Secondary school for older young people
While policies vary between states and territories, many states allow young people to remain in schools until they turn 21, if they are enrolled in an accredited senior secondary course. RCOA understands this policy also applies to young people seeking asylum. However, RCOA has heard from refugee community members and service providers that many young people who are 18 years old are being told they are no longer eligible to attend secondary school and that they need to complete their secondary education through a TAFE provider.
Further, once young people seeking asylum turn 18, they are no longer eligible for financial assistance from the Commonwealth Government (see below). In a recent teleconference, many service providers spoke of the difficulties young people over 18 face when enrolling into secondary school. It seems that despite policies from state education departments allowing young people to continue secondary education after the age of 18, service providers and young people seeking asylum still experience significant barriers in enrolment.
One service provider commented that the policy in Tasmania is a case-by-case situation: “When the students finish grade 12 and reach 18, here it is a case-by-case that they write and apply to do grade 13”. Another service provider from Victoria reported the same practice:
We have had more success around individual scholarships for high school education, and again that has been primarily through independent schools and that has been a case-by-case experience. And again we have seen people excluded from education once they have turned 18.
In the Australian Capital Territory, people seeking asylum are allowed to finish year 12, regardless of their age, as one service provider reported:
When they finish their year 12, they can stay here as long as they need to until they finish their year 12. We have some at 19. It is when they graduate from here it is that their problems start.
The NSW and Queensland governments allow students to continue to be enrolled past 18 but service providers reported differences in practice. In particular, while most schools allow students to complete year 12 past the age of 18, there are difficulties when students wish to change schools after turning 18. Service providers also reported significant barriers for young people who have recently been released from detention:
[There are a number of people who have recently been released from detention] straight on to bridging visas, having turned 18 two weeks earlier. It has been incredibly difficult for them to find education spots, as opposed to people in community detention [who had] already that education opportunity before turning 18.
Those who are no longer able to attend high school are required to complete their senior secondary course at a TAFE. However, as discussed above, people seeking asylum and refugees on temporary visas do not have access to concession rates and loan schemes to pay for their senior education at a TAFE. This leaves many young people unable to complete their secondary education — further impacting their future employment and education prospects.
Many young people are keen to continue attending high school past 18 years of age, as this provides them with an opportunity to gain similar experiences and fit in with other young people. This can only happen if they are given the chance to access formal education, socialise with other people their age and experience what other Australians experience. By forcing young people out of school and suggesting they attend TAFE or an alternative school, there is a risk that people will be further isolated and disengage from education.
RCOA recommends that the Federal and State Governments ensure consistency in enrolment policies to so that young people seeking asylum and refugees on TPVs and SHEVs are able to complete secondary school, up to the age of 21.