NCVER has just published a report by Josie Misko and her colleagues. It examines the merits of Vocational Education and Training (VET) for Secondary School Students (VfSSS) in preparing them for work or further training.

It looks at the value of VfSSS “from the perspectives of students, parents, industry stakeholders and employers.”

What did they find?

The report, which builds on earlier research published in 2020 (and even before that), found that students undertake VfSSS for a variety of (and sometimes multiple) reasons. These include “getting a qualification, getting a full-time job when leaving school, starting an apprenticeship or traineeship, following a personal interest, and achieving an ATAR.” No surprises here, and no surprises that parents hold similar views too.

Again, no surprises that while industry is broadly on board with the approach they have some issues with it as well, including the ‘usual suspects’ of industry currency of teaching staff, course relevance and training quality. In particular, there are concerns about:

“students’ limited exposure to occupational knowledge, skills and opportunities for practice, while a number of industries express concerns about the extent of student maturity for some higher qualifications and skill areas, the competence and industry currency of teachers, and student access to safe facilities, tools and equipment.”

In addition,

“Employers providing student work placements experience challenges in finding enough activities and an appropriate workplace trainer to work with the students.”

Outcomes from the study’s surveys

They found that just over 70% of the students they surveyed had decided to enrol in their VET course themselves, with over three-quarters indicating that they had ‘always wanted to learn the skills and knowledge’ in the course they had chosen. Their reasons for doing VET were to ‘to get a qualification’ (64.5%) or ‘to help them get a full-time job when leaving school’ (about half). For 45%, it was ‘to be able to use the facilities, equipment and materials that are available in the course’.

Just over 40% of students surveyed ‘planned to achieve an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) on completion of Year 12’ and for around 61% of them, their post-school aspiration was to ‘undertake further education or training’.

Parents had their perspective too, with three-quarters of them reporting that a benefit for their child undertaking VfSSS was ‘to get a qualification’. In addition:

“Just under half (47.6%) wanted their child ‘to complete Year 12 and achieve their SSCE’ [Senior Secondary Certificate of Education] in the final year of schooling, almost a third (30.6%) wanted their child ‘to achieve an ATAR’ and 70.7% wanted their child to go on to further education or training.”

Effective practice in VfSSS

Case studies found that VfSSS is most effective when “schools demonstrate a strong commitment to VET, with dedicated, qualified VfSSS managers and staff and also have purpose-built facilities, including trade training centres, recreation centres, hair salons and commercial kitchens to deliver the practical components of various programs.”

Partnerships with other schools with trade training centres are really important where purpose-built facilities do not exist within a school, or “arrangements are made for students to use nearby facilities.” However, key challenges include “recruiting teachers with industry expertise, ensuring that teachers maintain their industry currency and getting parental support for a VET pathway for students.”

Finally, there are the outcomes!

NCVER’s LSAY data tells us that “at the age of 22, VfSSS who had not attained an ATAR were more likely to be in full-time and permanent employment than other cohorts.” However,

“The picture changes at the age of 25, with all other student cohorts not only more likely to be employed but also more likely to have completed a post-school qualification at bachelor or higher degree level than their VfSSS counterparts without an ATAR. This change is primarily due to ATAR students who went on to university finishing their studies and entering the labour market by the age of 25.”

OK, none of this is new (I hear the ‘olde hands’ among you say), but it’s nice to be reminded occasionally what the story is and that there are persistent issues that need to be addressed.