Lockdowns put VCAL students at risk of not completing year 12

Thousands of year 12 students taking the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning are at risk of being unable to complete their studies this year because of coronavirus restrictions and school closures that have prevented them doing essential practical work.

Principals at schools with large VCAL programs held urgent talks with Victorian education authorities this week, warning them that many students simply would not have enough time to complete the requisite number of hours of practical work they must do to pass.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority has identified 321 schools in Victoria with students who could run out of time to complete their VCAL in term four — more than 90 per cent of secondary schools in the state.

There are predictions many VCAL students will be unable to complete year 12 this year. Credit:The Age

A combination of remote learning, stage four restrictions that have forced businesses to close and school closures due to a positive COVID-19 case have denied many VCAL students the time they need to finish their assessments.

Every VCE student will receive special consideration of educational disadvantage due to COVID-19, but authorities are yet to land on a solution for affected students who must complete at least 90 hours of assessment to meet national industry standards for vocational subjects.

Vocational education and training is federally administered.

The Victorian Applied Learning Association’s chief executive, Helene Rooks, said many schools loaded up on theory assignments for their VCAL students during Victoria’s first phase of remote learning, in the belief that they would be able to catch up on practical assessments later in the year.

Melbourne’s second wave of coronavirus disrupted those plans.

Ms Rooks said unlike VCE, VCAL course content could not be cut to make up for lost time.

“We can’t as easily cut 30 per cent off the course load and send them out into the wide world because then we will be setting them up for failure,” Ms Rooks said.

Vocational education units that require a minimum of 90 hours of competency include hospitality, plumbing, hair and beauty, early childhood education and building and construction.

Other VET subjects such as small business are less likely to be affected because they can be completed remotely.

The association polled more than 670 VCAL teachers in August, 64 per cent of whom said they were not confident their students would have the opportunity to meet current practical requirements.

Carole McMahon, a VCAL educator who has taught in several Melbourne schools, said urgent adjustments were needed to the VCAL curriculum in term four or thousands of students would miss out on completing year 12 this year.

“Because we’ve been in lockdown, all of these requirements in the curriculum are really impossible to meet,” Ms McMahon said.

The stage four rules allow schools to bring students on site for practical assessments, but not for practice or teaching.

Ms McMahon said this was unworkable for vocational education.

“Even at this point, as an educator overseeing more than 100 VCAL students I know about 60 per cent are going to fail because they’re not going to get enough VET credits and they’re not going to be able to do enough projects.”

She called on the Andrews government to allow VCAL and VET students back into schools on October 8, the day after VCE students sit their General Achievement Test.

Year 11 and 12 students are due back in classrooms on October 12.

The Andrews government has thrown schools $2.4 million in emergency “catch-up funding” this month to help VCAL and VET students complete their applied studies in term four.

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority chief executive Stephen Gniel wrote to all secondary schools after his meeting with principals on September 9.

Schools will be asked to identify students who need further support to complete their work in term four.

“Following these actions, we will assess each year 12 VCAL student in 2020 who has not yet completed the required VET practical training and assessment and work with the Department of Education and Training and individual schools to determine a pathway for these students to complete their VCAL,” Mr Gniel wrote.

Education Minister James Merlino said it had been particularly challenging for VCAL students, but that every student would be supported to complete their VCE or VCAL.

“There will be particular focus on this in term four and it is something we have been working with schools very closely on as the end of the year draws closer,” he said.

A spokesman for federal Minister for Skills Michaelia Cash said secondary school students undertaking VET subjects were required to do workplace experience and/or workplace assessment so employers had confidence in graduates' abilities.

Skills ministers are considering practical solutions including revisions to the number of mandatory workplace hours required to complete a qualification or the assessment of competence.

"The government is aware that restrictions on mandatory workplace requirements as a result of COVID-19 are having an impact on VET students and their ability to complete mandatory work placement hours due to the inability to access a workplace," the spokesman said.

"The issue is not uniform across the country, but is particularly acute in Victoria across a range of industries."

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