There is a need to rethink South Australia’s approach to VET for school students, in the broader context of a more coherent and equitable secondary curriculum.
The way forward - Submission to the Review of VET for School Students in South Australia
The following recommendations take a broad view of potential actions for the South Australian government to take, in the context of current national reform across the education system.
The submission recommends that the South Australian Government:
- Attend to discussions and forthcoming recommendations of the AQF review in considering an optimal design for senior secondary curriculum, in which all students are supported to develop a broad base of knowledge and skills. This approach would break down barriers between academically oriented and vocational courses, and instead provide an array of courses that mix theoretical and practical learning (Downs, 2018).
- Through the Education Council, advocate for a national agreement on greater coherence and equity in senior secondary education. This may include expanding non-ATAR pathways into all forms of tertiary education, and including VET for school students as part of a portfolio of skills students may compile, to prepare them for all forms of tertiary learning. Ideally, this agreement would occur in parallel with national collaboration to improve coherence in tertiary education (Dawkins et al., 2019).
- Actively address perceptions of VET for school students as a pathway aimed at increasing retention for students at risk of disengagement, and promote VET as a learning option for all students, to help them develop a broad base of skills, which are valuable for a range of post-school and employment pathways. This should include consideration of offering vocational learning options earlier in secondary schooling.
- Work with teachers and career advisors to integrate this message into advice provided to students and their families in choosing senior secondary pathways. Rather than choosing between an ‘academic track’ or ‘VET track’, students should be assisted to take the combination of ‘academic’ and VET courses that best accords with their interests, style of learning, and goals for their future. These conversations must involve families wherever practicable, and be supported by straightforward advice about options and pathways.
- Implement a coherent, ongoing program of career and pathways exploration early – perhaps starting from primary school – and continuing through Year 12. This would include exploration of students’ interests and capabilities, to prepare them to navigate a range of future options, rather than to identify a single career. The Victorian Government’s Transforming career education program, which begins in Year 7, may be an instructive model (Victoria Department of Education and Training, 2019). South Australia’s planned review of best practice in career counselling will assist in pursuing this recommendation.
- Provide brokering support for schools to enter into partnerships with local industry and tertiary education providers, drawing on best practice, in which all students (not only those in VET) have opportunities to apply their learning in the world outside of school. This may be especially important in communities facing local skills shortages, and communities in which many students engage in part-time work, to support connectivity between on-the-job and school-based learning.
- Reconsider the importance of certificate completion as a measure of the effectiveness of funding for VET for school students, and instead look to emerging micro-credentialling arrangements as a potential means of recognising a broad range of general capabilities and skills clusters, as well as vocation-specific technical skills.
- Work with the research community to increase the evidence base about students’ perceptions of VET for school students and their motivations for undertaking VET, including students from a range of academic achievement levels and with a range of post-school aspirations. One option would be to extend the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) Graduate Outcomes Survey to school students enrolled in VET for school students courses. Reforms to the evidence base should include extending data collection to students undertaking VET programs that do not contribute to the secondary school certificate of education.
- Work with the research community to improve the availability of reliable longitudinal data about post-school pathways, given limitations in cross-sectional data (such as the NCVER VET in Schools Statistical Collection), or data based on student self-report (such as the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth). This may involve implementation of a tracking survey of all Year 12 completers from South Australian schools, similar to those in Victoria (On Track) and Queensland (Next Step). It may also involve support for efforts to match the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) and NCVER VET for School Students datasets.
- Reconsider how VET for school students is funded, with adequate funding allocated to cover the costs of providing a range of rigorous, high-quality courses based on student and industry needs now and in the future. Review of VET funding should include consultation with VET providers to design funding models that enable more efficient longer-term planning, and which reward genuine collaboration with South Australian schools.