In and through to outcomes – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

In and through to outcomes – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

An article in the weekend papers grabbed my attention. It’s a debate about falling education standards in schools and featured Alan Tudge, the federal minister for Education.

Debate on the cause comes down to one of inputs and throughputs – the tension between child-centred discovery learning and explicit instruction. It has been around as long as the tension between the phonics and whole language movements in learning to read. (Phonics has a tough gig given it is not spelt phonetically – fonics).

It’s salutary for the VET sector which is in the middle of an experimental frenzy with trials on qualification redesign and pilots for industry input plus a review of the RTO standards, self-assurance to underpin quality and pricing just to name a few.

If we think in outcomes approaches to course definition, VET has long been the leader in the education field in Australia, and often to its detriment. There was a deliberate policy position taken to say that VET is standards based, akin to outcomes. It is deliberate in saying that the input and process doesn’t matter as long as the outcome is assured. It was an approach for bringing more people into recognised learning through a range of pathways.

The problem is VET course design hasn’t lived by this founding philosophy as specification upon specification of assessment and delivery conditions effectively render standards as regulatory input.

The duplicity is evident across the whole supply chain. ASQA’s Users Guide to RTOs says training and assessment is adjusted to the needs of the cohort and the AQFs volume of learning is simply a guide. Yet, the rest of the supply chain without compunction readily inserts input controls and regulation – hours of instruction per week for international students, regulated training durations for apprenticeships and minimum hours of work placement. Joyce proposed hours as quality control, and you bet the inevitable from national prices will be more specification of inputs.

Outcomes as we know them within training packages have severe limitations anyway.

The most egregious extreme is the approach taken to literacy in training packages. Small pieces of literacy need to be demonstrated in the context of a unit’s performance criteria. I have seen some assessment tools that literally requires evidence that the person has read a simple instruction and ticked a box, in Pavlovian fashion. Literacy is called foundational because it is broad in learning and application and a tick in a box is hardly an outcome.

The Pavlovian nature of things is worse when it comes to knowledge. Knowledge in training packages is an afterthought, at best subservient to the performance that must be assessed. It would not line-up with the views of Professor John Sweller of the University of NSW. He says in the weekend report in support of explicit instruction, “the key to thinking critically .. is ..  ‘sufficient knowledge’ in the first place. Teaching critical thinking strategies as opposed to core knowledge is ‘useless’”.

The beauty of good education is that it imparts knowledge which gives power and possibilities. Subjugating it to some artificial behavioural outcome, is limiting.

We need to take heed of the report from Deloitte in June 2019, The Future of Work is Human. Eighty six percent of the jobs created between now and 2030 will be knowledge worker jobs (and two-thirds of jobs will be soft-skill intensive by 2030).

Jenny Donovan, director of the Australian Education Research Organisation – the body created by state and federal ministers to spearhead research, also had comment on throughput – the very nature of teaching and learning:

We are talking here about explicit instruction, the teacher being responsible for the learning of students; teachers revisiting the content to ensure it is learnt and maintained. This approach is supported by cognitive science and our understanding of how the brain learns.

It appears the VET sector is hard at play in the qualification design space again, with little regard to the broader picture. If VET is a standards-based shop then accreditation (training packages) and regulation should be outcomes focused and the trust put in providers to do the rest – knowledge, course design, delivery and assessment.  Bets each way spread across inputs, throughputs and outcomes simply overloads and confuses accountability and ultimately, kills quality.

It’s not too hard to see why VET is in this mess. Ever since the standards approach was implemented and the VET sector opened-up, concern about quality has been a constant policy refrain.

If it is standards, then let it happen. If there are providers which cannot be trusted, deal with them. Figure out the providers that can be trusted and let them get on with the job.

Australia’s extensive VET menu – are there too many choices?

Australia’s VET system is complex, with 15,000 units of competency across 56 training packages, yet there are many similarities across courses, according to a preliminary analysis by the National Skills Commission (NSC).

In a new paper, the NSC has applied natural language processing methods to more than 1,300 VET qualifications to determine the level of similarity within and across training packages.

What becomes clear is that there are many similarities in qualifications across the spectrum of VET choices. Does it mean some of these choices could be reduced?

National Skills Commissioner Adam Boyton doesn’t go that far but says one of the key long-term outcomes for the NSC is to improve the quality, accessibility and relevance of VET in Australia.

“This exploratory analysis provides important comparative data for a range of stakeholders in the VET sector.

“We’ll continue to refine and build on this preliminary analysis which may ultimately assist in streamlining the VET system, building a richer picture of the training market, and deepening the current understanding of the links between jobs, skills and training,” he said.

One of the immediate outcomes is a beta version of a searchable dashboard that provides a look at the similarities between qualifications, ranked from very high, to high, moderate and low. NSC welcomes feedback on the work to date.

See more

Training product similarity

Have your say on the National Register of VET –

Following a recent budget announcement, the Commonwealth Department of Education, Skills and Employment has received funding over the next four years to redesign the National Training Register ( or TGA).

TGA is central to the operation and regulation of VET.  It is the authoritative source of information on Nationally Recognised Training components and provides details of all registered VET training providers and their respective scopes. In line with recent changes to legislative requirements, ASQA now also publishes increased information relating to regulatory decisions made within their jurisdiction on TGA.

The redevelopment needs the attention of all TAFEs.

User research to understand the experiences and needs of TGA users is being conducted by Ithaca Group and they are keen to hear feedback.

Take the survey to add your voice to the redevelopment. You have until 20 August 2021. Feel free to share the link with other staff in TAFE.

TAFETalks: New World – New Approaches – Lessons from Canada

National apprenticeship conference rescheduled to next March

The National Apprentice Employment Network (NAEN) has announced the re-scheduling of its national conference to March next year following the latest COVID outbreaks.

The conference, ‘Adaptation & Opportunity’, will now be held 15-17 March 2022 at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, Hobart.

There are a host of speakers from across the VET sector, industry, government, skills organisations, RTOs and the gala dinner featuring Caitlin Radford, the Australian Training Awards 2020 Apprentice of the Year.

The welcome reception, hosted by TasTAFE will showcase great local produce and the talented TAFE culinary and hospitality students.

NAEN has extended early bird discounts until 30 September 2021.

See the conference program

Book here

Almost a quarter of a million VET in schools students

The number of VET in Schools students reached almost a quarter of a million last year, according to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research.

There were 241,200 VET in Schools students in 2020, a 2.3% increase on the previous year.

Of the total, 17,800, or 7.4% were school-based apprentices and trainees.

Tourism, Travel and Hospitality comprised the biggest share of VET in School students (33.1%), followed by Business Services (29.4%) and Sport, Fitness and Recreation (29%).

There were big variations between states and territories, with Queensland having the most VET in Schools students (87,200), followed by Victoria (51,100), NSW (48,800), Western Australia (33,700), South Australia (12,700), Tasmania and ACT (both 2,600) and Northern Territory (2,500).

See more

Teaching trades – using technology to enhance the experience

TDA recently presented an informative webinar on Engaging Trades Learners in a Virtual Class, attended by over 170 trade teachers and interested groups that highlighted the different methods to deliver virtually, at least, some aspects of the teaching of trades.

Engaging trades learners in a virtual class does not mean taking a face-to-face approach and just presenting this material online – it’s much more than this if you seek engagement and learning to occur.

A fortnight ago, there was another valuable webinar, Teaching trades — using technology to enhance the experience which featured Cam Gleeson, who started his career as plumber and gasfitter and in 2008 turned his hand to teaching trades to apprentices and pre-apprentices. He’s now an advocate for the use of electronic technology in any training program.

Quite a lift for TAFE NSW

Starting in September, TAFE NSW will undergo the biggest elevator replacement program ever undertaken in Australia.

The NSW government will spend $13.5 million to replace 60 lifts across 29 campuses.

The Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said the program will improve accessibility and provide greater convenience for students.

“Around 1 in 10 TAFE NSW students identify as having a disability, of which around 7 per cent identify a physical disability, so these upgrades will have a positive, tangible impact for thousands of students,” Mr Lee said.

“As part of the ground-breaking program, more than a quarter of all TAFE NSW lifts will be replaced with premium DX Connected Elevators.

“This will help future-proof the network of campuses, increase energy-efficiency, and provide ease of access to classrooms and buildings for students and staff for years to come.”

Diary Dates

TVET World eConference
International Vocational and Training Association
28 – 30 July 2021
More information

QLD Schools VET Conference
Velg Training
6 August 2021
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
More information

National Skills Week
23 – 29 August 2021
More information

WorldSkills National Championships & Skills Show
25 – 29 August 2021
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
More information

2021 National VET Conference
Velg Training
9 – 19 September 2021
Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre
More information

Victorian TAFE Association
2021 State Conference
16 – 17 September 2021
William Angliss Institute. 555 La Trobe St Melbourne
Save the Date

Australian International Education Conference 2021
5 – 8 October 2021
Gold Coast & Online
More information

Australian Training Awards
18 November 2021
Perth, Western Australia
More information

2021 VDC Virtual Teaching & Learning Conference
VET Development Centre
18 – 19 November 2021 (Online)
Save the date

National Apprentice Employment Network
National Conference
15 – 17 March 2022
Hotel Grand Chancellor Hobart, Tasmania
More information