Around a quarter of a million students in Australia choose to undertake Vocational Education and Training (VET) in school each year as part of their senior secondary studies. New research explores the reasons why students choose to take this pathway, and the factors that lead to effective VET in schools programs.
The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) has just released a report on the findings, VET for secondary school students: insights and outcomes. Researchers analysed national data on VET in schools, student and parent surveys, and consultations with schools, employers, industry and relevant school sector bodies.
The report explains VET for secondary school students (VfSSS) can be taken in all states and territories, and all school sectors as part of a senior secondary certificate of education. Annual enrolment numbers in the last decade have ranged from 230 000 to 260 000, with the most popular qualification a Certificate II, and the most popular training package Tourism, Travel and Hospitality.
Why do student choose VET in schools?
Students reported multiple reasons for choosing VET studies. Almost two-thirds (64.5 per cent) said one reason was ‘to get a qualification’, and half (49.8 per cent) said it would ‘help them get a full-time job when leaving school’. Of the four in 10 students who said they planned to achieve an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) at the end of Year 12, around two-thirds (68.4 per cent) said intended to count their VET studies towards it.
Other reasons for choosing VET in senior secondary school were: out of enjoyment and interest; the fact they were likely to do well on the course; and that it broadened their opportunities for employment or further education and training. Some saw it as a break from their regular studies, or that it required less work than these subjects.
What do parents think?
Eight of 10 parents surveyed said they had encouraged their child to enrol in a VET course at secondary school. Researchers say most reported receiving enough information to inform that decision. Discussing the benefits of VET for their child, three-quarters (75.1 per cent) said ‘to get a qualification’. Other popular answers were: getting a full-time job after school (54.6 per cent) and starting an apprenticeship/traineeship (44.1 per cent). Seven out of 10 parents wanted their child to go on to further education or training. Other benefits mentioned by the parents were that it helped their child’s personal development, led to increased engagement and enjoyment and broadened their future options.
School case studies
The NCVER report includes case studies of eight schools across the country with successful VET programs. VfSSS has to be delivered by a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) or in partnership with an RTO. Although most schools choose the latter and have the training delivered and assessed by an external organisation, some schools become RTOs themselves. Other school delivery models involve a combination of the two approaches.
The report shares six factors leading to successful outcomes in school programs:
- A strong commitment to VET – there is a strong commitment at principal, RTO manager, VET coordinator and VET staff levels; staff are dedicated to working with other schools and colleges to broaden course offerings, and with industry and employers to arrange workplace learning, work experience and job leads; teachers and trainers are passionate about their work; there is flexibility in the way schools timetable VET subjects.
- Dedicated VfSSS management and training teams – having a dedicated team, including liaison officers and trainers, was found to help in the smooth running of structured workplace learning placements, benefiting students and other school staff.
- A variety of marketing approaches – schools used discovery and open days, information nights, taster programs and tours to promote VET subjects to students and parents; other successful strategies included video promotions and presentations given by former students and employers; career counsellors and teachers also helped students with information about courses.
- Purpose-built facilities – case study schools had access to purpose-built facilities either on site or close by thanks to partnership arrangements, meaning students could learn in specialised environments with the latest equipment; examples were trade training centres, sport and recreation facilities, hairdressing and beauty salons, commercial kitchens, aged care facilities and childcare centres.
- Adequate time and resources – successful programs needed time and resources for staff training and for teachers to meet with colleagues from other schools for professional development; teachers also needed time to develop their own skills in running the program.
- Positive feedback – getting positive feedback from parents/carers and teachers about a change in student behaviour at home or school, or seeing students graduate and enter the field in which they’d trained were seen as indicators or success.
Although these factors were identified as making a difference to student outcomes, the report’s authors say local context should not be ignored. ‘It is most important to understand that one size cannot fit all and that schools, as well as education and training systems, must decide on the approaches that will best suit their particular school communities and geographic and industry profiles.’
It adds schools also face challenges – key among them are, attracting teachers with suitable industry experience, keeping up with training requirements so that staff maintain their ‘industry currency’ and gaining the support of parents to run a VET pathway in the senior secondary years.
Misko, J., Lees, M. & Chew, E. (2021). VET for secondary school students: insights and outcomes. NCVER.
If you are running a VET program in your school, look at the six factors identified in this research as being key in improving student outcomes. Which do you consider to be strengths of your program? Which are areas for development?
Have you considered partnering with businesses in your local community broaden work experience opportunities for students and to secure training or employment pathways?