What happens if you leave school early?

Published 2017

Leaving school early isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some students quit to pursue an apprenticeship or traineeship that will eventually lead to a qualification, while others take up other lines of work. However, a recent report from the Mitchell Institute included a study on people aged 25 to 45 over a 13-year period. It revealed that 90 per cent of men and 82 per cent of women who did not complete Year 12 did not take up any form of study or training later in life.

There are several factors that contribute to a young person’s decision to drop out of school and their reluctance to return to study during adulthood.

Disengagement at school


Being disengaged in the classroom can begin from an early age and can be equally influenced by personal circumstances (family issues and health problems) and trouble at school (bullying and victimisation). This can seemingly become a life-long deterrent from education, with evidence suggesting “18 per cent of early leavers remain disengaged from education, training and work their entire adult live.”

Long-term prospects


In 2016, 80 per cent of people with a bachelor degree were employed, compared with 67 per cent for Year 12 and 44 per cent for Year 11 or below. Conversely, a 2009 study showed just 14 per cent of 25 to 34 year-old prisoners held Year 12 qualifications (this figure was 63 per cent in the general population). This implies that completing your final year of high school increases your likelihood of getting a job and reduces your chances of going to jail.

Cost to the taxpayer


One person who remains disengaged from work for more than half their lives will cost Australian taxpayers $412,000. Add all this up and the figures are alarming — $471 million each year or $18.8 billion across a working lifetime. No matter what way you look at, this is huge money.

What is the solution?



If there was one sentence answer to this question, the issue probably wouldn’t exist in the first place. The approach must be multi-pronged, one that invests heavily in the VET system, supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds and ensures programs are in place to keep young people engaged at school.

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