Guest Column with Kira Clarke

October 13 / 122

Navigating the complex post-compulsory education landscape

As another university teaching year draws to a close and we turn our thoughts to in-coming 2014 cohorts, it is important to spare a thought for those who will not be in our classrooms and lecture theatres. Come December and January, our capital city newspapers will bear the familiar front pages of smiling high school graduates celebrating their exceptionally high Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) scores and their successful entry to their chosen university courses. Receiving less media and public attention are those students for whom senior secondary education has not provided an effective foundation for strong educational or occupational futures.

In an increasingly volatile Australian labour market, access to meaningful, sustainable employment is limited for those without post-school qualifications. Senior secondary certificates, such as the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) hold little currency in the labour market. One way in which secondary schools are working to strengthen post-school transitions for those students not going on to university is though the provision of vocational education and training within the senior secondary curriculum. In 2011, more than 236,000 Australian young people participated in Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Schools programs as part of their senior secondary certificates.

These vocational programs aim to create pathways to apprenticeships, traineeships and higher level VET programs post-school. Provision of VET in Schools is structured around occupationally specific qualifications from the Australian Qualifications Framework. While almost a third of Australian 16 year olds are participating in some form of VET in Schools program, it is an aspect of our schooling system that is still misunderstood and marginalised within Australian education policy discourse.

Recent research conducted within the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MSGE) for the National Centre for Vocational Education Research will be published next week. It has identified the need for greater cross-sectoral understanding, collaboration and linkages between industry, government and education providers, to strengthen outcomes and pathways for the participants in these VET in Schools programs. There is a need for increased and innovative collaboration between these diverse stakeholders. Together, they can play a role in building the strong vocational education foundations needed by young people to support strong post-school educational and occupational outcomes. These collaborations and joint efforts can strengthen the ways in which schools facilitate pathways to diverse employment, tertiary and higher education opportunities.

As an academic in the MSGE, I see and hear firsthand the increasingly complex role teachers in secondary schools play in supporting effective post-school transitions for young people, not only to higher education but also to higher level VET study and work-based training within apprenticeships and traineeships. We need to give our graduate teachers the capacity to support students in navigating this increasingly complex post-compulsory education landscape. For young people who may be first in their family to graduate from high school or to continue on to higher level education, the knowledgeable guidance and advice needed to inform their decisions and choices may not be available within the home or in their community. Teachers play a crucial role here in helping young people imagine possible futures for themselves and to make optimal choices towards realising those visions.

In addition to universities preparing knowledgeable graduate teachers, the sector also has a role to play in broader cross-sectoral collaborations that inspire, inform and celebrate diverse educational and occupational aspirations.

Kira Clarke is a Research Fellow within the Education Policy and Leadership (EPL) unit of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

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