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Hope and heartbreak in latest national educat -

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TONY EASTLEY: Five years ago Australian governments agreed to work to together to ensure school students acquired the knowledge and skills to play an active role in society and the global economy.

The latest progress report released this morning is mixed. The Council of Australian Governments Reform Council says more young people have attained Year 12 or the equivalent, particularly Indigenous students. But the report finds more than a quarter of young people are not fully engaged in work or study after leaving school and this has worsened over five years.

Our coverage begins in Ashcroft in south-western Sydney, where one determined student is trying to avoid the post-school drift.

Brendan Trembath reports.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Year 10 student Sophie Mason has a burning ambition.

SOPHIE MASON: Without sounding cruel, leave my current area and go to university. I hope to one day be a psychologist in either child psychology, adult psychology or forensic psychology.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: At Ashcroft High going to university is not taken for granted.

SOPHIE MASON: Though I do hang out with kids that want to go to university, we look around and there's not a very large number of us and that's, I guess compared to other schools, quite shameful.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Sophie Mason says a few fellow students want to do vocational courses but a lot have no higher education ambitions.

SOPHIE MASON: There's a surprising amount who don't wish to do any, who just want to grow up and be parents or just grow up and be on Centrelink.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Really? That's what they aspire to - to be receiving assistance from the government?

SOPHIE MASON: Yeah, it's amazing how often you will see kids that want to be on the Centrelink payment and how unashamed they are.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Her goal though is to study at the University of Sydney after going on a school excursion there.

SOPHIE MASON: It was kind of like, one day I wish to be here. And that was just, that was an amazing excursion and I'm so privileged that I got to go and I was so privileged I could actually pay my way for it.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Smith Family pays for her excursions, uniforms, school books and a summer school program. The national charity also supports her brother and sister.

Joshua in Year 9 likes to leap onto the trampoline after school.

(Sound of trampoline being jumped on)

JOSHUA: You'd be surprised at times.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Jasmine in Year 6 turns on her favourite video game.

(Sound of video game)

JASMINE: I hate dying. It really sucks because then you need to start all over.

SHERRIE: (Laughs) Most people hate death, Jasmine.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Their mum, Sherrie Mason, is a single parent with a limited income. She says the Smith Family's financial aid is vital.

SHERRIE MASON: There is no way we'd be able to make it without them. Their support, the services that they supply for the kids, the extracurricular stuff that they give them is absolutely outstanding.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Ms Mason just wants her children to get a good education.

The chief executive of The Smith Family Lisa O'Brien says today's report by the Council of Australian Governments Reform Council makes it clear that a significant minority of vulnerable and disadvantaged young Australians are just not getting the education they deserve.

LISA O'BRIEN: In the Smith Family's view it makes for really concerning reading.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Dr O'Brien says the report paints a pretty bleak picture of Australia's future.

LISA O'BRIEN: We're a long way from closing that gap in educational performance between kids and schools in disadvantaged areas compared to their more advantaged peers.

TONY EASTLEY: Dr Lisa O'Brien from The Smith Family ending that report by Brendan Trembath.