Paradigm shift in VET

The IEU was part of a dynamic and positive interactive professional learning session held on 25 February in Canberra with Vocational Educational Training stakeholders from all over Australia. The focus of discussion was the new framework policy document ‘Preparing Secondary Students for Work – framework for vocational learning and VET delivered to secondary students'.

VET can currently be counted towards senior secondary certificates of education in all states and territories and statistics show that 90% of schools across Australia now offer VET in Years 11 and 12. There has been an increase of 77% in the number of school-based apprentices from 2005 to 2012, figures supported by the ‘earn or learn’ approach – raising the statutory leaving age to 17. The new framework recognises the tensions between the delivery of VET at schools and in other capacities.

VET reforms needed

Kira Clarke, a key presenter at the Canberra forum, made a valuable contribution on the day. Kira is a lecturer in Education Policy at the University of Melbourne and has an extensive knowledge and understanding of VET within schools and of the reality, in pedagogical terms, that a school environment is not an industrial setting. Her passionate beliefs about the reform that is needed in VET and its delivery, formed part of her presentation. Reforms she believes are necessary to ensure VET meets the needs of students, teachers and the wider community through themes and structural changes which strengthens VET in schools.

A range of issues was raised by VET stakeholders, most importantly change was needed in the preparation of secondary students for work. It was recognised that the increased interest in vocational learning and the expansion of VET delivered to secondary students was encouraging, however stakeholders continued to raise concerns about quality, relevance and employer involvement.

Problems created

Some educators believe that VET in schools is different from and somehow inferior to other VET courses while others are concerned that VET is less valued by students and parents than other options. Also raised in discussion was that some VET courses don’t deliver the outcomes that students and employers expect, others in the forum pointed to areas where policies and regulations exacerbated, or even created, some of these very problems.

Kira presented researched material about entry to vocations and the building of foundations for successful transitions. Her information was based on a three-year-long investigation involving consultation with stakeholders such as representatives from departments of education and training, boards of study, industry, schools and VET providers.

Kira Clarke stated plainly what needed to change: “There needs to be a revision of Certificates I and II to be delivered in schools at an earlier stage, that is in Stage 3 and Stage 4. It needs to be part of the curriculum as well as learning in, learning for and learning about the course content, skills and discipline. Maths and literacy need to be added to VET courses and we need to make explicit connections between VET and post-school VET courses.”

“We need to explore VET units at an earlier stage of secondary education so that students make informed choices at the Stage 6 level. There also needs to be a systematic approach to information and an integrated framework to establish career paths from the beginning of secondary schools,” Kira said.

“I think we can truly say that the pedagogical paradigm is different in a school environment. There is not parity in schools and outside schools. The regulations, expectations, quality and parameters may be the same but it is different because of the locations.”

Student choice

Feedback from teachers support Kira Clarke's views. Feedback says that some teachers see VET as a ticket for a job resulting in little respect for skills and knowledge gained in schools. Further that family and social media are what influence many students’ choices in subjects, career paths and VET. Most of all teachers believe that students need career guidance.

In the ACT, there will be a ministerial review of VET in government schools, with potentially a flow on to independent and Catholic schools. VET teachers and stakeholders welcome this news and the IEU looks forward to contributing to this process and outcome.

Lyn Caton