Too many Australian students do not complete their schooling. In 2018, approximately 17% of Australian students were not retained from Year 10 to Year 12 and about 70,000 students did not attain a Year 12 certificate or equivalent qualification.
In 2018, the Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership, part of the Victorian Department of Education and Training, in partnership with Evidence for Learning and the Monash University Faculty of Education initiated a research investigation project titled the Insights for Early Action Research Project.
The project aimed to understand and improve how Victorian schools identify students who are at risk of disengagement, and the processes and enablers for taking early action to keep students engaged with their education.
The Insights for Early Action Research Project reviewed national and international research studies that investigated effective early identification and intervention strategies for students at risk of disengagement. It combined this review of literature with qualitative case studies about the current processes and actions taken for early identification and intervention in ten Victorian schools.
The project research questions included:
- How is risk of disengagement defined?
- What kind of data, indicators, processes, barriers and enablers are related to early identification for students at risk of disengagement?
- What kind of interventions, processes, barriers and enablers are related to taking early action to support students at risk of disengagement?
- There is considerable research evidence about student-related factors that influence school disengagement. The strongest predictors of disengagement identified in the global literature review were educational performance, student behaviour, demographic factors and student attitudinal factors.
- The schools in Victoria that participated in the project use the key predictors of attendance, behaviour and educational performance as indicators of disengagement in addition to family issues, student wellbeing and student engagement.
- The research evidence indicates that a mix of quantitative and qualitative data is important to accurately identify students at risk of disengagement (that is, a mix of data analysis and professional expertise).
- Research suggests that schools should monitor all students in order to identify and proactively intervene with those who show early signs of disengagement. How schools implement this process depends on their local context, but it might involve student assessment and behaviour monitoring tools, face-to-face interviews with students and or their family, student surveys, consultation with a range of school staff and professionals and referrals to support services.
- There is less robust evidence on effective interventions for students at risk of disengagement than there is on the predictors of disengagement, particularly in Australian school settings.
- Global literature indicates that dropout prevention programs can successfully reduce disengagement from school and improve attendance. Those programs that include more components and strategies are more likely to be successful.
- The schools in Victoria that participated in the project used a variety of strategies to support students at risk of disengagement from school including: activities within and beyond the school (community level); whole‑school initiatives to support students (school level for students); whole‑school initiatives to train, develop and support school staff (school level for staff) and targeted supports for at‑risk students (student level).
The following papers are free to access and download from the Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership website:
- Insights for Early Action – Insights Paper for Practitioners: A paper for use by school leaders, teachers and wellbeing staff to assist decision-making about appropriate indicators, tools, processes and enabling conditions that help with the early identification of students at risk of disengagement.
- Insights for Early Action – Resource Pack: A range of frameworks and tools that can support educators to act on insights developed about students at risk of disengagement and take a preventative approach to disengagement.
- Insights for Early Action – Literature Review: An overview of the research about predictors of disengagement/school dropout; what and how schools use data to identify students at risk of disengaging; and the efficacy of early interventions.
- Insights for Early Action – Case Studies: A brief summary of how school leaders and teachers from a sample of 10 Victorian schools use data to identify students at risk of disengagement.