This audit assessed the effectiveness and efficiency of vocational education and training (VET) for year 11 and 12 students in Western Australian (WA) public schools. We focused on how the Department of Education (DoE) and schools had implemented VET for an increasing number of students. We also examined the role of the Department of Training and Workforce Development (DTWD). The audit involved data analysis and a survey of 25 schools and their parents, and site visits to 9 schools.
There has historically been a vocational training component to high school education. Generally, it led to apprenticeships and further training, often at colleges of Technical and Further Education (TAFEs), mainly when students left school after year 10. Formally recognised as contributing to school education in 1997, VET continues to be an educational pathway for students wanting employment or further training, and for those less suited to academic schooling.
Recent changes to the WA education system have increased the focus on VET. Since 2014, the School Education Act 1999 requires that all children must be in school, doing further education, or employed until the end of the year they turn 17 years and 6 months or until they turn 18, whichever comes first. The aim for students who stay at school is to gain a Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE). This requires either an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) or a VET certificate II or higher.
Boosted by these changes, the number of year 11 and 12 students doing VET in all WA schools has more than doubled since 2012 to 31,504 in 2016 (Figure 1).
Seventy-three percent of year 11 and 12 students in public schools were enrolled in study for a VET qualification (course) in 2016, compared to 27% enrolled only in 4 or more ATAR subjects. Many students study both VET and ATAR, and a small number study neither. They were enrolled in 199 courses supplied by 148 registered training providers (RTOs). VET was delivered in 138 of the 181 public schools with year 11 and/or 12 students.
At the same time, the school system has changed in other ways. Increased independence for public schools has changed the role of DoE, with greater decision-making responsibilities devolved to schools. Schools are empowered to make local decisions about the use of resources, including funding for VET programs, so that they can meet the needs and aspirations of students in their local context.
Types of VET arrangements
VET is provided to school students in 3 main ways:
DoE funded training
Most school students in VET courses will be trained at school, with school staff and resources delivering a qualification under contract from a RTO. The RTO assures the quality of training and assessment, and awards the qualification. This arrangement is known as ‘auspicing’. DoE provides around $19 million on top of general funding for schools to contract RTOs, train teachers and coordinate activities. This does not include staff costs. About 70% or 25,700 public school VET enrolments were in auspiced courses.
Seventeen public schools including the state’s 5 agricultural colleges are RTOs themselves and do not need to auspice to deliver courses and award qualifications. These schools cater for about 13% or 3,600 public school VET enrolments.
DTWD funded training
DTWD funds some training used by public school and private school students from the state training budget. It is mainly delivered by TAFEs away from school though DTWD also funds some training by private RTOs. It comes at no direct cost to parents or schools and is known in the sector as ‘profile’. The current estimated budget for this is around $21.5 million for public schools, including staff costs. About 12% of public school VET enrolments were in profile courses.
Profile training also includes school-based apprenticeships and traineeships. Under this arrangement, a student undertakes formal on the job training as a trainee or apprentice and attends school part‑time. About 3% of public school VET students were in this arrangement.
Privately funded training
Students wishing to take courses not available by auspice or profile can also access courses from RTOs, though under this option the cost is passed on to families. Occasionally, the school will subsidise the cost. Fees for this vary widely depending on the course and provider, but can cost many thousands of dollars. Two percent or 450 public school VET students were in privately funded courses, known in the sector as ‘fee-for-service’.
Courses can also be provided through a combination of these methods. Combined modes account for about 16% or 6,300 public school VET course enrolments.
The VET regulatory framework
There is a complex regulatory framework around VET. Courses are accredited nationally under the Australian Qualifications Framework. RTOs are accredited to provide particular courses. National providers are regulated by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA). Those only delivering training in WA are regulated by the WA Training Accreditation Council (TAC). In 2015, 484,500 people were engaged in VET in WA, with 4.5 million enrolled nationally.
To be registered, RTOs must comply with the National Standards for Registered Training Organisations 2015. These cover things like being managed by a ‘fit and proper’ person, financial viability, having public liability insurance, as well as making sure the training they deliver meets the national approach for the relevant qualification. They also cover course material, how it is to be delivered, and the competence of trainers. Importantly, these responsibilities extend to RTOs supporting schools under auspice arrangements.
Individual schools manage the VET delivered in their schools to their students. The School Curriculum and Standards Authority (SCSA) is responsible for kindergarten to year 12 curriculum, setting standards for student achievement, assessing and certifying student outcomes and reporting for all WA schools. SCSA establishes and implements the WACE.
DTWD manages the state’s training budget and funds TAFEs. In 2016, it funded 34 million hours of training across WA at a cost of $510 million. Less than 5% of this was for school students. It also develops workforce planning policies, and works with DoE to support provision of VET to school students.