Engagement or participation in education is a key factor affecting the life chances of all Australians, and it is particularly important for Indigenous Australians who have an overall lower level of participation in education than non-Indigenous Australians. Higher levels of educational attainment improve employment opportunities, are associated with higher income and promote participation in all societal activities. Education includes preschool education, primary and high school education, tertiary education and vocational training, as well as education and training outside a formal institutional framework.

This issues paper deals with school attendance and retention. This paper draws upon key national and international literature pertaining to both Indigenous and non- Indigenous students. It highlights the issues in analysing Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance and retention; the gap in school attendance and retention and the causes of this gap; and the success or otherwise of the various programs and initiatives designed to reduce the gap. Issues in the quality of the data and research are also discussed.

A key purpose of the paper is to evaluate the quality of available evidence regarding strategies for improving school attendance. This paper gives more weight to research that is higher up the evidence hierarchy. Evidence hierarchies reflect the relative authority of various types of research. The studies least likely to produce good evidence for policy and practice are single case studies, followed by descriptive studies that may provide helpful lists of quotations but do not offer detailed analysis. Greater weight is given to conceptual studies that analyse data according to conceptual themes but these studies may be limited by a lack of diversity in the sample. Studies using conceptual frameworks, appropriate sampling and data analysis techniques, and that can be generalised to a wider context are considered to provide the best evidence for policy and practice development (Daly et al. 2007).