In November 2018, the Prime Minister announced an independent review, led by the Honourable Steven Joyce, of Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) sector, to examine ways in which the sector could “deliver skilled workers for a stronger economy”.
The final report Strengthening Skills: Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System was delivered by Mr Joyce to the Australian Parliament in March, 2019. In response, on 2 April 2019, the Australian Government released its Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package, responding to recommendations from the review.
National early childhood education and care (ECEC) regulatory body, the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) provided a submission to the inquiry, outlining key challenges and changes they would like to see in the VET space to improve the quality of qualifications, the preparation of emerging professionals entering ECEC as a career, and to safeguard the wellbeing and protection of children.
ACECQA identified a number of key challenges with the VET sector prior to the announcement of both the inquiry and subsequent recommendations, namely:
Variations in the quality of training and assessment in ECEC qualifications (as highlighted in ASQA’s 2015-16 strategic review)
Flexibility built into the VET Quality Framework, which may not offer sufficient support to many RTO’s delivering ECEC training
Vulnerability for those employed within a highly regulated sector through training that fails to equip graduates to meet their legislated obligations also puts them at risk of being fined or prosecuted
ACECQA also highlighted feedback from ECEC employers indicating competency issues, saying “the competency of VET sector graduates often falls short of employer expectations.” ACECQA outlined that employers “have made clear to ACECQA their preference for graduates from well-established, high quality RTOs, with graduates from lower quality RTOs often requiring significant additional training and support.Over the years, references have also been made to RTOs who many employers will not recruit graduates from.
“With many students enrolling at these RTOs in good faith, this is a very undesirable situation” ACECQA said.
Course provision and content
ACECQA further outlined that, due to ongoing concerns,some larger ECEC employers had continued to operate registered training organisations (RTOs) to ensure the necessary calibre of staff, regardless of financial viability as an RTO.
Minimum course durations are currently set out as guidelines and are not consistently adhered to. The AQF volume of learning range for both certificate III and diploma level qualifications is 1-2 years (1200-2400 hours). ASQA’s 2015-16 strategic review provided strong evidence that these guidelines are ineffective. The review found that over 70 per cent of the delivery of the certificate III in child care was occurring in programs of less than one year’s duration and 20 per cent in programs of six months or less. A subsequent strategic review by ASQA in 2016-17 examined issues relating to unduly short training across the VET sector, ACECQA said.
ECEC regulators, ACECQA said, are sometimes faced with individuals fraudulently claiming to hold qualifications, with fraudulent first aid and anaphylaxis management qualifications being “particularly alarming”, given the harm which could result from individuals who are not adequately trained responding to emergencies.
ACECQA also outlined qualifications with doctored documentation, or “tick and flick” qualifications, where the qualification has been awarded with little or insufficient training. “The potential harm in the education and care sector of these scenarios is the same – an individual who is not competent to educate and care for children holds documentation suggesting that they are.” ACECQA warned.
Ethics of access
ACECQA lobbied for change in the way in which training is delivered in rural and remote areas, outlining that a significant factor that affects the quality of an education and care service is the qualifications and training of the educators, acknowledging that a major challenge in rural and remote areas is the lack of access to quality training and trainers.
The issue was compounded, ACECQA said, by the difficulty students in rural and remote areas can have in meeting the assessment conditions of the early childhood education and care training package, for example undertaking work placements in regulated education and care services. These difficulties can result in students either not finishing their qualification or having to travel long distances at considerable expense.
ACECQA concluded their submission by outlining the importance of a robust qualifications framework, saying “to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of young children and increase their learning and development, educators need high level skills and need to be properly trained. Considering the known benefits to children and the increasing expectations being placed on educators, helping students to access high quality training should be a high priority and shared goal.”
ACECQAs full submission to the inquiry may be accessed here. Submissions from other groups are available here, alongside both Mr Joyce’s report, and the subsequent package released by the Government.