Vocational education and training (VET) is now the most common education pathway taken by year 11 and 12 public school students. In 2016, just over 70% of these students had enrolled in about 200 certificate qualifications, provided by 150 training organisations.
The importance of VET is the result of a sequence of education reforms over a number of years, though the full impact was not felt until 2015 when formal VET qualifications became a pathway to earning a WA Certificate of Education. This triggered an immediate need for schools to provide VET courses for a much larger number of students.
I am pleased to report that schools, and the agencies involved, have responded well to that initial challenge, though the need for further development is evident, particularly in ensuring education quality.
Experiences in 2015 and 2016 revealed 2 key factors that will shape how VET in schools develop.
First, it is evident that student interest in VET subjects is diverse and this diversity will drive the subjects on offer. For some, VET remains a traditional route to an apprenticeship. For others, it offers a more engaging curriculum and learning approach than an academic pathway. And for many, it provides variety alongside their academic subjects and their pathway to university.
Secondly, it is evident that year 11 and 12 VET students have a clear preference to remain in a school environment rather than undertaking VET subjects outside of school.
Providing breadth of choice while maintaining quality is a challenge that schools cannot meet alone – they rely on external training providers. This in itself is a risk.
To minimise this risk, schools need support and guidance to identify quality providers, to establish and manage commercial arrangements and to ensure quality delivery. As well, they need guidance on the subjects that offer breadth of choice to meet student interests but which also reflect future industry needs and job opportunities.
That support for schools can only come from the responsible agencies working together effectively. I have provided a number of recommendations intended to help that happen, and to help turn a good start into a sustainable future for schools and students.