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STANDING COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND TRAINING
29/04/2009
Combining study and work

CHAIR (Ms Bird) —Welcome. I declare open the seventh public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Training as part of its inquiry into combining school and work in supporting successful youth transitions. I would like to take the opportunity to thank you all for your attendance here today. Before we begin, I would like to place on the record the committee’s thanks to Mr John Fitzgerald, Principal of Craigslea State High School, and to the school itself for allowing the committee the opportunity to conduct its proceedings at the school. We look forward to holding discussions with staff and students in the school later today. I also welcome students from the legal studies class, who have joined us to watch proceedings today.

This inquiry was referred by the Minister for Education, the Hon. Julia Gillard MP. Fifty-two submissions have been received to date from various parts of Australia and from a broad cross-section of interested parties. Copies of these submissions are available on the committee’s website.

I remind participants that in order to maintain the structure of the proceedings it is important that all comments are addressed through the chair. I also remind participants that, although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and warrants the same respect as proceedings of the House itself. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and will attract parliamentary privilege.

The committee has had a number of hearings in regional areas. We have been to the suburbs of Adelaide, to Perth, to Burnie in Tasmania and to Holmesglen in Melbourne. This is our fifth school based visit. We are very committed to talking directly to students and young people generally, and we have found that that is very useful. We appreciate the efforts your organisations have made in making your way out here—though, I have discovered that the school is not all that far from the centre of town. So the distance is not too bad. We feel that it is very important to be here.

Another thing that the committee is doing that may be of interest to you is an online survey of students. I think it is the first time that a committee has done any sort of online survey. Committee hearings are usually submission based. We have had about 2,500 young people from around Australia complete the online survey, and it is giving us a good level of information.

The main focus of the inquiry, and why the minister asked us to look at this issue, is that data indicate that over 50 per cent of young people at school are holding down casual or part-time jobs. That is a significant increase in the last 15 years. As we are pushing for retention rates to be increased and as the requirements of matriculation become more rigorous, we need to understand what young people’s lives are like, how they are managing the competing demands of work and school and whether there are things within the system that we can do better to support them through this.

I have read all three submissions in depth, and I think they are probably the most pertinent that we have seen for a good while. I commend the various Queensland authorities for them. Clearly this is an issue that you have been looking at as well, so we look forward to your evidence today.

I will start in the order in which the submissions are presented here. The Queensland Catholic Education Commission is the first submission. Would somebody like to make an opening statement, outlining the broad points in your report?

—Needless to say, we are very happy to be here today and to have the opportunity to make our submission. In presenting today, we have crystallised possibly three major issues, and Mandy will outline those for you. They are in our report but they are the three major issues that we think would be helpful for the committee to consider.

Mrs Anderson —Chair, the first point is one that you have already alluded to, which is the number of young people who work. We recognise very clearly that work is part of life for the large majority of young Australian school students. The proportions vary. You alluded to 50 per cent. The experience of some schools may put it up as high as 70 per cent. We have just been discussing how that proportion varies according to locality and so on.

The second point we would make is about the distinction—and the inquiry’s terms of reference pick up on this—between part-time work, which in some ways is quite extraneous to school, and workplace learning. Students certainly participate in part-time work, but it is not officially and formally linked to their schoolwork. Separate to that is workplace learning that is attached to their schoolwork in some way. In Queensland particularly, school based apprenticeships and traineeships have a significant part to play in the learning of young people. I would have to say that that would represent a much smaller proportion of workplace learning and workplace experience than regular part-time work.

The third issue we wish to raise—and no doubt it will be picked up on—is striking a balance between how learning gained in the workplace from part-time work might receive meaningful accreditation. I think we have to look firstly at the demand for that accreditation, both by young people and by employers, and secondly at how meaningful accreditation could be gained. If it becomes just a piece of paper that is ticked off and not valued, it would be a worthless experience. At the other extreme, we do not want to turn it into such a massive, expensive exercise that it cannot be attained. They are our three points.

CHAIR —Thank you. We might get everybody’s opening statement and then go to questions. The next submission that we received was from the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian, so I invite you to make an opening statement.

Ms Dwyer —Thanks for the opportunity to speak. I would like to start by saying that one of the key messages in our submission was about engaging with children and young people in your inquiry, and the commission thinks it is terrific that that is the approach the committee has adopted. There are probably two key issues for the commission in relation to this inquiry. The commission strongly supports young people undertaking safe and appropriate work combined with their education and strongly supports protections for young people in the workplace. For example, a few years ago the commission undertook a review of child employment in Queensland, and that saw the implementation of strong legislative safeguards such as the Child Employment Act to regulate a working environment for young people. The commission also would like to see strategies targeted at the particular needs of the community as well as individual students, specifically in relation to vulnerable young people—teenagers who are parents as well as undertaking work and school, young people working on farms in rural communities and young people who are living independently.

CHAIR —Thank you. The third submission was from the Federation of Parents and Friends Associations in Catholic Schools Queensland. I invite you to make an opening statement.

Mr Dickie —Thanks again for the opportunity to participate in the inquiry. There are just a few points that we would like to make, particularly from a parental point of view. Parents see that part-time work is of importance and that students do it for various reasons. Probably a minority would work part time to survive, to purchase clothes and books and even to pay fees. The vast majority would, I think, be doing it for their own independence to subsidise expenditure outside school, such as socials, Schoolies weeks and things like that. So there are different motivations for working. Parents certainly appreciate the skills that kids learn from work. In fact, students of a very young age are given great responsibility in particular operations.

How do we recognise those skills? Should they be recognised? The students have a great deal of responsibility in enterprises, and should that be recognised as part of their education? There are also, and I think it has been mentioned, a vast number of students who do volunteer work within the community and do extraordinary work, but again it is not particularly well recognised. There are also students who work in family businesses for little or no remuneration but are learning particular skills.

The whole area of work and school brings up the situation of school as an open institution, not a nine to three institution, and I think we still have a situation where schools are regarded very much as nine to three institutions, dependent upon the bus timetable. I think we have to look at opening up the schools and also developing not just skills for a particular vocational area but general skills for employability. So the relationship between school and work and how we interchange those things is very important.

Again, the issue is how much time the students work in relation to their school situation. A survey of a school I was associated with some time ago suggested that senior school students should be doing between 15 and 20 hours of study a week and perhaps they should be doing five hours a week of work. In many instances that was interchanged and school became quite incidental. I suppose this not the case so much now, but when work started on Thursdays they would probably do work on Fridays, they would have social events, they would perhaps do an extracurricular activity over the weekend and they would be working over the weekend. They would recuperate on Monday and then they would be ready to do some schoolwork on Tuesday. That is, of course, taking it to extremes, but there can be—

CHAIR —I suspect from all the evidence we have received it is not taking it to extremes. It is more common than we might anticipate.

Mr Dickie —That is right, yes. So those are a few of the point that we would like to make. We would also like to recognise the role that parents play, or should play, in the whole work-school interaction, because parents are the link between schools and the community. They are the entrepreneurs, the people who employ people, and I think we do not use those resources anywhere near as much as we should. So we should investigate that partnership much more.

CHAIR —Thank you for that. Welcome, Sharon. Did you want to make an opening statement about the department’s views on the terms of reference before we go on to questions?

Ms Mullins —I would like to do that, but can I come back in five minutes, when I have a sense of where you are up to?

CHAIR —That is fine, yes, when you have a sense of where we are up to. Thank you, everyone, for that. As I said at the beginning, there is some very useful material in the submissions that have been provided to us. I want to go first of all to the Queensland Catholic Education Commission. I note that you identify that it is possible in the Queensland system to do one unit of study which gives one credit towards the QCE. For young people who have a part-time or casual job, that can be a component of that. But you identify some concerns. Could you perhaps indicate to us briefly how that operates and what the problems might be there?

Mrs Anderson —To go back a little bit, under the education and training reforms for the future agenda, it was signalled that work experience in the workplace—and particularly it was noticed that 160 hours of structured work experience—could contribute to the Queensland Certificate of Education. I think the experience with this is probably what makes us a little bit wary of accrediting part-time work in some more formalised way. The other thing is that, as the Queensland Certificate of Education evolved and developed, it is a big task to equate, in some legitimised way, workplace experience in a part-time job with, for instance, one unit of one semester’s work in physics. So the coping work that developed within QSA procedures around that workplace learning, volunteer work or community work became quite extensive. The onus is on the young person not on the school. Quite often the young people, who may best benefit from that capacity to gain one credit point, are those who are probably least able to make their way through the paperwork involved. The notion is there and the reality is there. Last year was the first year that the Queensland Certificate of Education was administered and gained by year 12s, so we do not have a lot of experience yet, but the gut feeling would be that it is hard work to get just one credit.

CHAIR —Carmel, were you looking to make comment on that?

Mrs Nash —I would agree with Mandy in that the kids who would benefit most would be the ones who would be least able to get through the paperwork, and I also doubt whether the parents would be able to help them get through it. That is where the information lies in information for parents and information for students. I am not sure that many kids at all—and I think Mandy would agree with me—and we have not heard of any who have taken up the opportunity. We could be wrong and there may be a number of kids, but in the context of dealing with the Queensland Studies Authority we have not really heard of anyone who has taken that up. Then there is the issue of who is going to accredit it—who is going to be the delegate; is it someone from the school; is it someone from outside? There are all those issues. Then is the employer happy to go through the process of completing the paperwork for the student? For a small business it is an added job that they may not want to take and may preclude a student from getting the job if they need the paperwork completed.

CHAIR —It is interesting for us because you have hit on one of the big issues that we are going to have to tackle. I think it is almost common now that every young person at some point is required to do work experience, whether it is a VET in Schools program course or part of the year 10 curriculum two-week break of work experience. Wherever it sits very few of them are not required to do it. Young people say: ‘Why do I have to go and do that? It is often artificial and I am just being given boring, repetitive tasks to keep me out of the way by some employer, who has been badgered into taking a work experience student. It is claimed that it is relevant to the particular vocational sector I am training in, but I am not. If I am doing carpentry all I am really doing is sweeping up or whatever. I got this part-time job where I am getting all these generic work skills so why do I have to do the work experience as well?’ They are the sorts of things that we are responding to with that particular area that we are looking at.

One of the logical things would be to give accreditation for the skills, knowledge and experience they develop in their part-time jobs as a replacement for the requirements that are within the curriculum as it is. They would clearly be provided opportunity to have a credit towards it. One of the things that we have heard from a number of places with this sort of form is the resourcing and I am wondering if the difficulty actually is around the resourcing. You make the point that it is the student, the parents and the employer who are doing all this paperwork. But if we are serious about it, is it a resourcing matter? Do we need to get more dedicated to actually resourcing these sorts of things or do you think that at the end of the day we would be better dropping this sort of option and providing an alternative way of recognising the part-time work? Whatever we do, if we end up with a fractured lot of options, I think they will stay meaningless. I am interested in the view about whether we should persevere with something like that. It is only in its infancy. There are no surprises that it has problems. Have you seen other things that you think might be useful?

Mr Dickie —In the curriculum you should be able to integrate employability skills—for example, communication, teamwork, problem-solving, initiative and enterprise, planning, self-management. Those are generic skills that I think could be integrated into the whole learning situation. You have a three-hour, sit-down examination. If we had a more expanded view of what life skills area about, we should be able to integrate it into the curriculum. A number of subjects do. Again, it is that recognition: how do you recognise that within the academic situation within a school? It is very difficult. It is easier to read an essay and give a mark on it, but I think we have to assess someone’s cooperation, initiative and things like that. Those are life skills, no matter what we do. In trying to recognise work experience or work outside, there are great disadvantages for some kids—where they live, for example, they may not have that opportunity. If I am in Goondiwindi or Stanthorpe, there are very limited opportunities. In Brisbane, I might have lots of opportunities. Where is the equity? I would more look at: how do we integrate those skills that kids are getting in the workforce? There will always be a discrepancy in that there will be opportunities in particular places for particular kids, and generally it is in the metropolitan areas, and there will be great disadvantages. If we want to look at it, then let’s look at how we get those kids in the country and rural areas, and particularly disadvantaged kids, into a reasonable work situation where they can get the skills.

CHAIR —So you are saying you have capacity within the schools to do tasks and projects that develop similar sorts of work practices?

Mr Dickie —Yes.

CHAIR —I understand there is a certificate I and a certificate II available as well. I would be interested in some comment on that.

Ms Creagh —I would like to add to this debate. There is the whole issue of moderation of whether or not a student has those qualities. One employer in one position may tick all the boxes; another employer, perhaps who has staff to be able to work with those students et cetera, may be more demanding. In Queensland, we have moderation on all of our senior studies. There would need to be some sort of moderation process to ensure the comparability of standards or accreditation available. That adds to the complexity, the resourcing and the question of whether the outcome is worth the input. Perhaps from a Queensland perspective—and I just happen to know these statistics because I was at a rural and remote meeting the other day—half of the state schools are in rural and remote areas and a quarter of the state school students are rural and remote students. So there is a large percentage of students who could be in the situation that Paul was referring to, where perhaps equal opportunity would not be available.

Mrs Nash —Just in relation to that, it is a resourcing issue, but, in my experience, schools do whatever they can to help kids get over the line to get a QCE. I am not convinced of how many students are interested in having that actually accredited. In some ways I think they like to keep it separate. I am not sure. The fact that it has not been pursued is not because schools do not help kids. I just wonder how many kids are interested. I do not know, but it would seem that the question that needs to be asked is: is that what kids want or is it something that we think they should have?

CHAIR —I think it is interesting. We were talking to a student outside before who was telling us that in years 9 and 10—I am sure he will come and give evidence a bit later—that he was working in a fast food outlet doing a traineeship. So he was actually getting a certificate. I have some hesitations about why they use traineeships in that industry; it is not always about qualifications. The other side of that is that they come away with a certificate and it is a good outcome but I am not sure that we necessarily need to impose that on every company, because that is a large organisation with a capacity to do that. Small employers who regularly employ young people have said to us, ‘Look, it’s just not going to be a possibility for me to do that.’ That is something we are really very conscious of. But there is also no doubt that when students leave school if they have had some paid work experience that will have credibility. We can talk about curriculum based work skills and volunteering but if you go to an employer when you want a job they will not give it any credibility.

We have had this discussion before. You are spot on in what you are saying. There is no use in setting up accreditations if employers then go, ‘Yes, that’s just a tick-a-box thing; we don’t think it’s worth much, anyway.’ So I suppose what we are struggling with, because we are talking about the balance issue, is that, as you say, students are saying, ‘That’s my part-time work; I do that to escape school. One of the reasons I love it is that it is nothing like school. One of the reasons I love it is because I make my own decisions. I am not being monitored and watched all the time with it. If you do this you’re going to kill it off for me.’

The other side of it is that we recognise that students are going to do more hours than they have done in the past. When I started, shops only opened outside normal hours on Thursday night and Saturday morning, and that was it. So if you wanted to employ students that was when you employed them. It was an eight or nine hours and in a week it was manageable. Students are now working 25 and 30 hours. They may be shifted on for 15 hours but they get phone calls saying, ‘Somebody’s dropped out; can you turn up to do a shift?’ These pressures are significant. One way you can go is legislative, around the numbers of hours. I understand that you have some experience of that, but only for those up to the age of 16, as I understand it. I will get people to comment on that.

For us the real pressure point that we are interested in is the age between 16 and 18. If we are pushing retention rates up and we force young people to make a choice between extra hours and study I think we might be a bit horrified at what they choose. It comes back to your survey, Paul. I am looking for ways in which we can get that balance right. One is through integrating work with study. One of the other options, if you are not going to do the whole recognition thing, is to have a more flexible enrolment pattern. I understand that here you can enrol in the QCE and do it over nine years.

Ms Mullins —Yes.

CHAIR —Can you give us a bit of background on that. It is probably fairly new as well, but could you tell us what that is about and what the uptake might be so far?

—The advice we are getting from other people at the table is that the first cohort of young people eligible for the QCE graduated last year. It is a work in progress. Schools and other institutions are still learning how to expand options for young people and then how it can be counted. We know that completion of year 12 and certificate III or above provide young people with opportunities that are not afforded to those who do not. The policy intent of the ETRF was to give every young person an opportunity to complete year 12 and leave school with a certificate III or above or undertake an apprenticeship or traineeship. One-third of kids go to university, so the QCE was about engaging a broader group of young people. The QCE was designed to accredit a particular level of attainment. There are literacy and numeracy requirements. You cannot get a QCE unless you meet particular requirements. The approach was to capture depth and breadth of learning.

In terms of how workplace experience can be counted within a QCE—and I think that this issue is germane to the terms of reference of the inquiry—there is no homogenous workplace, and you have alluded to that. There is high-quality workplace experience, where young people gain both employability and technical skills, and then there is low-quality workplace experience, where young people are engaged in repetitive tasks and there is not necessarily a deep and broad range of learning. That is the notion around the paperwork and the Queensland Studies Authority’s dilemma around on the one hand counting breadth and depth of learning and making sure that the QCE actually counts for something and on the other hand giving young people an opportunity to engage.

One of the issues—and obviously everything is a resourcing issue—is that we have got to a juncture where, unlike 20 years ago, we have acknowledged that there is a broad range of learning and that workplace learning is important but we have not done any stratifying work around describing the quality of workplace experience and what the student’s goals are. I know that it happens at a school level—good teachers understand who their kids are and choose workplace experiences that match the young person’s needs. But at a systemic level there is work to be done in quantifying and clarifying, and I do not think there is a homogenous goal for workplace experience.

We know from the Next Step destination survey that is conducted by the Queensland government—and we submitted this in our submission—that school based apprenticeships and traineeships strengthen young people’s transition to, particularly, further training and employment. We also know that school based apprenticeships and traineeships do not suit every young person. But I think there are some insights into the composition of workplace apprenticeships and traineeships that give us some clues as to what good workplace experience for young people could be. There might be some clues in there as to how we can construct workplace experience for young people who may not want to undertake, or are not able to secure, an apprenticeship or traineeship or may not be able to secure an apprenticeship or traineeship.

We expect the labour market to shrink in the future. In the shrinking labour market in the last economic downturn, the youth labour market accelerated because employers were interested in casual employees and those who were less expensive. That is something that we need to think about. We suspect there is going to be a downturn in the uptake of school based apprenticeships and traineeships in the next little while. We have not noticed a dip in the momentum in Queensland as yet, but we get anecdotal advice that there is going to be a downturn in particular industries.

In closing, notwithstanding the notions of what is a reasonable amount of work for a young person to undertake in addition to learning and the issues around whether or not that needs to be legislated—and I am sure the children’s commission have views on that—in the discourse we need to make sure that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach and that there is some learning around some of the models that we have. That means we have to do some meaningful work with accrediting authorities. It is not just about employability skills; in the workplace young people acquire technical skills, cognitive skills and conceptual skills. How do we quantify those? How do we match them? Do we have strata of workplace experience for young people? For some people, it is just about engagement and being case managed to keep that engagement, because research tells us that the longer you can keep young people engaged the less tenuous is their grip on a life history of employment. For others, it is about gaining technical and conceptual skills that enable them to move into further training and further education. For others, it is gaining gravitas in the workplace that strengthens their transition to full-time employment after school.

CHAIR —Thanks, Sharon. I have one more question on the education side, and we might be interested in exploring to some extent the industrial side of the issue, which I know the commission has done quite a bit of work on. One of the issues that is interesting to us is that—and I know, as you said, Sharon, good teachers know their students—we have been struck time and time again by schools saying: ‘We’ve never surveyed. We’ve never asked.’ It is very ad hoc—and I do not mean this as a criticism.

It is so common in our culture for young people to have part-time jobs. It is not common amongst other OECD countries. It is a structure of our labour market that we do not have—heaven forbid!—cheap Mexicans or people in very dire circumstances in large numbers who are willing to take entry-level, unskilled, low-paid jobs. We turn to our young people to do those. That is a standard part of how we operate. So in some ways I think we have been a bit complacent about it just being there and being a structure. But, with the deregulated market we are in and the growth of the fast-food industry in the last 15 years, those young people, as we said, are not just working on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings now. We hear very, very different stories in general from young people in the retail industry—which has a long history of regulation—than from young people in the fast-food industry about the way they are handled and treated. With the best will in the world, I think that it is time that we had a serious look at what young people are doing.

The other aspect that I want to get your views on here—and perhaps the commission will have some views as well—is engaging parents, which you mentioned, Paul. It is a real challenge for us because we know the 15 to 18 age group silo their lives, as we have described it. They do not want to tell their parents that there is a problem because they worry their parents will say: ‘Well, you’ll have to give up the job. You’ve got to concentrate on your studies.’ They do not want to tell the school because, they tell us, the message from the school is that the work is their choice and they should not be doing it if it is interfering with their studies. Across the board, that is the message young people are getting from schools. When we say to them, ‘Do you tell your teachers you can’t do that particular assignment tonight because you’ve got work?’ they say, ‘Oh, no.’ Some do, but it is to a specific teacher whom they have a view about. One of the things the students say to us is: ‘When you go into year 11 you’re told you’re going to have to spend 15 to 20 hours per week’—that seems to be pretty standard—‘studying out of the classroom. But our assignments and homework are not set by the week.’ It is not like at the beginning of the week the teachers say, ‘Here’s your 15 hours of work,’ so they can manage it. On Thursday afternoon in period 6 the teacher says, ‘Right, I want this back tomorrow,’ and the student might have a shift that night. We, as the adults in the workplace, the school and the home, with the best will in the world, are going to struggle because they are siloing because of the messages that they get.

So I am wondering what your views are and what the best way is for government to respond. My fear with a legislative response is that young people will simply ignore it—they will not tell anybody—because they want the hours, they want the job and they are not going to report it anyway. So who do they go to and what do they do when they struggle? It is quite clear they do not go to anyone at the moment. They think they are managing until it falls apart—they are at an age where they do not yet have the skills to self-analyse. It could happen to any of us. It is not until they matriculate that they say, ‘I’ve blown it. I didn’t get the marks I needed; I’m really disappointed.’ Or they collapse with glandular fever or they have a stress breakdown or massive anxiety attacks. It is not until it falls apart that they realise they are not managing. Some of you have talked about some national codes of practice. Are there other ideas that might be useful to consider as ways to help young people? That includes employers. I think they often mean well, but if they talk to the young people in the workplace they might find their procedures and policies do not translate. How can we all do better with that? Is there something useful that you have seen that could be used at the national level to deal with the issue of breaking down the siloing that young people do and help them manage it better? The commission for children made reference to some things around codes of practice and so on that could go to the national level.

Ms Harcourt —I think it is optimistic to think that you can get the industry to completely come onside from a goodwill point of view. You can organise it with individual employers and you may be able to do it through liaison at particular levels, but in the end industry is there to make a profit. As times are tough, I think they will take things pretty much to the level that they can legally take them. I completely agree with you about young people compartmentalising and not wanting their parents to ask them to make a choice. When we did the original child labour project, probably four years ago now, we did lots of consultation with the young workers advisory group, individual young people and schools. We got a lot of feedback, and that is where we had a lot of influence in reducing the maximum hours that students up to year 10 may work. It may be useful to look at reducing the hours that year 11 and 12 students may work. In a conversation this morning, a very impressive young person from this school was talking about Woolworths almost throwing a celebration when you go into year 11 because they can double your number of hours.

We have to be careful that we are not, conversely, penalising the even more vulnerable groups of young people. I totally agree with some of the comments that Sharon Mullins and Paul Dickie made about the fact that we do not have homogenous groups of young people or homogenous goals in employment and we have different levels of employer involvement and engagement as well. But for the vulnerable young people who are self-supporting, for instance, you have to look at the flip side: if you limit them to 10 hours a week, what are you going to do to their capacity to support themselves? Are they just going to drop out of school because they have to eat and pay rent?

So I think we have to be very careful that we look at the categories of young people. You have young people working part time for reasons of lifestyle—paying for their mobile phone or to have some independence—but you have other groups of young people involved in work more for reasons of survival. Then I think we also have to look at the young people for whom we should be doing absolutely everything to try to get some linkages to retain them in the system. For these young people, the parents are less likely to be engaged—there is not that link with parental support. These young people are very much at risk of dropping out of school. They are probably not even the prime employees of fast-food outlets, because you have to have certain skills, presentation and sociability.

CHAIR —They could be in the kitchen—

Ms Harcourt —Could be.

CHAIR —where most of the boys are because they are not as presentable as the girls.

Ms Harcourt —Your question earlier was, ‘Is it about resourcing and getting that additional work outside school accredited?’ I think for some young people that is important, but I would not like to see the focus being totally on that, because that, in a way, leaves it to the young person to get their employment: ‘Go and get a job at McDonald’s and then we’ll accredit you.’ The really vulnerable groups of young people I am talking about are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and people from really struggling families who have very few resources, educationally, socially and financially. It needs to be a lot more proactive for them, and I fully recognise that a lot of schools and education is very involved in trying to maintain that link.

From our perspective I think that we are very big on the protection but none of this is should be done in isolation. The other focus is: how can work and involvement be used to link with even basic skills like being on time, being reliable and leaving a workplace tidy? They sound like very basic skills but if you do not have them in essence your life trajectory is very low. We are particularly interested in any efforts to incorporate linkages for young people. There are some who are not really interested in school but if you can link work with school there is a lot of research that tells us that the more the young person can stay engaged in school, where there are support networks and they belong to a social cohort, the more time there is for them to mature.

So there should be training linkages or apprenticeships, even if it is not as high level as an apprenticeship—for example, linking them to the local mechanic and making a space for that in the school, even if that mechanic cannot give them an apprenticeship. If that is all a young boy is interested in there is not point in trying to force him to work at McDonald’s or trying to make him an English literature student. If you can keep him at school by allowing him to work with the mechanic two or three days a week and just have him come back he will have the mentoring, the nurturing and, hopefully, a teacher who knows his skills and strengths and weaknesses.

So for us there is a balance. Do not just focus on resourcing and getting accreditation. Do not focus on the industrial relations rules in isolation. Certainly look at them but be very mindful of the unintended consequences of changing hours for the older students. Also look at the workplace for the very vulnerable kids. A key message from us would be to look at any ways of keeping all of those sorts of things in focus rather than shifting to one area.

Mrs D’ATH —There are three areas I want to concentrate on. The first is: how can we make the balance between work and school better as far as flexibility goes? Paul, you made the point that we talk about flexibility and about moving outside of the standard school structure but we are not actually seeing it happen to any significant extent. That is one question. Another question is about accreditation of paid work. And I am also equally interested in volunteer work because, depending on what path a person wants to follow outside school, volunteer work may be just as relevant and important to recognise. One step down from accreditation, for future employment opportunities there needs to be recognition of what young people have done. The other area is about better transitioning from school and work into the full-time workforce.

Just on the first point of flexibility, do any of you see a benefit in having a trigger or mechanism whereby a student comes to the school and says, ‘I now work a minimum of this number of hours per week,’ whether they work Monday to Friday or whatever the arrangement is? The trigger is when they hit a certain number of hours or number of days per week. Then the school would move that person out of the standard Monday to Friday, nine to three structure and work on an individual study plan for that student to have more flexibility. A student may have been enrolled at the start of grade 11 and has two years to go, but they come to you and say, ‘I’m working 30 hours a week. It’s great for me. It’s what I want to do. I hope to actually get into this employment.’ We know the bulk of the work is retail and hospitality, but they may say, ‘I’ve been doing this for a while. There’s a real opportunity for me to do some management courses with this retail employer after I finish school,’ and they might not want to finish their QCE in two years; they may want to do it over three years. I am interested in your views on that before I move on to the other two categories. Perhaps we could start at this end and move across.

Ms Hall —I like the idea of the triggers, but I would be cautious about how narrow those triggers are and what the triggers are, particularly for some of the vulnerable groups. The flexibility might be broader and actually involve the community. We looked at a couple of those, particularly for Queensland which has a big rural and remote area. As Paul was saying, if it is a period in a local community’s farming cycle and you know the kids will be under pressure from their parents to work—whether it is hay carting or whatever—there could be more of a community response in working with the school for that flexibility. The trigger might be the needs of that community. Also, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities there could be some triggers.

As Sharon was saying, some might have a case management approach—the ones who might not have a lot of hours but need hours—and the young people would be better off out of the school for two days. They need to keep those connections. They need to have time to grow up. They need all the things that we know they need—their friends, for example. There needs to be recognition of the work that they are doing in the same way that a school captain of the rugby team in an employer’s eyes might be recognised—that this young person is actually taking on a lot of responsibility, and they do turn up and things like that.

I agree: schools need some triggers. Those triggers, once they are in place, would help them see more and more of what is happening for some of the young people and allow them have the conversation. There could be young people who are doing 25 hours a week and you might say, ‘Why are you doing it? Do you like it?’ and they might reply, ‘No, I don’t, but I think I have to.’ I have a daughter who was told to come in at six o’clock for a meeting and was told, ‘If you don’t come in you don’t get on the roster.’ I said, ‘But you can’t,’ and she replied, ‘But I have to.’ There are all sorts of things that kids do not tell you, but some of those triggers will help schools understand them.

Mrs D’ATH —You touched on the recognition side. I will take that one step further so that others can comment. A reference, if you even get a reference, does not carry much weight and you only ever show the good ones—a few lines saying: they were a well-behaved person of good character—but it does not really tell you anything about the skills that the person has learnt in that employment. Because of the nature of the retail and hospitality industries, a referee, if it were their immediate supervisor who worked with them at the time, will more than likely not be the supervisor there in 12 months time when someone is trying to get future employment. Under the state industrial relations laws there was a requirement to have a statement of attainment. Again, that was not something that an employer would give automatically. The employee had to ask for it, and most do not know they have the right to lawfully ask for it. Do you think it would be useful to have some sort of legislative requirement for a statement of service that states the type of service—that they have worked in reception and gained those sorts of skills? At the very least, a student can carry that with them to say: this is what I have done.

Ms Harcourt —I think you have the issue of moderation, again—how easy is it to get that box ticked; what is it going to mean to an employer? I employ a lot of people over time. Yes, you have got to get your toe in the door to be seen. But I am not convinced about having the tick box—‘I have done this.’ I think it is the face-to-face presentation. It depends on the application process. If you have written applications and you have to select five out of 56 applications, I guess anything that you can put on paper is helpful. But it does not immediately strike me as enormously beneficial to go down that legislative path to require employers to tick boxes to give accreditation or to recognise the skills, because I think you could have that devaluing. People just go, ‘Yeah, I’ll tick your boxes.’

Mrs D’ATH —It is just another piece of paper?

Ms Harcourt —It is just another piece of paper. I am not sure that any employer would look at two people and go, ‘You have got your boxes ticked and you haven’t.’ I would have to be convinced that it would make a significant difference.

Mrs D’ATH —You make a very good point there. I am very mindful of the time. If I could ask just briefly for a comment on the flexibility issue, a trigger and whether you think recognition of volunteer work is important? I definitely want to put the question, because it touches on each of your submissions on the transition issue. Maybe if I hear from one from each group.

Mr Dickie —Can I just talk about the flexibility. I think the organisation of senior schooling is an important aspect. Having worked in a senior college situation, you have much more flexibility to combine school and work in that situation than you have in a normal secondary organisation. So the whole aspect of how you treat kids and the relationship that you have with kids is very different. They are treated like adults when they go into a work situation. Why don’t we treat them that way—we do try to treat them that way—in the schools? The organisation of schools is very important. If you look at the operation, what goes around, comes around. It was the trend of 20 years ago, it went out and now it is coming back again. I think the people who worked in those schools and the kids who went through those situations were able to have that flexibility. They were able to combine and they did get recognition. I think we need to look at that.

CHAIR —Paul, part of that was the timetabling flexibilities and things like that in a senior college?

Mr Dickie —Yes. If you say that school is going to start at seven o’clock in the morning, they will be there at seven o’clock in the morning. If you say that to a kid in year 9, it does not happen. It is that whole different perception of how you look at kids.

Mrs Nash —Could I just make a comment about the trigger. It is interesting for me that it is triggered for kids who are gifted in sport, the arts or whatever. We make those allowances for them. Why can’t the same thing apply to others? I have lived it with my own child. I forced him to be organised to say, ‘This is when I’m going to be away and this is when I’m going to be doing this, so what do I need to do?’ The school was great, but other people did not realise they had the opportunity to do that and they saw it in a different light. I would say to them, ‘Well, you can go and talk to them and reorganise.’ Those kids do senior over three years and those sorts of things. It is triggered for those kids. Maybe that is what we need to look at: why is it triggered for them and not for those kids who need to work or want to work?

Mr Percy —There are a couple of issues there. One is if you do set an amount, if you are expecting students to come forward, how do you know that? One of the useful things, though, is that it does open up a conversation at schools with students and with working with them. From my experience, one of the most effective things is the pastoral systems that schools have. Coming back to a point you made earlier, Sharon, about study and that sort of thing, I have not been in a school yet that does not have an assignment and assessment register. There is a time line. If the schools publish it—and the schools that I have been in have published it—the parents are aware of that and that does make that awareness and communication happen.

Where the conversations then happen is in the pastoral area. You can pick it up in a school when a student is not meeting the timelines, or is looking tired or falling asleep in class. If teachers have those relationships with students, then they pick that up at that stage and then we have got access to counselling, perhaps on skills of timetabling, or you can have conversations with parents coming in to have a talk with the student about what is possible. Some students cannot negotiate with what is acceptable in the employment field, and they often need an advocate like the school. Even though it might not be school business, it does impact on the school because they bring that to the learning environment, and I think that is where this inquiry is rightful in addressing that issue. I think that if we can reinforce those sorts of expectations then we will get a more effective outcome.

CHAIR —One of the pre-emptors of this study was a report done by the Australian National Schools Network, who have done a lot of work in this area. One of the things they said, John, was directly about partnerships. Say, for example, you have a high school in an area where there is a McDonald’s, a KFC and a Hungry Jack’s. Why don’t we as bodies go and talk to them and say, ‘We know you’ll be employing our students; can we have a bit of a discussion and a partnership around that?’

Mrs Anderson —May I address that right now? I have just come from a breakfast meeting conducted by a local community partnership where there were a number of speakers—university lecturers and so on. It was held at a local leagues club, and the manager of the club spoke about how, at the beginning of this year, they engaged 20 young people from one school, Ferny Grove State High School, to do traineeships with that leagues club. He talked about the capacity for the students, who had to work seven hours 40 minutes per week, to work more time in holidays and to bank that time so that, when it came near assessment time, they could have the time off. That is an exceptional employer who has formed an excellent partnership. At the other end of the spectrum, we would have some employers in the fast-food industry who tell young people when they apply for a part-time job, ‘We will only employ you if you sign up for a traineeship,’ and the reason for that is the government incentives that sit behind the traineeship. So employers sit at both ends. The validity and the usefulness of those sorts of partnerships that you talk about are very clear. Whether those partnerships are open to all schools in all areas is another question. It is great where you have a range of employers available. I am not sure how it works in Tara and Mitchell and those sorts of places. Certainly it can work.

CHAIR —It is good to hear that.

Mrs D’ATH —One issue very close to my heart, on transitioning young people into full-time work or out of the school system, is this. If they are working more hours they are earning more money, and I think each one of you said that, in addition to good communication skills and having to manage time and all those sorts of things, that young people learn financial management. I wonder about the accuracy of that statement. They are learning that if you work you earn money, but employers do not teach you how to manage money, and, whether you are 15 or 50, people do not necessarily have good financial management skills. Sharon talked about how things were in our day—

CHAIR —I am so glad you include me in that!

Mrs D’ATH —and when we left school, the only debt you would possibly have is that you may have had to pay mum and dad some board or, if you were moving out of home, to pay rent. Yes, you would have had those additional responsibilities, but you did not have personal debt. You had responsibilities; you did not have debt. Our young people today are very different. They have phones. They have phone plans. They are living in a society where they see many people living off credit. I wonder whether—if we are allowing them to work more and to earn an income while they are studying, and they then move out into the full-time workforce—are we doing enough to assist them with their financial management? Could we be doing more in the schools to teach them those sorts of life skills?

Ms Harcourt —I feel very strongly about that. I do not think the link is necessarily because young people are working or are not working. I think we are a consumer society that targets young people from when they are about four years old. When I was at school the first magazine targeted at us was Seventeen. I can remember being in secondary school and they had Seventeen in the library. I think we were 16 and we wondered if we were allowed to read it. But now we have teen and tween magazines that are targeted at the eight- to 12-year-olds and the six- to eight-year-olds. There is a very big focus on being a consumer. I think people are doing it to their children from infancy. There is OshKosh. Instead of kids having hand-me-down Target clothes, you are who you present yourself to be. There are enormous issues for us. Previously we used to celebrate a culture of character, but now we celebrate a culture of celebrity. It is all about your appearance, your external looks, what you own and what you do. It is about being seen in the right places, wearing the right clothes, having the right phone and doing the right thing. I think we are putting enormous pressure on children to be consumers from a very young age. It is a very cynical approach.

The whole marketing world knows that children in this age group control family expenditure—and even the type of car that families buy. I think it starts a long time before children start working. We have created a consumer monster in what we are doing with young people. We think we can be restrained and have delayed gratification, but all the marketing says that there should be no delayed gratification. It says: ‘Have it now. Have it looking like this. Update it. Upgrade it.’ I think it is an enormous issue. We need financial management and financial planning for young people, but it should not be taught as a maths subject or a social skills subject in year 11, year 10 or year 9. I think it is a problem that starts very much earlier. I despair at times about how we can turn this around.

We have four-year-olds who want to be Britney Spears or Pink or somebody, and that all requires clothes, that all requires purchased trappings. We are asking children to have the maturity to deny themselves that. But in denying them that, you risk that they will be ostracised. It is very challenging and we are at a critical point in that area. But I see it as a very separate issue from employment. I think employment is part of trying to get the phones and trying to get the latest look, or even hire-purchasing a car or whatever. But I think they need to be treated as separate issues. Financial management for young people needs to start very early in primary schools with analysis of marketing: ‘What are they trying to get you to buy? Why? What do you think is the pressure behind this?’ But you are asking for a lot of maturity and sophistication for them to be able to resist those messages.

Mrs D’ATH —I am not necessarily suggesting that the school system should try to deal with that problem, but once students are earning an income they need to know how to manage that money. The issue of how they spend their money is a much bigger issue in the consumer mentality. Should it be part of the school’s responsibility to give students life skills in financial management?

Ms Creagh —One of the things we need to be conscious about is the role of parents. I think we are placing that incredible responsibility on the schools. I would really appreciate it if your inquiry could ensure that the work that is being done by schools on preparing students for work is recognised. The role of schools is to ensure that young people are educated. For some students, part of that education is in work in those latter years. I think we need to recognise that the core business of schools is the full education of young people, including transition into work through traineeships et cetera. In the fullness of life, the pastoral care of those young people is part of the schools’ responsibility. The partnership with parents and with business and industry is a role that schools play, but schools cannot be the answer to it. So I think we need to keep a very full picture of the responsibility. It is a societal responsibility to bring young children to adulthood. The school plays a vital role, the family plays a vital role and society plays a vital role. I completely support the statements made about the incredible pressure society puts on young people and how all of us can work together to educate them to be citizens of this country of whom we can be very proud.

Dr JENSEN —Flexibility is a very interesting issue, but it comes with grave risk. If you become too flexible, school simply becomes a choice among a whole variety of other issues. There is a thing called choice fatigue. You can try three varieties of jam and have the opportunity to purchase, or you can try 30 varieties of jam and have the opportunity to purchase. The thing with having 30 varieties of jam is that more people try them but fewer people purchase them. My concern is that, with all this flexibility, we are almost forgetting the fundamental thing—that is, schools are about education and they are core and central, and that should be the focus. I would like to explore your views. How flexible should we be? Where do we draw the line? The message we are sending out is that school is just one of the choices students have. They have work and their social life and all the rest of it, but school is just a choice. We are saying that if a few more hours of work come at the expense of attending school, that is okay; it is one of the choices. But where do we draw the line?

Mrs Anderson —The dilemma you have raised is very significant, and it is one that we need to acknowledge in Queensland. The terminology under Education and Training Reforms for the Future, or ETRF, is that young people have to be ‘earning or learning’. After the age of 16 or having completed year 10, they can legitimately be continuing school to the end of year 12, or in a training organisation or working full time. The reality of the situation is that 80 per cent of young people in Queensland complete year 12. That stat sits fairly well in comparison with other states—though the ACT is above that. So we are trying to accommodate issues for a few that might not sit there at a larger scale. We used to talk about the 10,000 disengaged—the young people who were at risk of leaving before the end of their schooling or training. The majority of young people combine school and work quite successfully. There are some who are at risk and who are disadvantaged. That is where our attention needs to be focused and that is where our flexibility needs to lie in addressing the specific needs of those young people.

But I do not think schools have the capacity to make it too flexible, nor do I think there would be much research that says we should make it open slather—that we should make it so flexible that students can go to school when it suits the employer or when it suits them. Schools have a core business to deliver education. For some young people, work as a part of that can be the carrot that keeps them at school. But do try to build your school timetable around students moving in and out of school on a daily basis is economically impossible, particularly for small schools. It costs you just as much to run your English class whether there are 20 students, 25 students or 17 students. To do back-up classes for those students who are out—and often it is one or two students a day—and to try to run second-level classes and give one-on-one attention with that particular teacher for each class is not possible for schools. So I think we have to separate the issue of regular schooling and attending to year 12 and how successfully that happens for a large number of people and the issue of students who are disadvantaged because of their situation in life or their experience with schooling and their particular needs and how we deal with those. I think we have different clientele that we are dealing with. One is a regular population who happen to work. The other is a special population who might need work and other special assistance to keep engaged with education.

Ms Mullins —Dennis, you are interested in how much choice we give young people and whether we provide some structure around the choices they make or whether we give them carte blanche. There are also issues around the economic pressures on young people who are not buying mobile phones but are bringing income into their home. I think we have all got examples and the research tells us that some 15- to 17-year-olds are required to earn money to pay the rent and put food on the table. In the senior qualifications which have been introduced around Australia, it is acknowledged that people have to have a particular group of learnings in order to get their certificate of education. In essence, an ideological decision has been made about what comprises a reasonable suite of learnings for a young person. How we manage that within the broader social environment is, I think, where the issue lies. I think there have been decisions made by educators and governments about what comprises a reasonable suite of learnings for younger people.

Mr Dickie —Also, as Mandy has pointed out, the size of the school and the quality of its teaching resources determine very much the curriculum you can provide. At city schools you have a large number of resources and you have the ability to operate with employers. At small high schools in the country you have a very limited curriculum because you just do not get people going to the country to teach maths and physics. So it is very much determined by what resources are available. But is that a disadvantage to kids? What is the curriculum kids really need? The National Curriculum Board tells us what the subjects are—and you might disagree with those subjects. But it very much depends upon the resources that are available for the curriculum that you provide.

Dr JENSEN —I think you have raised a very valid point there. As to the issue about individual learning programs and so on for kids who may be worth a lot of hours, that comes at the price of increasing teachers’ workloads significantly. I do not know what the situation is in Queensland, but in Western Australia we are getting a lot of teachers baling out of the education system because of workload issues. So the last thing we want to be doing is loading them up some more, because we will lose some good educators. Do you have any comments on that?

Ms Hall —I do not think flexibility suggests a laissez-faire approach. I would be interested in what young people have to say. I think they would say they like structure. It is about some of the groups on the extreme. Too rigid a system is not going to suit them. It is about schools’ willingness to work collaboratively with other groups. For some cohorts of kids they need to work with some of the youth agencies, who often do a great job of case managing, to see how those kids can stay engaged and continue to learn but not fit within a rigid school system. The other thing I think there is a capacity to do is to provide a broader community education that supports these kids. We have seen what happened with Darrell Lea due to public pressure. You should not be asking kids who are trying to finish school to work exorbitant hours. People will vote with their feet. Parents want to be advocates. But kids are very cautious, as you have mentioned. The kids say: ‘Don’t ring them up, Mum. It’ll be tough for me and the school will say this.’ Parents and communities must worked as a group to say that it is not on, particularly for the fast food groups, to give kids that number of hours. It is not about legislation. It is about the fact that we all want our kids to get a good education. I agree that it does have to stay structured. I did ask some young people: ‘What happens if you work? Can’t you just do your study?’ I have a concern that we will start to see online learning because we cannot pay for the teacher. But that is not the way to go for young people, except for some exceptional ones.

Dr JENSEN —So essentially what you are saying is that there should be some structure and rigidity within the system with some flexibility around the edges for the outliers?

Ms Hall —I am saying there should be structure, not rigidity. Some schools have a long way to go. We know that some schools do some fantastic stuff. There is a school in Queensland where an external group actually provides the school. The kids are enrolled at the high school. The guidance officer works in an external area. They provide the curriculum and they provide some of the teachers. It has got to work for these kids. Some schools would not entertain the thought of that. As I said, in rural areas there might be other issues. It is not about throwing the baby out with the bathwater; it is about looking at where we can be flexible and asking where we as a group of parents and the community and the schools can put some pressure on some of the big national groups such as Subway and McDonald’s. We should tell them: ‘We want our kids to finish school. You do a great service for us, and we know kids like working.’ We hear stories of how some managers in those stores really do respond to that. They say: ‘Would any of your friends like a job? Instead of doing 10 hours, do you want to do five hours?’ So I think we need to do some community education around that, as well as legal or structured school things.

CHAIR —We will have to wrap it up, though we could talk for a long time. As Dennis has said, part of the challenge we are dealing with is not just about offering choices but about the fact that young people are taking choices whether we offer them or not. I think it would be a great mistake to assume that it is only about the vulnerable kids. In many cases the ones who are doing the most hours are the most functional. So there are some dangers there as well. We have met students who are very high performers but are doing 30 hours of work and then collapsing. So there are some challenges across the board. We have had some really interesting evidence and submissions from all of you today which will give us some food for thought. Thank you all for your attendance here today. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, to which you can make corrections of grammar and fact.

Proceedings suspended from 11.01 am to 11.29 am