Forum to probe region's poor year 12 rate

SOUTH-WEST Victoria’s low year 12 attainment rate will be scrutinised next week as civic leaders examine why many of the region’s teenagers are leaving school early.

Premier Denis Napthine will meet with mayors and top education experts for the Great South Coast Education Attainment Forum, which will address the markedly low level of south-west teenagers completing year 12 or equivalent studies.

Only 57 per cent of the region’s young adults passed year 12 or vocational training, according to the latest data — significantly lower than the state average of 74 per cent.

The data also reveals Warrnambool’s year 12 attainment rate has gone backwards marginally during the past decade while surrounding shires have made statistical gains.

New research from RMIT University academics will be revealed at next week’s seminar, identifying the social and economic causes behind the low rates of high school graduates.

One of the forum’s organisers, Vicki Mason, said the RMIT research had provided some important new findings as to why the south-west was lagging behind.

She said rural students usually had lower levels of year 12 attainment than Melbourne but the south-west was below even the regional Victorian average. 

“Studies consistently show that gaining a year 12 education — whether that’s academic or vocational — has a direct influence on future employment prospects,” the Strengthening Our Communities chairwoman said.

“Parental expectations are a factor (in the low attainment rate) but overall community expectations are a factor too.

“We really do need to work to improve these figures because country kids deserve the same level of educational and employment opportunities as city kids.”

Warrnambool’s year 12 or equivalent attainment was 60.6 per cent at the latest state government survey three years ago, down from just under 62 per cent in 2006.

The south-west’s largest city still had the region’s highest quota of qualified school leavers, with Moyne Shire at 57 per cent, Southern Grampians at 56 per cent, Corangamite Shire at 52.5 per cent and Glenelg Shire at 51 per cent.

South West Local Learning and Employment Network (SWLLEN) chief executive Toni Jenkins said the forum will focus on the urban-rural educational imbalance.

“Young people in the south-west are just as smart as anywhere else,” she said. “So the questions are related how we can change these low levels of attainment.”

Ms Jenkins said household financial constraints were a factor in pushing some students out of study and into low-paid employment.

“If there are financial barriers to moving on to university, then there’s a sense from some people that achieving an ATAR (year 12 study score) is pointless,” she said.

“There are other factors but that is one of the larger problems we face.”

More than 100 people will participate in the forum at South West TAFE’s Warrnambool campus on February 21.

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