I rise today to speak on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Senior Secondary Pathways and Other Matters) Bill 2021, a bill which the Greens will be supporting. This bill is primarily making changes to the Education and Training Reform Act 2006, based on the recommendations of the Firth Review into Vocational and Applied Learning Pathways in Senior Secondary Schooling. These changes will see the current VCAL qualifications being brought into VCE as a vocational major as well as introduce the Victorian pathways certificate to replace the VCAL foundation course. There are also some technical changes that allow the Victorian Registrations and Qualifications Authority to register the VPC and provisions to support students and providers in the transition period. There are provisions also for the VRQA to extend the transition period of superseded training packages and for VCAT to review these extension decisions. The bill will also make it an offence to deliver these new courses without registration. The aim of these reforms is to improve the relevance and quality of vocational pathways as well as reduce the stigma that is associated with the VCAL programs, and certainly I very much support these objectives.
The Firth review found that there was inconsistency in the delivery and standard of VCAL across the state and that the program needed to be strengthened and broadened. It specifically recommended embedding vocational pathways into VCE to ensure that all students are provided with the same standard of education. Certainly whilst we need to make sure that we have the same standard of education for all our students, it is important that we do not just simply have a one-size-fits-all education system and that our schools cater for the widest range of students with varying interests, skills and pathways. We cannot just dress our students the same, teach them the same and expect them all to turn out the same. We need to make sure that we have an education system that caters for students and all the differences that they bring to their schooling.
I have heard from a range of stakeholders about these reforms, some of whom are really strongly supportive of the scheme and are looking forward to implementing the changes and others who certainly welcome the reform but are hesitant about some of the specifics and about the speed at which these changes are being implemented. There is some concern that removing the intermediate VCAL qualification will reduce job prospects for those who do not complete the two-year vocational major and instead leave with the enhanced certificate of attainment. It has also been raised with me that it is possible that only offering a two-year course could increase the year 10 dropout rates as some students may be reluctant to commit to a two-year program and would previously have chosen a single intermediate year and then decided to either continue their studies or move into work or further training.
I have also heard about how important it is for these reforms to safeguard applied learning principles. There is some concern about the curriculum design and that trying to fit vocational studies into a VCE-type template might not suit a number of students who choose this pathway, so it is crucial that young people continue to be consulted about the course offerings and the designs.
I have also heard concerns about the requirement that all educators who deliver the VPC and vocational major must be registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching. Whilst I appreciate that appropriately qualified teachers are very important, some educators in the TAFE sector may have training and assessment qualifications rather than teaching degrees and there is a risk some wonderful mid- or late-career vocational teachers may not be able to deliver the vocational majors as they do not have the time or capacity to go back for a teaching degree.
Finally, it has been highlighted to me that it is vitally important that all education settings are given adequate time and resources to make sure that these reforms are successful across the entire state. Multiple people use the term ‘poor cousin’ to describe how VCAL has been regarded within the sector and how it has been underfunded and undervalued. These reforms provide a really great opportunity to give vocational and applied learning the space and resources required to ensure that students are provided with the best training and skills available to enter the modern workforce or proceed to further training, so let us make sure that this scheme is implemented carefully and that all schools and education providers, no matter where they are located across the state, are supported with time and resources to make the transition in a way that ensures its success for learners in Victoria.
Just more broadly on education, it is really important that students across our state are provided with high-quality education no matter where they live, what their background is or what their socio-economic status is and that teachers and schools have sufficient resources to deliver this. As many of us have struggled to provide home learning to our children this pandemic has really reminded us of just how valuable our teachers are, and we need to offer more than just thanks for or platitudes about their hard work in educating our young people. We need to thank teachers with higher wages, with properly resourced classrooms and with better conditions. That is how we can really demonstrate our thanks to them for their incredible work throughout the best part of the last two years. As we move beyond this pandemic and look to continue the recovery our society will need to embark on, what better value than investing in education by employing more teachers and more support staff so that all students—particularly those who are disadvantaged or vulnerable—have adequate support and opportunities for them to succeed at school.
I have said this before, and I will repeat it for the benefit of the chamber: Victoria’s public schools are underfunded by the tune of around a billion dollars a year—a billion dollars a year less than the Gonski school resource standard, so now is the perfect time for state and federal governments to increase funding to public schools. We have got one of the lowest per-student funding rates across the entire country and we will not reach parity with other states until late into this decade. This just is not good enough, so I would urge both the state and federal governments to revisit their school funding deal that leaves our public schools around a billion dollars short of what is required and invest even more in our public schools.
Further to our public schools, TAFE of course has always played an important role in delivering vocational training and applied learning. I am a former TAFE student myself—good old Frankston TAFE—and it is fair to say I certainly would not be here today if it was not for a quality, affordable TAFE system. I have got great memories of my time at Frankston TAFE, and I certainly would not be here today without it. We have got to continue to support our public TAFE system, make sure that its funding is guaranteed and not continue with this highly contested marketisation of our training system that has been such an abject failure. Whilst I really support the free TAFE courses being offered by the government, I think we need to go further and make it all free. You know, public education, from kinder to public schooling to TAFE, should be free. It should be quality and it should be free, and I think that is the goal and that is the vision that we should be aiming for here in Victoria and in fact right across country. With that, the Greens will be supporting this bill.