Almost 10 years ago, the Liberal Party came to power in Tasmania with a promise to start extending high schools to year 12, in a bid to lift the retention and attainment rates.
But figures show that since then, the year 12 attainment rate — students achieving the qualification or equivalent — has barely changed.
In the latest Productivity Commission report for 2022 Tasmania’s year 12 attainment rate was 53.1 per cent, the worst of any state, and far short of the then-Hodgman government’s attainment target of 75 per cent by that year.
Premier says trades helping young ‘contribute productively’
A decade since the Tasmanian Liberals’ school extension policy was implemented, Premier Jeremy Rockliff was on Wednesday asked if it was time for a review.
“Well, it [the policy] is working, and it’s working for rural and regional communities,” he replied.
“We need to work through the results … what I am pleased with is that we extended our high schools to years 11 and 12.
“What we also did was change the law where students had to continue their education through vocational education and training (VET) courses or acquire a full-time job.
“So the great thing is that we have young people, either at school, either in training or at work. That wasn’t the case before we came to government.”
A government spokesperson later told the ABC there was no need for a review of the school years 11 and 12 extension policy.
When asked if there were concerns about the year 12 attainment continuing to slide, the government said year 12 was only “one measure of student success”.
“There are a number of other pathways young people can undertake, including apprenticeships and VET qualifications, that provide equivalent qualifications to a Tasmanian Certificate of Education,” the spokesperson said.
‘Silver bullet’ missed the target, says Labor
Labor education spokesman Josh Willie said the questions about whether the 10-year-old policy was working were warranted.
“The Liberals presented the extension school policy as a silver bullet that was going to solve all of Tasmania’s education issues and it hasn’t lived up to those expectations,” he said.
“We know that education is far more complex than they presented, and they haven’t invested in the workforce, they haven’t invested in the professional learning and best practice that is needed in every classroom to lift results.”
Eslake questions strategy
Independent economist Saul Eslake called for a review of the system, citing several issues that were contributing to the ongoing low year 12 attainment rates.
“We have a plethora of small schools that are expensive to run compared with larger schools,” Mr Eslake said.
“Our children start school six months later on average than their counterparts in other states, which sets them back in acquiring the fundamental literacy and numeracy skills.”
Mr Eslake said the state’s unique college system was partly to blame.
“If you keep doing one thing, and everybody else does something else, and your results are worse than what everyone else achieves — despite putting more resources into it — isn’t there just more than a small possibility that we could be getting it wrong?”
However, Peter Underwood Centre for Educational Attainment interim director Kitty Te Riela, said that the underlying cause needed to be better understood.
“We actually need to dig a little bit deeper to understand the reasons by that statistic,” Professor Te Riela said.
“It might mean young people in Tasmania do take a little bit longer to complete year 12 or it might mean that rather than getting a [Tasmanian Certificate of Education] they might be doing vocational educational training.
“But that isn’t captured in the way the Productivity Commission calculates it.”
Numbers not meeting targets
According to the Productivity Commission report, Tasmania’s apparent retention rate — the number of full-time students that continue from year 10 to year 12 — was 71.7 per cent in 2022, compared with 70.1 per cent in 2014.
When the policy was introduced, initially to extend 21 regional and rural high schools to year 12, the government set several targets, including a 75 per cent year 12 completion rate, and an 85 per cent retention rate by 2022.
There were some early gains in completion and retention — the completion rate reached 61 per cent in 2017, but it has been on a downward trend since then.
The government announced in 2018 that it would extend all Tasmanian high schools to year 12 by 2022, which it has now done.
Before that, almost all students had to go to one of the state’s eight senior secondary colleges for years 11 and 12.
Colleges are still educating most public year 11 and 12 students.
The only other Australian jurisdiction that has high schools to year 10 and colleges for years 11 and 12 is the Australian Capital Territory, which also has the highest retention rate (87.8 per cent) and the third-highest completion rate (73.7 per cent).
South Australia has the highest year 12 completion rate, of 88.8 per cent. Nationally there is a 76.3 per cent year 12 completion rate, and a retention rate of 79 per cent.
Education Department figures show there were 7,758 full-time Tasmanian students enrolled in year 11 and 12 in 2023.
The government said that as of July 3, 2023, there were 359 government students doing a school-based apprenticeship and 610 young people doing a full-time apprenticeship or traineeship.
Figures also show the proportion of schools leavers aged 15-24 years old engaged in either education or work fell in 2023 compared to the year before.
A government spokesperson said several departments were currently finalising a Youth Jobs Strategy, “which is specifically aimed at supporting young people aged 15-24 years”.
Why does Tasmania lag?
When the government brought in the policy of extending high schools in 2014, it argued there was a perception that high school finished at year 10, and that students from rural areas faced barriers — including transport challenges — in getting to college.
When he was education minister, Premier Jeremy Rockliff said there were “complex, deeply intergenerational issues” at the heart of the state’s poor education results.
Tasmanians from high socio-economic backgrounds, however, have lower or similar year 12 completion rates compared with their interstate counterparts from low socio-economic backgrounds, according to the Productivity Commission figures.
Demographer Lisa Denny said Tasmania spends more per student and has the highest staff-to-student ratio, but the worst outcomes in the nation.