VET is now a key part of the senior school system; its focus is primarily on education, not job readiness
Broad policy change in education is difficult, with no chance to ‘stop and reset’. DoE, schools, DTWD, SCSA and RTOs have successfully expanded the uptake of VET so that it is now a key part of the school system. All students must complete a VET certificate II or an ATAR to attain a WACE. DoE and schools see VET as part of a broad education that engages students and develops skills. Work-readiness and settled career pathways is not the major outcome for most students.
Students are enrolled, engaged and completing a wide range of VET courses
Seventy-three percent of government school students in years 11 and 12 were in a VET course in 2016, with practically all the rest studying ATAR subjects. They enrolled in 199 courses, provided by 148 RTOs. In 2015, 85% of Year 12 VET students completed a qualification, making them eligible for the WACE. DoE has no targets for this measure.
Although a wide range of courses is available, just 1 course, sport and recreation accounted for 21% of all enrolments in our 25 selected schools. The concentration in this course reflects, at least in part, schools’ emphasis on student engagement and the course’s suitability for auspiced delivery. DoE views this as an outcome of independent choices made by schools in the interests of their students.
Most school students taking VET courses will be trained by school teachers at school
In 2015, schools delivered 70% of VET for public students under auspice arrangements, up from around 60% in 2011. This involved 20,000 students and 450 teachers in 135 schools delivering 160 courses. DoE believes auspicing is the only viable mass delivery model, because it leverages school resources and teacher skills at little extra cost. However, relying on those resources and skills raises risks, including the use of unqualified staff, outdated equipment and overly generous assessment. TAC found significant issues in audits of auspiced arrangements in 2014 and 2015.
DoE has limited oversight of school staff qualifications and experience to deliver VET
Maintaining staff qualifications and industry experience is a major challenge for schools. VET trainers need a Certificate IV in Assessment and Training, even if they are qualified teachers. They must also have current industry experience and vocational competency to assess students. DoE has not assessed the workforce implications of maintaining these qualifications and vocational currency over time, for example by working in industry. It provides some financial assistance to schools, but it relies on individual schools to manage this process and the VET regulators to enforce RTOs’ responsibility for it.
While all of our selected schools reported all their teachers currently met requirements, they commonly raised it as an ongoing concern, and 6 reported there had been times when the requirements were not met.
DoE has not set a clear process to support schools when choosing higher level courses
It is a challenge to balance giving students opportunities to extend themselves in demanding courses with the risk that such courses could be unsuitable for their age and could not deliver the industry experience expected of graduates. Although schools can access a DTWD register of industry views on course suitability, there is no clear process for schools to follow to ensure these decisions are made in the best interest of students.
A small number of RTOs and schools have allowed some students to choose courses that industry does not think appropriate for school students. These include a Certificate III in Health Administration, a Certificate IV in Work Health Safety and a Certificate IV in Business. Industry concerns include limited opportunities for on the job training, poor employment outcomes and the personal maturity demanded by the course.
DoE has not minimised risk by setting standard contract terms for schools engaging RTOs
DoE does not provide standard contracts for schools to use when engaging with RTOs. DoE also does not specify standard contracting clauses like limits on liability, expiry dates, renewal terms or dispute resolution. Nor does it set minimum requirements for services provided by RTOs, such as site inspections and monitoring delivery by schools. Schools enter into a wide range of contracts whose features vary greatly. The risks of inconsistent contracting needs resolving.
DoE does not have a clear view of how training hours funded by DTWD should be used
DTWD provides about 1.2 million profile hours for public school students (3.5% of all training) at a cost to the state estimated at about $21.5 million annually. However, neither DoE nor schools control their allocation. DTWD distributes the hours between the state’s TAFEs according to size, history and location, rather than any request from DoE, or any analysis of specific student or school need.
DTWD plans to stop funding courses in sport and recreation, business, visual arts and information digital media and technology from 2017, and to limit access to profile courses for individuals and RTO schools. Based on its analysis, DTWD believes these moves will provide access to profile courses for 19% more students. DoE has not fully assessed the implications of these changes.
VET activity in schools is supported by a more equitable and transparent funding system
Public schools are funded individually through a VET loading on student centred funding. In 2016, DoE allocated $19.3 million in total, ranging from $358 to $374,327 per school. The funding model factors in regionality, socio-economic status and NAPLAN results, and per-head funding decreases as student population increases. This is transparent and more equitable than the previous approach, which relied on individual schools seeking out funding from a variety of different sources.
Schools assess student needs and interests and deliver programs accordingly
Schools make concerted efforts to ensure VET courses engage their students. They promote courses to students after asking them about their interests, considering their aptitude and previous school performance to assess likely success and working with parents. Eighty-two percent of parents we surveyed reported their students were doing their preferred courses.
Governance of VET provision at schools is broadly sound
Sound governance at schools is vital to successfully expanding the role of VET. Although 2 of the 25 schools we surveyed were worried about their ability to manage their contracts with RTOs, all had adequate organisational and staff structures in place. Each had someone responsible for coordinating VET courses and student enrolment, timetabling, liaising with RTOs and monitoring student outcomes.
Analysis of impacts and outcomes has been limited
A key part of making major policy changes is reviewing progress. We expected that DoE and DTWD would have a coordinated and comprehensive plan for analysing the impacts and outcomes of the program. While a great deal of data is collected, it has gaps and conflicts. There is no plan for improving the data and carrying out the kind of analysis that DoE needs to plan effectively, like which schools struggle to find RTOs, which RTOs perform best, or which schools could pool efforts to arrange courses.