Participation in secondary school enables young people to develop their skills and knowledge, increasing their productivity and often leading to higher personal earnings and improved health and wellbeing outcomes. A highly skilled workforce also contributes to economic growth (World Bank 2005). In Australia, completing Year 12 or an equivalent qualification is an important milestone in the transition to adulthood (Liu & Nguyen 2011). Those who have completed Year 12 are more likely to continue with further education or training and have a more successful transition into the workforce (ABS 2011).
In an effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), several restrictions have been put in place across Australia, including non-essential service shutdowns, social distancing and remote and home-based learning.
Throughout the pandemic, Australian schools have generally been kept open. However, in light of extended lockdowns in many states and territories, online delivery or remote learning have been implemented for many education programs. While some schools may have been temporarily closed in 2020 due to disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest collection of enrolment and registration data for Australian schools was not greatly impacted (ABS 2021).
The apparent retention rate to Year 12 is an estimate of the percentage of students who stay enrolled full time in secondary education from the start of secondary school (year 7 or 8, depending on the state or territory) to Year 12 (see Glossary).
In 2020, the apparent retention rate to Year 12 was 84%, an increase from 79% in 2011 (ABS 2021).
School retention rates and change by sex, 2011 and 2020
In 2020, more females than males were staying in school until Year 12; 88% of females compared with 79% of males. Apparent retention rates for both sexes have increased since 2011, by 4 percentage points for females and 5 percentage points for males (ABS 2021).
Note: Proportions are rounded to the nearest whole percentage.
The attainment rate is the proportion of all estimated Year 12 students who meet the requirements of a Year 12 or equivalent qualification (see glossary) (SCRGSP 2021). This rate increased from 70% in 2010 to a peak of 79% in 2018, before declining to 72% in 2019.
In 2020, around 8 in 10 (79%) people aged 15–64 had attained Year 12 or equivalent or a non-school qualification at Certificate III level or above (ABS 2020).
The National School Reform Agreement
The National School Reform Agreement (NSRA) is a joint agreement between the Commonwealth, States and Territories to lift student outcomes across Australian Schools (DESE 2018). It commenced on 1 January, 2019 and will expire on 31 December, 2023. The NSRA sets a target of 90% Year 12 (or equivalent) or Certificate III attainment or above for young people aged 20–24 by 2020. The attainment rate increased overall between 2008 and 2020, from 83% to 89% (ABS 2020), landing close to the NSRA target.
The target to halve the gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 20–24 in Year 12 or equivalent attainment is on track to be met by 2020 (PM&C 2019). See Indigenous education and skills for more on this target.
In 2020, of people aged 20–24:
- women (92%) were more likely than men (87%) to have completed Year 12 or a Certificate III or above, consistent with previous years
- people living in Major cities (92%) were more likely than those living in other remoteness areas to have completed Year 12 or a Certificate III or above (Figure 1).