Education pathways for senior students

The school-leaving age has been raised from 15 to 17 years, but that doesn’t mean senior students in NSW must stay in high school full-time. Jodie McLeod explores the education pathways available to a new generation of secondary school seniors

In May 2009 a law was passed that increased the school leaving age from 15 to 17. The change was made in response to research that shows children who leave school later are more likely to become employed, earn higher wages and enjoy a better quality of life, and follows the lead of other Australian states, which have also increased their school-leaving ages in recent years.

However, the new law does not mean senior students must continue on at school alone until age 17. Much to the relief of some students who would prefer to enter the workforce after age 15, transitioning into a career path such as this is still an option. In fact, there is a multitude of education pathways senior students can take to see them through. And some of these don’t involve school-based lessons if that is your child’s preference.

It is important for parents and students to understand what options are available so you can select not only the most appropriate schooling pathway when the time comes, but also the most suitable secondary school that will offer the best options to your child during their senior years.

The new law explained
• The new school leaving age for students has increased from 15 to 17 years.
• The law was made in response to research that shows children who leave school later enjoy a higher rate of employment, earn better wages and experience a healthier and happier adult life.
• It became effective in NSW on January 1, 2010, and applies to government, independent and private schooling as well as home schooling.
• It applies to children who are aged under 15 on January 1, 2010, and also to students aged between 15 and 17 who completed Year 10 in 2009 or who were registered for home schooling in 2009.
• Under the new law, students will be required to complete the school certificate in Year 10 or else undertake a Year 10 equivalent course at TAFE.

Education pathways after Year 10
While the obvious choice in light of the new school leaving age might be to continue on at the same school and possibly undertake the Higher School Certificate (HSC), this is certainly not the only option. As of 2010, when students turn 15, they must by law engage in either a school education, TAFE or other approved training or apprenticeships, paid work or a combination of these. In consultation with your child’s high school careers adviser, your child can map out the best education pathway to suit his or her needs. Options include:

• Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses
VET courses have become very popular among HSC students in recent years, with more than 30 per cent of students undertaking at least one VET subject. VET courses focus on equipping students with industry and workplace-specific skills and an industry qualification to prepare them for employment. The courses cover a range of areas, including hospitality, construction, tourism and even less common vocations such as aircraft maintenance, desktop publishing, animal care and events management. The courses are offered through some schools, TAFE institutions (known as TVET courses) and private Registered Training Organisations (RTOs).

Senior students can choose to undertake one or more VET courses as part of their education pathway after age 15. These courses give dual accreditation for the HSC and an Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) qualification such as Certificate II in Hospitality (Operations) or Certificate II in Information Technology. Some VET courses, known as Industry Curriculum Framework (ICF) VET courses, can count towards an ATAR. There are 12 ICF VET courses for 2010, including automotive, entertainment industry and retail services. There are more than 60 VET courses in total available to study. For the full list, visit

• Apprenticeships and traineeships
You can choose to do an apprenticeship or a traineeship, which involve a combination of on-the-job training in a workplace, off-the-job learning at a Registered Training Organisation (such as TAFE) and paid part-time employment. An apprenticeship leads to becoming a qualified tradesperson, such as an electrician or a plumber, while a traineeship gives you the skills to find work in a certain area, such as hospitality, office administration or information technology.

If you want to do an apprenticeship or traineeship and your HSC at the same time, you can undertake the program through school and have it count towards your HSC. Some school-based apprenticeships and traineeships (SBATs) can be included in the calculation of an ATAR. For more information on SBATs, visit For more information on other traineeships,

• Approved education or training
An approved education or training provider in NSW is one that is registered with the Vocational Education and Training Accreditation Board (VETAB). Only registered training organisations (RTOs) can deliver nationally recognised qualifications and accredited courses. There is a wide variety of approved education and training providers out there — students are generally limited only by their imagination. For information on RTOs and courses, visit the website of the National Training Information Service,

• Complete Year 11 and study a higher education course
Many students might assume that to get into university you have to obtain an ATAR. This is not necessarily so. Many universities offer bridging or foundation courses that allow students who don’t complete Year 12 the opportunity to enter their desired courses of study. Students must complete Year 11 as a minimum requirement for university bridging courses.

• Paid employment
If your child would prefer to enter the workforce than stay in education, this is also an option; however, they must engage in full-time paid employment (an average of 25 hours per week) or else a combination of paid part-time employment and approved study or training.

• Stay at school
For some students, the best option after age 15 will be to stay at school and fulfil the course and attendance requirements.

• A combination
After age 15, students can undertake a combination of the above options depending on their career interests and needs. These can be discussed and planned with the careers adviser at your child’s school.

To read the full article, pick up a copy of Choosing a School for Your Child New South Wales at your nearest Sydney newsagent.

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