Redefining risk: Human rights and elementary school factors predicting post-secondary access


  • Robert S. Brown Toronto District School Board
  • Kelly Gallagher-Mackay Future Skills Centre, Ryerson University
  • Gillian Parekh York University



Post-secondary access, elementary school, Toronto, Canada, absenteeism, special education, suspensions, longitudinal cohort study, 2000-2017


While there is a widespread consensus that students’ pathways towards postsecondary education are influenced early in life, there is little research on the elementary school factors that shape them. Identifying educational ‘risk factors’ directs attention to barriers that may warrant scrutiny or action under human rights legislation. New findings from a unique, longitudinal data set collected and developed by the Toronto District School Board highlights key factors, established in elementary school, as to how many students do not enter into post-secondary studies in Ontario. The majority of students suspended at any time, students in self-contained special education programs, and/or students who missed more than 10% of classes in grade 4 do not go on to PSE. These organizational factors are more predictive of students’ acceptance to PSE than individualized measures of preschool readiness, academic achievement in grade 3, race or parental education.  These structural ‘risks’ are strongly correlated with of race and disability. In light of research that identifies promising, evidence-based practices available to reduce these risks, breaking down these barriers should be a priority from the perspective of improving PSE access and overcoming what may well amount to systemic discrimination.


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Author Biographies

Robert S. Brown, Toronto District School Board

Independent researcher and consultant.  Until 2019, Senior Research Coordinator at the Toronto District School Board.

Kelly Gallagher-Mackay, Future Skills Centre, Ryerson University

Director of Research and Evaluation, Future Skills Centre, Ryerson University.

Gillian Parekh, York University

Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Inclusion, Disability and Education, Faculty of Education, York University, Toronto.




How to Cite

Brown, R. S., Gallagher-Mackay, K., & Parekh, G. (2020). Redefining risk: Human rights and elementary school factors predicting post-secondary access. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 28, 21.