Staying at school until 17 not good for all

by Verity Leatherdale

Research that has argued in favour of economic benefit of keeping children in school for longer is dogged by both methodological and data problems, according to Susan Groundwater-Smith, Honorary Professor in Education at the Sydney School of Education and Social Work.

"Reliable conclusions about the true benefits of keeping all children in a school system for longer are impossible because robust results that can reliably inform education policy aren't being produced," Professor Groundwater-Smith told the third colloquium in the Education Heresies series.

"Keeping more students at school for longer has come to achieve an iconic status as a strategy among education policy-makers worldwide but I take issue with economic considerations dictating education policy. It produces a blanket approach that ignores both the social aims of education and the diversity and complexity of local school populations," she said.

"In Australia, all of the states now require students to remain at school until the age of 17. That situation is an outcome of a belief that keeping students at school for longer will improve Australia's economic competitiveness."

The biggest losers from the current system, according to Professor Groundwater-Smith, are students who are disengaged and reluctant learners. Referring to the work of educational researcher Alfred Dockery, she said that if Australia wants to pursue a policy of mandatory education for all students up to the age of 17 then a different approach will be necessary.

"The curriculum and teaching practices for young people who are alienated from, or resistant to, the current education system will need to be tailored to their needs and to given appropriate resources."

Professor Groundwater-Smith has held adjunct professorships at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK and the University of Applied Sciences, Utrecht, in Netherlands. She has authored or co-authored a number of books and papers, many of which have been adopted as resources by teacher-education programs. Her current projects include identifying what conditions are necessary for student 'voice' may be authentically heard and acted upon.