Debate over school performance in the wake of this week’s NAPLAN results is distracting from key education issues, according to Mitchell Institute at Victoria University.

In a new submission to the Commonwealth Government’s ‘Inquiry into school to work transition’, Mitchell outlines two key education areas for government attention: a stronger focus on capabilities at school and improved access to university and vocational education and training (VET).

Mitchell Institute Director Megan O’Connell argues that while literacy and numeracy are an essential part of education, too much attention on these, including on tests like NAPLAN, can mean critical issues are ignored.

“Too many young people are missing out right across our education system and fall through the cracks when they leave school,” Ms O’Connell said.

“Our schools and TAFEs need to be supported to teach a broad range of capabilities that will help young people succeed both at school and as adults.

“We know jobs today require a lot more than traditional knowledge, so it doesn’t make sense to place so much emphasis on traditional subjects.

“It would be more helpful to emphasise measurement that reflects broader learning outcomes that support students in their pathways beyond school.”

Mitchell’s submission explains that Australia’s economic performance rests heavily on a workforce that can draw on capabilities like critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and interpersonal skills to drive growth and innovation – yet these capabilities are not always prioritised, valued or measured in schools.

It also says increasing tertiary participation is essential, as post-school qualifications are already a requirement for many jobs and will be even more important in the future workforce.

Ms O’Connell said Australia needs to increase tertiary study to drive economic growth and innovation but many students face challenges accessing university and TAFE courses.  

“Affordability and whether or not study will lead to a job are the key considerations for students entering tertiary studies,” Ms O’Connell said.

“It is important to make sure that lack of funding doesn’t determine whether or not young people go to university or TAFE and ultimately find success – studying a post‐school qualification should be an entitlement, across both higher education and VET.

“Our future prosperity depends on students with a broad range of capabilities accessing tertiary education and forging successful careers.”

Media contact: Julia Johnston, 03 9919 4549, 0401 136 114, [email protected]