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Raising the higher school leaving age in Western Australia: A governmental analysis of power and practice

Hodgson, David (2014) Raising the higher school leaving age in Western Australia: A governmental analysis of power and practice. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis reports on a study into the Western Australian state government policy to raise the compulsory school leaving age (RSLA). In 2006, the compulsory school leaving age in Western Australia was increased from age 15 to 16 years, and again in 2008 from age 16 to 17 years, where it has remained since. This thesis is informed by Michel Foucault’s theory of governmentality and has adapted the governmentality literature into framework that supports a research methodology.

Within this orientation, the research is guided by the question:

What are the discourses, rationalities, technologies and ethics of the Raised School Leaving Age policy in Western Australia?

Fourteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with authorities charged with managing and coordinating young people’s participation. As well, 184 policy documents and other ‘grey materials’ were analysed. Two key conclusions are drawn. First, RSLA entails a narrow and reductionist ontology, and, consequently, its theory and practice of the problem of attrition and early school leaving is diminished. Second, it is rooted in a deficit view of young people producing contradictory practices that expect young people to be self-reliant, entrepreneurial and independent, even though they are construed as being at-risk, inept and damaged. The result is a policy myopia that sidelines critical debate about the context of schools themselves as being complicit in the problem of early school leaving and student disengagement. It also turns youth unemployment and underemployment into a problem of the individual who is seen to have failed to manage their participation, and thus RSLA ignores the role of wider economic forces in producing a difficult labour market experience for many young people. This thesis provides an account of the thinking and practices of RSLA insofar as it is conceptualised as an expression of modern governing over young people’s lives.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Supervisor(s): Down, Barry and Wright, Peter
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