by Geoff Egan
IT'S THE maths puzzle involving Queensland's education statistics that could go a significant way to deciding the State election.
Education Minister Kate Jones has disputed the shocking schooling figures that prompted this paper to launch a major campaign this week, Fair Go For Our Kids.
Data crunched from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed about 30,000 regional Queensland students did not finish Year 12 last year.
But Ms Jones said those figures were "misleading" and instead pointed to school retention rates, which compare the number of Year 12 students with the number of Year 8 students in each council area.
The Government's statistics paint a significantly different story, potentially showing increasing numbers of children staying at school.
However, a leading education researcher says the government's preferred statistics are "a measure of attendance" and do not prove graduation rates.
As part of the Fair Go For Our Kids campaign, we have called for both the LNP and Labor Party to commit to increasing Year 12 graduation rates across regional Queensland.
We calculated the number of Queensland 18-year-olds whose highest level of education was below Year 12 and it painted a gloomy picture for everywhere but Brisbane.
But Ms Jones said there were holes in the logic, and retention rates were a better measure, even though they do not account for students who do not finish Year 12. There is also doubt over whether the same geographical areas have been compared.
Ms Jones said her government had helped thousands of regional students re-engage with school.
"We've made it so schools are responsible for every Year 12 student and report to the regional office on their attendance," she said.
"We've also employed child safety officers and coaches in every region whose job it is to work with kids at risk of dropping out of school."
However, Mitchell Institute researcher Shuyan Huo said retention rates only showed how many people were attending school and could not show achievements.
"It wouldn't surprise me for retention rates to be much higher than achievement rates," Dr Huo said.
"Retention rate does not account for movement or migration between states or immigration from other countries. We don't track each individual student.
"So, students can leave a school and be replaced in the statistics by a student from somewhere else. That student who has left would not have graduated Year 12 but would not show up in the retention rate.
"Retention rate is still important and a way to look at school engagement, but it is not the same as achievement and will not measure the same thing."
Dr Huo was an author of a 2015 research paper that found about 25% of Australian 19-year-olds had not finished Year 12.
Ms Jones' figures still show students in regional areas are less likely to finish Year 12 than those in Brisbane.
The reaction to our launch piece this week has been extremely strong. Education sector experts are lining up to tell their stories in the coming weeks, of efforts to improve regional outcomes that have been stymied, or need support. -NewsRegional
2017 Year 12 cohort retention rates:
Fraser Coast 78.6%
Southern Downs 80.4%
Sunshine Coast 92.5%