Schools for Young Adults: Senior Colleges in Australia

By Polesel, John | Australian Journal of Education, August 2002 | Go to article overview

Schools for Young Adults: Senior Colleges in Australia


Polesel, John, Australian Journal of Education


Student dissatisfaction, low achievement, poor transition outcomes for some including early leavers, and persistent inequalities place considerable barriers in the way of schools' efforts to improve participation in education. This paper argues that there is a need to took beyond current structures of provision for models of schooling better able to deal with these issues. The existing research evidence on Australian initiatives to introduce senior school or multi-campus models of provision is reviewed and three case studies of the model presented in order to examine the potential of this model. The paper argues that this approach to schooling facilitates the provision of a broad and relevant curriculum (including VET), provides a more appropriate schooling environment for post-compulsory aged students and allows teachers (at both the junior and senior sites) to focus on the needs of their particular students.

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Need for change

Public education at the secondary level is exposed to many tensions in Australia. These include early leaving, low achievement and poor transition outcomes for some groups, student dissatisfaction, teacher malaise, poor employment outcomes for early leavers and persistent inequalities in participation and outcomes.

Retention rate growth, once considered unstoppable, peaked nearly ten years ago and has since declined (and stagnated) at a level which sees seven in ten students finishing their secondary schooling (Lamb, 1998). Many of those who remain in school do so frustrated by the scarcity of work for teenagers (Lewis & Norris, 1992). For these students, disenchantment with school and with teachers is accompanied by poor motivation and failure. Low achievement and poor transition outcomes, even for those who complete their schooling, haunt sections of our capital cities and some regional settings. Teese (2000) notes that urban working-class regions with high migrant concentrations will see one-third of gifts and over four in ten boys fail the least demanding mathematics subject in the curriculum. Low grades afflict the children of semi-skilled and unskilled workers much more severely than they do those of professionals and managers, and these in turn impact on transition to tertiary education and employment (Ministerial Review, 2000). The relationship between low achievement and delinquency is yet another sad aspect of the fir-reaching impact of failure (Putnins, 1999; Winters, 1997).

Early leaving affects different groups in different ways--its geography is uneven. In some regions, early leaving affects as many as 30 per cent of gifts and 40 per cent of boys (Ministerial Review, 2000). Moreover employment outcomes for early leavers are poor in a labour market which has seen a severe decline in full-time jobs for teenagers (Lewis & Koshy, 1999). Whereas those who dropped out in the past outnumbered their persisting peers and perhaps achieved the respectability associated with normal behaviour, early leavers are now viewed as an aberrant minority, their behaviour carrying the stigma of deviance and bolstering a perception of them as unemployable.

Teachers, too, find themselves under pressure from loss of autonomy, from greater stresses in the workplace and increasing accountability requirements (Gewirtz, 1997) and teachers in lower achieving schools find themselves more dissatisfied with various aspects of their working life, including their relationship with peers and with the curriculum (Shann, 1998).

In the face of these persistent tensions, objectives for change need careful formulation. Formal access to secondary schooling, once considered the precursor of equal outcomes, has long since been achieved. Growth in participation and completion rates now form the central objective of government plans, as in the recent Ministerial Review (2000) in Victoria. However such growth, when seen in the context of the problems outlined above, presents a major policy challenge. …

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