Queensland VETiS and the New ATAR, a disaster waiting to happen?

So as some of you may know, I have over the years been quite critical of a range of things which occur in the VET in Schools (VETiS) space, not only in Queensland, but in most other states as well.  Things such as the the clear lack of adherence by school based RTOs to the Standards, the qualifications and depth of industry experience of trainers and assessors (particularly those who are teachers) and the types and levels of qualifications which are being delivered.

So let me be clear right from the outset where my opinion lies, anything higher than a certificate III (and if I am being completely honest even Cert III level often worries me) should not be being delivered within a schooling setting.   The concept of the delivery of Certificate IV, Diplomas and even advanced diplomas to students who have not finished their secondary education is in my opinion ridiculous and fraught with dangers.  In addition while I have nothing but the utmost respect for Teachers, just because you are a teacher does not mean that you know a dam thing about vocational education or the needs of industry in terms of training deliver and assessment, and sorry, but if you are a PE teacher who has been RPLed through a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and  Certificate IV in Fitness so that you can deliver Certificate III qualifications to your students, unless you have a whole pile of industry experience (and I don’t mean teaching experience I mean actual experience working the industry you are training in), you ARE NOT qualified to train and assess your students and you are not complying with the Standards.

Now that I have been really clear about where I stand on this it will probably come as no surprise that I consider the Queensland curriculum and assessment authority’s (QCAA) stance on VET and the new ATAR system being introduced, as potentially incredibly damaging to the quality of training and assessment being provided to our school students, shortsighted and showing a complete lack of understanding of the VET system in this country, will have a devastating effect on the workforce participation potential and ability to undertake further training of a significant number of students, and is well frankly idiotic.

What you may well ask is happening to elicit this vitriolic response? It is actually quite simple, and revolves around the calculation of ATAR rank, and while on the surface it seems not to problematic, there is a mindset underlying it which has the potential to be incredibly damaging.  When calculating the new ATARs QTAC will calculate ATARs based on either:

  • a student’s best five General (currently Authority) subject results, as is currently the case for the OP system, or
  • a student’s best results in a combination of four General subject results, plus an applied learning subject result.

Now on the surface that seems reasonable, however as is often the case with these things the devil is in the detail and when you look further into what an applied learning subject result might be you find this;

The best result in a:

  • QCAA Applied (currently Authority-registered subject or Subject Area Syllabus subject) or
  • Certificate III or
  • Certificate IV or
  • Diploma or
  • Advanced diploma,

Did the person who came up with this concept, have even the slightest notion of what is, or should i say should be, involved in completing a Diploma of Advanced Diploma.  The QCCA is actively encouraging the delivery of programs of study which almost by definition will be rubbish, because there is simply no way in which (at least in most cases) the assessment requirements for studies at the level that they are talking about can be met within a school setting, and to think that this is possible shows an utter and shameful lack of understanding of VET and the AQF.  Further more they are encouraging the delivery of programs to students, which will make them ineligible for the vast majority of the post secondary VET funding options which are available for when they realise that their Diploma in Business is utterly worthless and will not help them to get a job. Why?  Because for the vast majority of actual funding programs, if you hold anything higher than a Certificate IV in anything you are automatically excluded. 

VETiS in Queensland is already a disaster and this will simply devalue further the qualifications which are being delivered through it more and deeply harm the outlook for students who have been sold the lie that the piece of paper they get from their school saying they are competent at a Diploma level (or really any level at the moment) will get them a job.

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Is there a problem with VET in Schools?

We all know what VET is schools is, vocational qualifications delivered through the secondary school system, with either the school being a registered training organisation in its own right or where it is tightly partnered with another provider.  Well it appears that there may be some problems?  I say this because it seems that there are a number of investigations, research, internal and external consultations going on at the moment at various levels across the country and it seems from what I have been told by more than a few sources that the results of these investigations for want of a better is well, not great, perhaps even damming.

So what is the problem?  It seems that the numbers of students completing certificate i and ii courses through the various VETiS programs is dropping, replaced by year 11 and 12 students undertaking certificate II and IV and in some cases even higher level qualifications.  Now you might be thinking is that actually a problem, delivering the higher qualifications will give the student advantages over just having a certificate i or ii when they leave school.  Now while that might be the case if these qualifications were being delivered properly, but it seems that at least two investigations have found that that is simply not the case.  They seem to have found that these higher level (certificate III and above) programs being delivered within the school environment are being significantly dumbed down, often having very little connection to the industries they are supposed to be being trained in, insufficient workplace based learning and placement time and a lack of properly qualified trainers.  All of this is leading to students finishing year 12 with a piece of paper they think is going to help them get a job, but is really in terms of their skills and employability little more than a certificate of attendance.

Now if these rumors (and I have to stress here that no one at any of the Departments of Education has verified any of this, at least not officially) are even somewhat true, it points to some significant issues within VETiS.  I was concerned sometime ago what I noticed more and more secondary schools delivering Certificate III and above programs internally as I had always viewed the role of VETiS to be preparatory, providing year 11 and 12 students with pre-vocational, and pre-work level qualifications, those qualifications that usually sit at a certificate i and ii level.  Given the changes to a range of qualifications where work placement and more assessment criteria based on actual work have been included, it has for a while now seemed difficult to me to figure out how a secondary school RTO could be meeting all of the requirements of at least some of the programs they are delivering, at a certificate III level.  The of course seems only to increase substantially as we move up the AQF levels.  I am also entirely uncertain that whether or not the vast majority of secondary school students have the capacity to be able to successfully complete diploma level study in particular while still in school.  This should not be taken to suggest in anyway that there aren’t schools out there that are doing fantastic things for their students in the VETiS space, or that some students may have the capacity to undertake higher level studies while still in school, it is however something we need to look at very very carefully.

It is already extremely difficult for school leavers to find employment, particularly employment in areas that they actually want to work in, not preparing them properly for entry into the workforce is only going to make that situation worse.  We may think that providing a student with an ‘easy’ route to a certificate iii or higher during their time at school, particularly where that student may not be going excel in other more traditional curriculum, will assist them to find work when they leave.  It won’t.  If they are not properly competent, even if they do get a job, they will find themselves out of a job just as quickly and find getting another job in their industry much more difficult.

VETiS should be there to prepare students to move into either further study in their field or to start work and learn while working.  It does that best at least in my opinion, by providing them with those courses which prepare them, which provide them with the basics of work of their particular industry, those traditional certificate I and II level courses, not certificate III and above.

I certainly hope that the information around the VETiS sector that we are seeing is not correct, but sadly for my experience it does seem to be the case.  I think VETiS is fantastic and I would hate to see it damaged by the pursuit of extra funding and an ‘easy’ solution for some students.

Anyway that’s just my opinion

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