Report reveals tens of thousands of young Australians are missing from school system

Image of an empty classroom
Through modelling the report has determined that upwards of 50,000 young people have detached from the formal education system in Australia.

At least 50,000 young Australians have ‘disappeared’ from the education system nationwide, according to a new report from the University of Melbourne.

Authored by Dr Jim Watterston, Dean of the University’s Melbourne Graduate School of Education and Honorary Fellow Megan O’Connell, Those Who Disappear: The Australian education problem nobody wants to talk about sheds light on the issue of young people across Australia of compulsory school age who are not participating in an education program of any type. The report also proposes solutions for how to prevent this trend from continuing.

Through modelling the report has determined that upwards of 50,000 young people have detached from the formal education system in Australia. Dr Watterston said the issue is a serious educational crisis that has until now been largely ignored. “Young Australians of all ages have been able to detach themselves from the education system and we don’t know who they are, where they are, or why they remain hidden,” he said.

The report shows that detection and intervention need to happen early in a young person’s life to prevent them from detaching, but Australian education systems are not adequately equipped to keep track of detached young people.

“Education departments often use the term ‘disengaged’ as a catch-all for students who are challenged by their school experience, but don’t identify that many thousands of students are not accounted for at all. By not making the distinction between disengaged students and those who have detached entirely from the education system, the extent of this crisis has been masked,” said Dr Watterston.

The report also outlines how a multitude of factors can lead to disengagement and detachment, including identity issues, learning difficulties, lack of financial resources, family dysfunction, mental illness, relationships with teachers and peers, and bullying.

Those Who Disappear proposes eight recommendations to address the national crisis, which include data sharing across all schools and school systems, early intervention to prevent disengagement and detachment, support for teachers and schools to identify and intervene for those students at risk, and increased investment in psychology, mental health and allied support services.

Dr Watterston said the issue requires urgent attention from Government and the education sector. “We need a national commitment from all states and territories to ensure that all children and young people are supported to access a quality education, especially those who are at risk of disengaging and detaching. It is time to take serious coordinated action to prevent our most vulnerable young people from falling through the cracks.”