New report sheds light on weaknesses in ‘Learn or Earn’ program

The Federal Government’s program to reduce early school leaving and high youth unemployment is failing many young people, according to a report released today by the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC).

Under the government’s ‘Learn or Earn’ program, young people who have not finished Year 12 must be in education or training to qualify for welfare payments.  However, the AYAC study shows that the young people who struggle the most to engage in learning or earning are facing the most serious and significant barriers to engagement.

Following last week’s COAG report that showed a quarter of all young people have dropped out of studying and working entirely, the AYAC report highlights the fact that young people who are at risk of dropping out of school need support, not coercion.

“Our report affirms that the Gonski reforms are essential to help re-focus attention and funding to support disadvantaged students who need it most. But the report also shows that Gonski does not go far enough to address the widespread issues that many disengaged young people face,” AYAC Executive Director Andrew Cummings said.

The Beyond Learn or Earn report features interviews with 27 young people from around Australia who have “fallen through the cracks” between education, employment and training. Researchers interviewed the young people about five key areas including school, the job services network and Centrelink, in order to explore effective ways to re-engage these young people.

Many young people who are not engaged with education, employment or training have experienced significant barriers. Some have suffered violence at home or in schools.  One young woman in the study said she was sexually assaulted at school, and others suffered severe bullying from other students and sometimes from teachers.

Schooling that focuses exclusively on academic pathways and fails to offer sufficient learning and wellbeing support to young people is one of the biggest barriers for many young people finishing Year 12.

One young person involved in the study said, “Teachers shouldn’t judge students.  (Some) parents are junkies and (teachers) expect (you) to focus in school while when you go home you see your mum shoot up.  That’s what they don’t understand.”

“They knew that my home life wasn’t the best but they just didn’t do much about it. Because I wasn’t a perfect student, because I didn’t fit into their perfect student box, like they just treated me like crap really,” another young person said.

The Federal Government’s National Plan for School Improvement – to be discussed by COAG in December – prioritises “quality teaching” and “meeting student need”. AYAC says that the plan should also ensure that significant funding be diverted to alternative schools and flexible education programs, which AYAC’s study found were the best chance for many young people have to gain Year 12 qualifications.

A copy of the Beyond Earn or Learn report is can be downloaded from

For Comment – Andrew Cummings, Executive Director of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition – 0435 146 979

For Comment – Natalie Lammas, Policy Officer and author of Beyond Earn or Learn report – 0413 279 957