February 8, 2016 1 Comment
Last week I looked at the Quality Assessments in VET discussion paper that was released by the government and discussed some of the questions posed in the first half of the paper. I also promised that I would come back and look at the second and third sections of the paper which talk about reforms to student assessments and regulatory reform. So after spending that last week recovering from a severe chest infection here goes.
Chapter Two of the discussion paper looks at how we can assure the quality of qualifications issued to students and ensure that students who are issued with a qualification are competent. It is of course vital that qualifications issued through the system are and can be trusted, otherwise what is the point of a nationally accredited system, we may as well just let anyone train people give them a piece of paper to say they are qualified. As the paper rightly suggests independent validation of assessments to ensure validity and consistency of outcomes is one such way of attempting to achieve this. There is without a doubt a need to have the outcomes of assessments validated, we should be able to say with confidence that everyone (or at least the vast majority) in Australia who has a certain qualification will be able to successfully undertake particular activities that relate to that qualification, whether it was delivered and assessed by the biggest private provider, a TAFE, or a small local provider. The competency outcomes should always be the same.
One of the problems I think that often comes out of this discussion is one around how to make the process fair and equitable for all parties involved. One could suggest that what is required is independent external validation of key competencies for all students prior to the issuance of a certificate. Now while I can see the value of this in high risk areas and areas where there exist registration bodies that control who is licensed to work, there are a lot of vocational areas where the risks involved are quite low, particularly at the lower levels of qualifications and it would seem unnecessarily burdensome to have a carte blanc approach such as this. I would however think that external validation of randomly selected participants might be useful across the board, with the percentage of participant outcomes being validated increasing as the number of graduates increased.
I also think a principles and risk based approach to validation of assessments and tools through a collaboration with industry is great start. I know some have suggested that there is a burden here and that employers or industry groups may become reluctant to collaborate with a large number of providers. It has also been pointed out that for providers with large scopes of delivery the process becomes almost never-ending and requires a significant staff commitment which they may not possess. I personally think that the current requirements in The Standards for validation, if properly enforced are a sufficient base to work from. Where there are particular concerns either around a qualification or a provider, or there is an acknowledged high risk area than additional requirements could be enforced. The key here is of course enforcement. There is as I have said before no point in having The Standards if they are not properly enforced. The idea however of industry-endorsed, externally administered tests is not one that I could endorse primarily because it is something which is really outside of the philosophy of VET and the ideas of competency based training and assessment.
An argument is also often made that industry does not necessarily possess the skills to determine whether or not an assessment or tool has or will produce the right outcome. The argument is that this is a specialist skill which is not necessarily part of the skills of an industry. I am not sure about this, but what Industry can do for us is tell us whether or not they feel that someone who has completed all of assessment tasks within a tool would be competent. They can tell us in the case of particular students whether or not a judgement of competency was correct, both based on the evidence and through more practical methods. It is industry after all who will end up employing VET graduates.
There is also suggestion that one reason for industry satisfaction with graduates has more to do with the expectations of employers than it does with the actual competence of students. It suggests that employers have a much higher level of expectation for say someone with a Certificate II or III than the qualification provides a graduate. There is some validity to this argument, which suggests that employers both need to be better involved in the process of the development of qualifications, and that they need to be educated as to what should be expected of graduates at various levels.
Quickly now I want to move onto and discuss chapter 3, regulatory reforms. I have long suggested that the regulator should be more concerned with the actual training that is being delivered and the outcomes of that training rather than just the tools, policies and materials. Now I know that ASQA currently looks as a sample of completed assessments to ensure that a competency decision can be made from those assessments, but currently they consider or look at how those assessments were generated. They don’t randomly visit face to face training or workplace delivery, or undertake random sampling of online delivered materials. They don’t know if the training consists of the trainer standing at the front of the room as essentially reading the answers to everyone while they copy them into a workbook. I firmly believe that this one single step, that is actually looking at how the training was being delivered who have a more significant effect on the quality of assessment outcomes than almost anything else suggested in these chapters. It would also give ASQA a chance to consider the skills and quality of the trainer delivering the program and the quality of their qualification.
I think the idea of Training only RTOs is foolish and should be put out of its misery right now.
Anyway that’s my opinion.