Vocational education and training delivered to secondary students

This report was originally published 04 February 2021.

Image: Vocational education and training delivered to secondary students

Summary

Research aims

This report presents the findings of an external review and analysis of relevant recent practices, research and data on the delivery of Vocational Education and Training (VET) to secondary students. The review and analysis were commissioned by the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and were conducted by the Centre for Vocational and Educational Policy at the University of Melbourne to identify best possible practices and make recommendations for future practice.

Research questions

  • What do the VET programs offered in Australian schools look like?
  • Who participates in these VET programs and why?
  • What are useful measures of VET program effectiveness?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current VET programs in NSW government schools?
  • What recommendations are made for improving VET programs in NSW government schools?

What do the VET programs offered in Australian schools look like?

  • VET delivered to secondary students in Australia is principally delivered within Senior Secondary Certificates of Education (SSCEs). VET includes School Based Apprenticeships or Traineeships (SBATs).
  • In all jurisdictions, all VET for school students involves the delivery of nationally recognised qualifications under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) by Registered Training Organisations (RTOs).
  • All VET curriculum comes from nationally endorsed industry Training Packages.
  • Most VET courses contribute towards SSCE completion, but each jurisdiction differs significantly in the level of recognition of VET in their senior certificates. In the majority of jurisdictions, VET can contribute to the calculation of an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR). However, again, each differs significantly in how this contribution is calculated.
  • All VET programs have a component related to workplace learning but mandatory work placements are not common.
  • Delivery of VET to Australian school students is typically done in schools that have RTO status, through a third party1 arrangement, or externally delivered, assessed and credentialled by a Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institute or private RTO.

Who participates in VET programs in schools and why?

  • The number of VET students in Australian schools has increased from 60,000 in 1996 to over 230,000 students in 2018 (National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) 2019). However, there has been no growth since 2013 and, as a proportion of the senior secondary cohort, VET students have declined nationally as well as in most states and territories, including NSW.
  • In Australia, males are more likely than females to participate in VET and the gap has grown slightly over the period 2006–2015, caused by greater declines for female students (Misko et al. 2017).
  • The mean socio-economic status (SES) of VET students tends to be lower than that of non- VET students in Australia and internationally.
  • Students in provincial, remote and very remote areas are more likely to enrol in VET than those in metropolitan areas.
  • Across Australian schools, most VET students in 2018 were enrolled in programs at Certificate levels II and III, with the majority in Certificate II (NCVER 2019).
  • School Based Apprenticeships or Traineeships form a minority (8.6%) of VET enrolments across Australia (NCVER 2019).
  • VET programs are designed to achieve two broad aims: 1) to increase engagement and improve retention, and 2) to provide transitions to employment.
  • The aspirations and motivations young people have for participating in VET programs are related to these broad aims. They are seeking programs that (1) are interesting and engaging, and (2) support transitions into employment (Gore et al. 2017). Nationally, the available school leaver tracking studies show that VET students are more likely than non-VET students to enter the labour market directly after completing school, but that both groups access similar low skilled and mainly part-time and casual jobs (Victoria Department of Education and Training 2017; Queensland Department of Education and Training 2017; Social Research Centre 2017).

What are useful measures of VET program effectiveness? – Best practice indicators

The literature review identified three major areas of focus when reviewing the effectiveness of VET undertaken by secondary school students:

  • Access and participation
  • Industry relevance
  • Quality.

For each of these focus areas, best practice indicators were developed by drawing on the literature relating to VET delivered to secondary students. These indicators allow a clear assessment of the extent to which a system is achieving best practice and, as such, can be used as measures of program effectiveness.

1. Access and participation

VET is delivered to secondary students in Australia in the context of the relevant SSCEs. It is crucial that this occurs in a coordinated and effective manner that provides students with the opportunity to enrol in accredited VET programs with no negative impact on their SSCE, and that it supports 9 post-school transitions to employment and further study. There is strong evidence that effective provision of VET within the SSCE requires support at all levels – policy, school and external providers.

The best practice indicators for this focus area are:

1.1 That there is seamless integration of nationally recognised VET qualifications into the SSCE so that they make a meaningful contribution to the SSCE.

1.2 That there are no barriers to post-school pathways of the student’s choice.

1.3 That VET is attractive to a broad range of senior secondary students.

2. Industry relevance

VET courses undertaken by SSCE students must meet the needs of the labour market. Employers value the work experience of applicants and VET programs with strong links to work through structured workplace learning, and apprenticeships and traineeships are shown to be the most effective in achieving strong transitions to work.

The best practice indicators are:

2.1 That VET meets the needs of the labour market.

2.2 That there is a strong element of structured workplace learning.

2.3 That there are strong links between schools, VET providers, employers and any other key stakeholders at the local level.

3. Quality

All students have a right to access to quality VET courses that are reviewed regularly to ensure their quality and relevance. Research emphasises the importance of quality provision and partnerships and emphasises the importance of quality programs that meet industry and regulatory standards.

The best practice indicator is:

3.1 That all senior secondary students have access to quality VET courses.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current VET programs in NSW government schools?

1. Access and participation

1.1 That there is seamless integration of nationally recognised VET qualifications into the SSCE so that they make a meaningful contribution to the SSCE.

Strengths

  • VET is included in the HSC and can contribute to the ATAR.

Weaknesses

  • Assessment of students’ performances in VET courses to contribute to the ATAR is limited to their performance on externally developed and scored paper-based examinations. Other jurisdictions allow for scored competency-based assessment.
  • Some schools do not offer VET, offer very limited VET or manifest cultural barriers (including very narrow interpretations of the HSC and its regulations) that prevent effective implementation of VET programs, mainly through timetabling and curricular inflexibility.

1.2 That there are no barriers to post-school pathways of the student’s choice.

Strengths

  • The NSW HSC provides a comprehensive offering of VET for school students.
  • SBATs are valued by many employers and provide effective pathways to work and higherlevel VET studies, providing better linkages between offerings and areas of skills shortages.
  • The NSW Department of Education and the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) provide strong support to schools to implement VET in NSW government schools.
  • Students from the most disadvantaged quintile of Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) are the most likely group to enrol in VET in secondary schools, and VET plays a strong role in engagement.
  • Students in rural and remote areas are more likely to enrol in VET in NSW and nationally.
  • Post-school VET destinations, including apprenticeships and traineeships, are significantly higher for VET participants, compared to non-VET students.

Weaknesses

  • Employers in some industries such as building are reluctant to employ students who have completed VET while enrolled at school (including SBATs) as apprentices because the students are perceived as lacking industry experience and a view they will need to commence as second or third year apprentices (which is not accurate).
  • Students undertaking VET tend to complete competencies from lower level VET qualifications that provide limited support for transitions to employment or further study.
  • SBATs form a minority of VET enrolments across Australia and participation in NSW is below the national average.
  • Approximately one quarter of VET and non-VET students enter the labour market with no further education or training, although VET graduates have higher rates of transition to postschool VET.

1.3 That VET is attractive to a broad range of senior secondary students.

Strengths

  • More than one in five students in NSW complete some VET.
  • Nationally, enrolment in VET tends to be gendered, with more male students overall. However, overall, NSW has approximately equal proportions of male and female students.

Weaknesses

  • VET is more likely to attract the most disadvantaged students, which may impact its status.
  • After an initial period of growth, participation in VET in most of Australia, including NSW, has declined.

2. Industry relevance

2.1 That VET meets the needs of the labour market.

Strengths

  • VET courses offered to secondary students as part of the HSC are based on nationally recognised qualifications and nationally endorsed industry Training Packages.

Weaknesses

  • For those students making a direct entry into the labour market, the occupations accessed by VET and non-VET students are remarkably similar.
  • Current VET qualifications may not prepare young people for a changing labour market.
  • It is difficult to align VET courses with specific real-time industry needs.

2.2 That there is a strong element of structured workplace learning.

Strengths

  • NSW mandates structured workplace learning in VET courses, supported by NESA guidelines. This is important and valued by stakeholders, as it develops specific industry and occupational skills and knowledge, employability skills and an understanding of work and industry that can support career choices.
  • There is a clear distinction between structured workplace learning and work experience and NESA provides detailed advice on how to maximise the value of workplace learning.
  • SBATs are supported by the Industry-Based Learning HSC unit.
  • Work Placement Service Providers (WPSPs) broker structured workplace learning placements and play an important and valued role in structured workplace learning.
  • Students are well prepared for structured workplace learning.

Weaknesses

  • Employers may not fully understand the process and their obligations in structured workplace learning and SBATs.
  • There are still difficulties in obtaining accessible structured workplace learning placements in regional and rural areas.
  • There are administrative issues and complexities associated with SBATs.
  • Attaining an ATAR as well as undertaking an SBAT has workload implications for the student and this may negatively affect the student’s decision to proceed.

2.3 That there are strong links between schools, VET providers, employers and any other key stakeholders at the local level.

Strengths

  • Partnerships enable structured workplace learning and SBATs and can help support post-school employment.
  • The links between schools and employers will be supported by the new appointment of Regional Industry Education Partnership (RIEP) officers.
  • The WPSPs facilitate and support the links between schools and employers.

Weaknesses

  • There tend to be a more limited number and range of partner organisations in some communities, particularly in rural and regional NSW.

3. Quality

3.1 That all senior secondary students have access to quality VET courses.

Strengths

  • VET programs are seen as of high quality and valuable by most stakeholders.
  • Quality is enhanced when there are strong school–employer/industry partnerships.

Weaknesses

  • The lower quality of some courses may affect employers’ acceptance and recognition of VET delivered to school students.
  • Some school leaders do not support VET.

What recommendations are made for improving VET programs?

VET delivered to secondary students in NSW plays an important role in engaging and retaining students and in preparing them for a labour market that has a strong demand for skilled workers. These aims are interlinked and cannot and should not be separated. Both are important, and neither should be prioritised, contrary to the views of some stakeholders.

However, this report finds that in NSW both of these roles are constrained. The engagement and retention role of VET for secondary students is limited by the constraints placed on its delivery because of the difficulties integrating VET curriculum and delivery into the HSC, by the way in which the HSC is conceptualised in schools, by school culture and by the prioritisation of academic courses and university entry pathways.

Secondly, the labour market aims are constrained by limited resources and commitment to support industry linkages by the NSW Department of Education and by a lack of engagement and poor understanding of VET delivered to secondary students by many industry partners. These problems are not limited to NSW, but reflect the difficulties of integrating VET in secondary school systems that have strong links to higher education and weaker links to the labour market, as is the case across Australia and in similar international systems.

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