Focus on VET for secondary students


Vocational education and training (VET) programs for students in secondary school (VET in Schools or VETiS) allow students to enrol in nationally accredited VET programs concurrently with school programs and complete their secondary school certificates. This includes school-based apprenticeships and traineeships (SBATs) and Australian School-based Apprenticeships (ASBAs). In all VET for secondary school programs a combination of classroom and work-based learning leads to accredited VET qualifications, providing pathways to further study or employment.

This issue of 'Focus on' explores the current landscape of VET for secondary students in Australia; complementing new NCVER research that investigates the effectiveness of these programs in relation to preparing young people for their post-school destinations.

Participation in VET programs for students in secondary school

NCVER's Australian vocational education and training statistics: VET in Schools 2017 reports that in 2017 there were 242,100 Australian students undertaking VET as part of their senior secondary certificate, an overall decrease of 0.5 per cent from 2016. Of this number, there were 20,000 students enrolled in SBATs, representing over eight per cent of the total group - an increase of just over 16 per cent when compared with 2016. The remaining 90+ per cent took part in VET subjects and courses as part of their school curriculum. NCVER's report also found that Certificate II programs continued as the most popular qualification level. The Tourism, Travel and Hospitality Training Package was the most popular area of training, accounting for 15 per cent of all enrolments.

A recent OECD publication, What characterises upper secondary vocational education and training?, provides an international perspective, reporting that, on average across OECD countries, 44 per cent of upper secondary students were enrolled in vocational programs in 2016 - the distribution of enrolment in vocational versus general programs being dependent on programs available and their labour market outcomes.

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VET models in Australian secondary schools

The 2017 Australasian Curriculum, Assessment and Certification Authorities (ACACA) report explains that each state and territory in Australia is responsible for the certification of secondary student achievement. Since 1998, this includes VET undertaken by secondary students, providing students with a nationally recognised VET qualification or credit towards a nationally recognised qualification within the Australian Qualifications Framework. The curriculum for these programs draws on two distinct areas: nationally endorsed Training Packages, developed to meet industry needs and based on competency standards and assessment criteria; and nationally recognised accredited courses, which meet needs not covered in Training Packages and can include non-competency-based components.

Entry to vocations: current policy trends, barriers and facilitators of quality in VET in Schools describes VET qualifications being carried out in partnership with registered training organisations (RTOs), with each state or territory using different models. In some states, secondary schools are RTOs providing the training or working in partnership with TAFE and/or private RTOs. In others, departments of education and archdioceses in the Catholic education sector are the RTOs. VET is also delivered to secondary students as SBATs and ASBAs through a combination of school, workplace and learning in an RTO.

Putting VET to the test: an assessment of the delivery of vocational education and training in schools provides a recent evaluation of the complexity involved in delivering VET in Western Australian schools including: providing variety, quality and accessible programs from the limited number of training providers; the cost of delivering VET in schools; the unreasonable workload of school teachers delivering VET; and the specific challenges faced by regional schools.

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Workplace learning and 'work readiness'

Recent national discussions around reforming training products have highlighted the need for learners to acquire 'future work skills' along with 'foundation skills'. Foundation skills are clearly articulated in Training Packages as employability skills and encompass language, literacy and numeracy skills. Future work skills are those required to adapt to ongoing economic changes and changes in the nature of work; enabling young people to quickly gain new skills, change jobs or deal with changes within an existing job. Secondary school students can develop and apply these skills through workplace learning.

Work placements, often referred to as work experience and structured work-based learning, are an integral component of VET for secondary students. As noted in Vocational learning in schools: an international comparison, work placements provide industry exposure, giving students opportunities to apply non-technical skills such as resilience, creativity, critical thinking, and collaborative problem solving in real world situations; enriching learning and enhancing employability which improves chances of entering the labour market.

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School / industry partnerships

In the delivery of VET, secondary schools develop partnerships with a variety of external organisations, including local businesses offering work placements. According to the report The contribution of VET student placement to innovation in host organisations, student work placements and outcomes rely on cooperation between training providers and their industry/organisational partners and, most importantly, the types and qualities of these relationships.

The crucial role of these relationships is reiterated in Understanding the nature of school partnerships with business in delivery of vocational programmes in schools in Australia. This research analysed survey data of teachers and school leaders in the delivery of VET in partnership with local businesses. It found that school leaders were pivotal in positioning VET both in secondary schools and in their communities, and in recognising and managing tensions between school and industry needs in relation to work placements. Successful partnerships are characterised by school flexibility in terms of timetabling and programs offered along with enough formality to enable programs to be monitored, evaluated and replicated.

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Pathways to post-school destinations

VET for secondary students endeavours to assist the transition to post-school education and training and/or employment. However, Building foundations for occupations or one-way tickets to low skilled jobs?: how effective is VET in Schools? acknowledges that, in 2013 when the paper was written, stakeholders felt the provision of VET in Schools was not providing strong enough pathways to employment. Entry to vocations: current policy trends, barriers and facilitators of quality in VET in Schools also highlights the challenges faced by students upon completion of their schooling. Have school vocational education and training programs been successful? previously observed a mismatch between educational fields as they are presented in vocational programs in school, and as these fields exist in post-school VET programs. This mismatch may be due, in part, to the considerable variations between implementation, funding arrangements and access, and delivery methods across Australian states and territories.

Important considerations are whether VET in secondary schools is preparing students for transition into real work environments and if the skills gained in these programs are valid in the labour market. VET in Schools students: characteristics and post-school employment and training experiences found that a sizable proportion of students were indeed participating in destination occupations relating to their secondary vocational learning and post-school training, particularly those in trade-specific pathways, with some transitioning into university.

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News items and opinion pieces

Young people: is VET failing them?
(Source: VDC News, March 2019)

'Blue collar is back': Berejiklian reveals ambitious plan to create 250,000 jobs
(Source: Sydney Morning Herald, February 2019)

Students are gaining trade qualifications in the classroom in a new VET fashion design course in Ballarat
(Source: The Courier, February 2019)

Teachers and trainers are vital to the quality of the VET sector, and to the success of its learners
(Source: The Conversation, October 2018)


Published: May 2019