Expert recommends how to build capability of Australian VET teachers

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National scrutiny of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training workforce has prompted a Flinders University researcher with more than 30 years’ VET experience to provide recommendations that will build the capability of VET teachers.

Flinders University PhD graduate Anne Dening, who previously worked as a senior manager, lecturer and program manager at TAFE SA, has investigated the currency of VET teachers’ pedagogical knowledge for effective student learning outcomes.

She found an absence of systemic methodology for teacher training in the VET sector, and for continuous professional development. She also notes that current VET sector requirements for teaching are much lower than equivalent VET sectors internationally.

To plug the gaps, Dr Dening recommends planning and implementing a deliberate teacher induction, education and development program, and empowering VET managers to orchestrate changes that will build the quality of teacher development.

“VET teachers are unique because they are ‘dual professionals’ who come to teaching in VET as a second career and usually without any teaching knowledge or qualifications,” says Dr Dening, underlining the specific professional expertise of many VET teachers. “It is difficult for VET teachers to balance pedagogical skills with the need to maintain vocational currency in their industry specialisation.”

She also found that examples of good teaching practice were largely due to the personal commitment of a VET teacher or their manager, rather than systematic processes of professional development for VET teachers. “It would appear that teacher capability development remains accidental rather than deliberate,” she says.

While recognising that demands on VET teachers and trainers are increasing, Dr Dening recommends that higher level qualifications for both teaching and vocational specialisations be implemented, and form part of a systematic approach to VET teacher training.

She says the current model that obliges VET teachers to upgrade their Certificate IV qualification in VET teaching every time the training package is reviewed only adds to a culture of compliance rather than ensuring the highest quality outcomes.

For the sector to achieve what government and industry expect from their investment in VET education, Dr Dening suggests that clear identification of the unique characteristics of VET teaching should be the focus of a professional learning program for VET teachers. She says that such a framework will enable a VET teacher to progress from novice to advanced teaching.

She argues for system-wide, effective, intentionally planned and executed teacher development of professional knowledge and skills, as well as developing and resourcing a targeted Continuing Professional Development program for capability development.

This includes developing standards for VET teachers that clearly delineate the different roles of VET teacher and workplace trainer, and other roles within the delivery of VET programs. Such teacher standards would enable teachers and managers to clearly understand what contributes to good teaching in VET, and what range of teaching skills need to be developed for delivering quality programs to students and industry.

Dr Dening’s findings are published here.

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College of Education, Psychology and Social Work