or employment. The program should then continue to support them through their early years in work.

There are some great programs and investment from governments, but they have been fragmented and often short-term. What’s lacking is a coherent, upfront, and most importantly, long-term commitment.

Once people have left school we need to ensure the gap between what they aspire to and what they can achieve is not allowed to widen exponentially. We are pressing the government for an increase in Youth Allowance and rent assistance payments to ensure that all young people can pursue their post school goals whether that be university, TAFE or a job. Overcoming financial barriers such as high rents and study costs is particularly important for those school leavers who have to leave home to pursue further study or work, or due to family breakdown.

Mission Australia wants to break the cycle of inequality across Australia. We support increased opportunities and improved outcomes for all young people. We need more young people living to their potential, in paid employment, contributing as active members of society.

You can help support us by donating today.

Photo of James Toomey, CEO of Mission Australia


James Toomey
CEO Mission Australia

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