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Building capability and quality in VET teaching: opportunities and challenges

By Josie Misko, Hugh Guthrie,  Melinda Waters Research report 15 September 2020 Revised: 16 March 2021 978-1-925717-56-3

Description

This research examines the form and content of current teacher capability models and frameworks in VET and other sectors to understand what defines competence and quality in VET teaching. Consultations were held with industry leaders, peak bodies, registered training organisations (RTOs), representatives from the Australian Education Union, and regulators to obtain their views on the desirability of implementing such frameworks. Also explored were issues relating to the registration and accreditation of VET trainers, trainer entry-level requirements, ways of attracting practitioners to the industry and the development of a capable VET workforce.

Summary

About the research

This research examines ways to enhance the quality of teaching in the vocational education and training (VET) sector in Australia. It investigates the form and content of existing teacher capability frameworks and professional standards, with the aim of identifying common features of good teaching, then analyses feedback from stakeholders on practical, systematic approaches to improving teaching quality. Consultations were held with industry leaders, peak bodies, registered training organisations (RTOs), representatives from the Australian Education Union, and regulators to obtain their views on the desirability of implementing such frameworks. Other issues explored with stakeholders relate to the registration and accreditation of VET teachers, teacher entry-level requirements, ways of attracting industry practitioners into teaching roles and the development of a capable VET workforce.

Key messages

There are key barriers to attracting and maintaining a capable VET workforce, such as the professional status of VET teachers and difficulties attracting industry professionals into teaching roles. Respondents also report difficulties in recruiting teachers with industry expertise, particularly in areas of skills shortage, among equity groups such as Indigenous Australians, and in regional and remote areas. Addressing these issues and ensuring adequate funding and coordinated systems for ongoing professional development are critical for developing and improving the quality of VET teaching.

  • There are mixed views on mandatory registration, with the majority questioning its value and the additional regulatory burden, while others consider it would professionalise the sector and raise its status.
  • Stakeholders are generally united on the need to implement systematic approaches to teacher preparation, mentorship support and opportunities for continuing professional development.
  • Some respondents advocated a future review the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE) qualification to incorporate an increased focus on pedagogy, educational theory and practice, and the use of applied training methods. However, a number of stakeholders have a limited appetite for making any immediate additional changes to the Certificate IV in TAE as the basic entry-level qualification for teachers due to their experiences with the recent qualification upgrade.
  • There is strong support for using teacher capability frameworks and/or professional standards as diagnostic tools and guidelines for teacher self-evaluation and reflection, including for the planning of objectives for personal and professional development. Nonetheless, limited appetite exists for a nationally prescribed VET teacher capability framework due to the diversity of the VET sector. The preferred option would be to develop a set of core capabilities, to be locally adapted.
  • Other broad strategic initiatives are proposed to address challenges identified, including the regular collection of VET workforce data, and the addition of smaller micro-credentials or skill sets in the VET teaching suite of qualifications that can be scaled-up to a full qualification beyond the entry level qualification.

Executive summary

This study canvassed the views of stakeholders in order to identify the key features of quality teaching in vocational education and training (VET) and how it might be improved. It also involved an environmental scan of VET capability frameworks and standards to determine key domains, roles and capabilities of VET teachers, and three case studies of pilot teacher professional development (PD) initiatives currently underway to improve the quality of teaching. The report also makes reference to key related findings in the literature.

This report uses the term ‘teacher’ to encompass all terms often used interchangeably to refer to those who deliver and/or assess training in VET including but not limited to ‘VET teacher’, ‘practitioner’, ‘trainer’, ‘educator’ ‘assessor’ and ‘lecturer’.

Improving the quality of VET teaching

The majority of stakeholders consulted for this study agree that teaching quality in VET is variable: some teachers are experts in training delivery; others have well-regarded industry expertise, while the teaching skills and/or industry expertise of others need improvement. It was reported that, while teachers are doing their best, they are challenged as ‘dual professionals’ to maintain their industry currency and to continuously improve their teaching and assessment expertise. Stakeholders also reported that teachers face significant constraints to teaching such as heavy workloads, which can include administration, compliance and other tasks; an observation supported in the literature (see for example, Guy 2020).

That the responsibility for improving quality is a shared one is also generally agreed. Registered training organisations (RTOs), governments, regulators, industry and VET practitioners (including teachers) all have a role to play, with RTOs taking a leadership role for their own institutions, and governments helping to fund it in some areas such as professional development (PD). Highly casual and precarious employment arrangements, however, are seen by stakeholders as adversely affecting the ability of the sector to recruit, develop and maintain good teachers. This finding is supported in the literature (for example Wheelahan and Moodie 2011; Australian Productivity Commission, 2011; Guthrie and Jones, 2018; Harris, 2020). There is broad agreement among stakeholders about the best approaches to improving teaching quality. Themes explored during the interviews relate to the role and efficacy of professional capability frameworks and standards for VET teachers and supporting strategies aimed at raising teaching quality. These include ways to attract industry practitioners into teaching roles, the registration and accreditation for teachers, requirements for entry into the profession and the development of the VET workforce through continuing professional development (CPD). The results of the interviews with stakeholders, and a range of proposed ways forward, are summarised below.

Introducing professional capability frameworks or standards

There is strong support among stakeholders for professional capability frameworks in VET that outline the behaviours, values, skills and knowledge of VET teachers and leaders at various stages during their careers, with such frameworks providing benchmarks against which individuals can self-evaluate. These self-evaluations can be (and are already) used in performance reviews to align the PD needs of individuals with their organisation’s strategic requirements.

Although professional standards (as distinct from capability frameworks) for teachers are considered to be worthwhile for monitoring performance and for developmental purposes (especially in the schooling sector), the majority of respondents consider them less useful in a complex and diverse context such as the VET sector.

Nonetheless, in some locally developed frameworks, there continues to be some reliance on using the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers as guidelines rather than prescriptions. The VET Practitioner Capability Framework, developed by Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA), is widely used by RTOs across the national VET sector but is now somewhat dated.

The measures of performance generally used to evaluate teacher capability identify the extent to which the objectives set in teacher performance and PD plans are met. They can also include student assessment results and feedback from course evaluations, although these are often used for self-reflection and continuous improvement by teachers. Performance management systems focused on staff development rather than performance evaluation are often seen as being more effective (Smith and Hawke, 2008).

Opinion is divided on the merits of having a nationally prescribed capability framework or set of professional standards for VET teachers, with supporters believing it could help to achieve national consistency, while non-supporters (the majority) consider that RTOs should develop their own by drawing on existing frameworks. Some RTOs and state-based TAFE systems have successfully done this, and a small group of educators have established a network for those who favour a national capability framework. We suggest that developing a set of core capabilities able to be locally adapted is an option that could be considered.

Registration and accreditation

Opinions are also divided on the issue of registration and accreditation for VET teachers. As previous studies have found (for example, Guthrie 2010; Wheelahan & Moodie 2011), limited support exists among stakeholders for introducing mandatory registration and/or accreditation of VET teachers, with non-supporters questioning its value, noting that compliance is already required with the Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) 2015 (RTO Standards) [1], and with industry regulator standards in place for some vocational occupations. Supporters of mandatory registration believe its introduction would enhance the professionalism and status of VET teachers and help to attract more industry professionals into teaching roles.

The peak body for the private RTO sector, the Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia (ITECA), has already implemented a ‘Professional College of VET Practitioners’, with voluntary accreditation for membership. However, other peak bodies are divided on this issue. Both supporters and non-supporters of mandatory registration raised the issue of which body would oversee such a registration system, its role and the costs of registration and renewal frequency.

After an extensive review of the quality of teaching in VET, Wheelahan & Moodie (2011) proposed forming a VET professional association that was subsequently investigated by Guthrie & Clayton (2012). While there was some support for the idea at the time, to date, no professional association for VET teachers has been formed.

In Tasmania, VET teachers in the public system must be registered[2] to work at TasTAFE, but staff respondents did not support this, considering it an additional regulatory burden to the existing RTO Standards. Respondents consider that teacher registration does not drive quality, but that other factors do, for which incentives are needed. There is general ambivalence about the value of a teacher registration and accreditation system at this point.

Raising the level of qualifications for entry to VET teaching

There is a low level of support among stakeholders for changing or adding to the entry requirements to VET teaching due to the deleterious effects of the recent mandated Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE) upgrade on the VET teaching workforce, with some respondents reporting that it may have contributed to teachers exiting the system. This was largely due to the additional requirements and costs of regular qualification upgrades that are considered to be an impost on providers, especially on small RTOs and those relying on volunteer teachers and teachers from equity groups.

The impost was also felt keenly by teachers; particularly those employed in casual and other non-permanent roles (Guthrie & Every 2013), who make up about half (46.5%) of the VET teaching workforce (Knight, White & Granfield 2020).

Despite this, many stakeholders agreed that the Certificate IV in TAE would in time need to be adapted to suit the diverse teaching roles in the sector and include knowledge of key pedagogical theories, principles of learning and assessment and teaching practice. The dual requirements of industry currency and quality teaching skills presents challenges for teachers, which will need to be addressed appropriately for the sector to thrive and meet rapidly changing workforce needs.

A representative from the adult literacy sector raised issues about the sector’s lack of access to highly trained specialists to assist students with language, literacy and numeracy (LL&N) difficulties. Although it was felt that all VET teachers should have an understanding of LL&N issues, it was considered far more beneficial for students to learn such skills from teachers who understand how to ‘unpack the learning around the complex process of reading, writing, communication and numeracy’.

The key barrier to amending current entry requirements for teachers generally relates to the challenge of attracting sufficient industry experts to the role of teacher, a challenge magnified in regional and rural areas, Indigenous communities and among volunteers.

Respondents from the stakeholder groups who want to increase the entry-level qualification for teachers suggest this should be raised to at least Diploma level. It was also suggested that VET teachers who teach the Certificate IV in TAE should themselves be qualified at one level above that, and that some leadership roles require even higher levels of qualification, such as for the teaching of high-level and specialist courses. This is already a requirement in the RTO Standards for teachers delivering the Certificate IV in TAE who must hold at least one Diploma level qualification from the TAE package or a higher-level qualification in adult education (ASQA 2019, p.70).

Attracting and developing a capable workforce

Approaches to attracting industry professionals to the VET teaching workforce suggested by stakeholders included recruitment campaigns that promote reasonable pay (for some), good working conditions, the ability to give back to industry, work-life balance, and opportunities for CPD. The use of government-funded scholarships, traineeships or internships, as well as collaborations with employers to identify staff with the potential interest and persistence to flourish as VET teachers, were also proposed.

There is a view that the VET sector might consider attracting tradespersons who had lost their jobs in the COVID-19 environment, although there are concerns that such industry experts (especially from higher-paying trades) might exit their training role and return to industry post-COVID-19. One VET teacher commented that more industry experts might want to become teachers if some of the administrative tasks were removed.

Ensuring the adequate resourcing of CPD opportunities to enable teachers to maintain their industry currency, update existing skills, learn new skills, and keep up with modernised and technology-enhanced teaching approaches is considered by stakeholders to be critical. Sizeable numbers regret the loss to the system of previous national, state and territory-based programs for CPD and made suggestions for similar programs to be re-established. Some existing approaches are highly regarded, for example, the VET Development Centre in Victoria and the Chisholm Institute’s Educator Passport pilot (see appendix 5), in which individual PD is aligned with business and individual needs.

Mentoring and supporting teachers throughout their careers

Stakeholders are generally united on the need to implement systematic approaches to supporting teachers throughout their careers including induction, mentoring and opportunities for CPD. Their suggestions include a graduated approach to induction and career progression, which could involve internships, cadetships or traineeships. This supports Wheelahan and Moodie’s (2011) recommendations for a nested model of teaching qualifications accompanied by appropriate CPD and mentoring to support new entrants as they transition from new to accomplished teacher and to educational leader if they choose to. In such programs, new teachers would transition through various stages to acquire the Certificate IV in TAE, and progressively add new skills, knowledge and experience or qualifications as they teach. Schubert (2016) also found that mentoring and peer observation were highly regarded as PD strategies. Acquiring higher level VET teaching qualifications at AQF6 level and above are also seen as valuable. The Northern Territory Government’s Certificate IV in TAE40116 Traineeship Pilot (also described in appendix 5) is an example of a staged approach to initial teacher training, with accompanying CPD and support.

Having access to knowledgeable, experienced and accomplished peers or higher-qualified colleagues to give both beginning and continuing teachers advice and feedback, or to engage with them in reflective practice, was considered extremely valuable. There is also strong support for having peers observe the practice of colleagues, provided it is done in a spirit of collegiality and trust. This practice is already occurring in the Teaching under Supervision[3] arrangements, in teaching practicums of VET teaching courses, and routinely in some institutions. However, using the results of peer observation for formal reviews of performance or for disciplinary purposes by line managers attracts little support.

Moving forward

Feedback from stakeholders reinforces the need for strategic approaches to teacher support and development in VET. Time has proven there is no ‘silver bullet’ to address the ongoing challenges to teaching quality in Australia and that initiatives aimed at addressing them need to be guided, comprehensive, cohesive and sustained if they are to make a substantial difference for teachers and for teaching quality across the sector more broadly. While improved regulation is an important part of the solution, regulation alone will not fully address quality concerns. The research reveals an argument for the consideration of broad strategic initiatives, which could include:

  • A set of agreed ‘core’ professional capabilities for VET teachers that can be adapted and expanded to meet local or particular needs. The quality of teaching is of national significance and needs to be addressed at the national level through shared support by State, Territory and Commonwealth governments, as well as at RTO and individual teacher level.
  • A regular VET workforce data collection to support strategic initiatives.
  • The addition of smaller micro-credentials or skill sets in the VET teaching suite of qualifications that can be scaled-up to a full qualification for those already holding Certificate IV and Diploma courses, especially for those above AQF 6 (Guthrie & Jones 2018).

1. Version 2.2 revised by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) in 2019.

2. TasTAFE teachers must be registered with the Teachers’ Registration Board Tasmania. However, there is no requirement for private sector teachers to be registered.

3. The Australian Skills Quality Authority’s (ASQA) Standards for Registration of RTOs 2015 require teachers and assessors without the required credentials to work under the supervision of an appropriately qualified and experienced teacher, provided they hold one of the required skill sets, have current relevant industry skills and vocational competencies to the level being delivered and/or assessed (ASQA 2019).

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