The Mitchell Institute
Around a quarter of young Australians are missing out on important educational opportunities and children from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are more likely to start behind, fall behind and stay behind.
Mitchell Institute’s mission is to achieve educational opportunity for all Australians, from toddlers through to tertiary graduates. It is the only organisation that looks across Australia’s entire education system from preschool to vocational and higher education to understand when, how and why young people succeed or miss out.
In 2013, Professor Peter Dawkins, Vice Chancellor and President of Victoria University, identified a need for an independent organisation to work across Australia’s education spectrum and inform policy changes. Generous support from The Harold Mitchell Foundation allowed this ambitious endeavour to be realised. Today, Mitchell Institute is one of Australia’s leading contributors to policy debate on education and training, working closely with policy makers, industry leaders, educators and importantly, learners, to find solutions to Australia’s most pressing problems.
Pre-eminent among the Mitchell Instute's recent contributions to the national debate has been Educational Opportunity in Australia 2015 one of the most comprehensive data studies ever undertaken into Australia’s education and training system. Importantly – and somewhat alarmingly – it found that around a quarter of young Australians miss out at key education milestones before they reach school, and fall even further behind while they are there. These young people are not learning the academic and social skills that they need to succeed in life.
“The disparities in Australian education are stark,” said the Institute’s Director, Dr Sara Glover.
“Overall, one in four young people living in Australia are missing out on critical educational milestones, leaving them poorly equipped to take up opportunities for work, further study or training. We are letting down too many young people. It’s not hard to see the huge waste of potential and talent this represents,” she said.
Using data from across the entire education system – from preschool and high school, to university and TAFE – the report identified socio-economic disadvantage as a major determinant of when, how and why young people fail or miss out. Among other revealing statistics, it found that:
The proportion of rural and remote students with adequate academic and social skills is between 19 and 48 percentage points lower than for the Australian population as a whole
Around 22% of 4-5 year olds start school vulnerable or at risk on one or more developmental domains each year
The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students grows at Year 7
Just 74 per cent of young Australians have attained Year 12 or equivalent by age 19; meaning an estimated 81,000 young people have not been adequately supported by the education system
Roughly the same number are not engaged in full time education, training or work at age 24. Around 93,000 young people are marginalised from education and employment options.
“As a nation we are struggling to develop the potential of every young person, struggling to keep up with our international peers and struggling to overcome the effects of disadvantage through education,” Dr Glover told the press. “We cannot be satisfied with this.”
Two other Mitchell Institute reports to make waves focus on early childhood education. Two Years are Better Than One and Quality Early Education For All both made a strong case for investment in longer and better preschool programs across the country, as one of the few proven strategies for lifting outcomes for all children.
“Preschool is about helping children learn to get along with others, to be creative and collaborative problem solvers, to understand and talk about emotions and to boost their love of learning,” the report’s co-author, Dr Stacey Fox argued – and that’s a learning journey that can take more than a year. “Most peer OECD countries, like the UK, most of Western Europe, and New Zealand, offer two years of preschool”, while the Australian government tends to only fund one.
And while two-thirds of Australian children already attend preschool for two years, according to Dr Fox, “the number of hours and the types of programs they attend vary greatly”. And the kids who most need an extra year are very often the ones who miss out. “Currently, parents’ employment status or incomes are what mostly determine whether or not children attend preschool or an early learning centre, despite early education being every bit as important as school for young people’s long-term outcomes. We are advocates for better quality measures and access for all children, as well as second year of preschool starting from when kids are three years old.”
Mitchell Institute’s research work with a number of schools, universities, teachers, students and pre-service teachers continues to break new ground in ways and means of improving outcomes for children at school. Powerful Learning and Teaching, Capabilities in Action and The Paradigm Shifters: Entrepreneurial Learning in Schools all explore ways in which schools can broaden and personalise the educational experience so one size need not always fit all.
As too many students continue to be left too far behind, qualities like curiosity, creativity, entrepreneurialism and resilience must be nurtured like never before – and all sectors of society must get somehow involved.
For Dr Glover, “working together creates a different environment that gives all young people the chance to thrive while meeting the needs of a modern labour market. Some of the most promising practices we’ve seen are where there is close collaboration between schools, with families and partners including the tertiary sector, business and community organisations to bring learning to life and connect the pathways for young people.”
The Institute also continued to review expenditure on schools, benchmarking assessments like PISA and NAPLAN, and policy proposals as and when they arose.
The Institute has renewed its call for state and federal governments to put vocational education and training (VET) at the heart of education policy. It proposed a new system for funding for tertiary education, which includes an independent authority to oversee tertiary education, and for HECS-type loans to be offered to all subsidised post-school courses, whether in higher education or at the vocational level.
Disturbingly, Professorial Fellow Peter Noonan found that public VET spending has declined to its lowest level in 10 years – and that quality may well have declined with it. “Without a new and sustainable funding model and measures to improve quality and confidence in VET, the sector is not well placed to underpin growth in participation within Tertiary Education into the next decade.”
Noonan also called for the creation of an independent oversight body, to give long-term analysis and advice. “If we could create a separate third-party entity to make decisions cohesively and provide long term analysis on issues like funding and catering better to school leavers, the VET sector would be on the right track.”
The next phase of Mitchell work will draw on local and international experts and collaborate with sector partners to deliver reports, papers and advocate across the following critical areas:
All children ready for school
The state of early childhood education in Australia: a comprehensive look at the system
Informing public debate and reform decisions
The second iteration of Educational Opportunity in Australia, which will for the first time measure change in the number of young people missing out at key education milestones, and hold governments to account.
The first look at the cost of failure: what is the cost to society when young people miss out on education?
Foster curious, creative and resilient learners
First reports from the Entrepreneurial Learning and Powerful Learning and Teaching research trials: new evidence showing what works at diverse schools, and how to deliver lasting change.
Capabilities in education – how they can be developed in early education and schools, and how the system needs to change to better equip young people with capabilities for the future.
Design better and fairer tertiary education that delivers entrepreneurial and skilled workers.
Tertiary education participation and funding
Unpacking the problems and potential of our VET system: how we got here, where we are at and where to next.
Stay tuned for our next update!