DescriptionSchool vocational education and training (VET) programs were introduced to provide more diverse pathways to work and further study for young people. This report investigates whether these programs provide successful outcomes for participants, in terms of retention to Year 12 (or its vocational equivalent) and full-time engagement with employment or learning. The report finds that participation in school VET programs has a small negative impact on retention from Year 10 to Year 12 overall but that there is a positive impact on Year 10 to Year 11 retention. There is a clear positive impact on post-school outcomes for students who participate in school VET programs in Year 11 but do not go on to complete Year 12. Finally, the report looks at whether school VET programs have been successful in establishing post-school VET pathways. The results show that these programs provide a clear pathway for some students, particularly for boys studying in the areas of building and engineering. For most students, however, the pathway is not so direct.
About the research
This report investigates whether school vocational education and training (VET) programs provide successful outcomes for their participants. We define 'success' in the school context as retention to Year 12, and outside school in terms of full-time engagement with employment or learning, or part-time employment combined with part-time study. Finally, we look at whether school VET programs have been successful in establishing post-school VET pathways.
- Participation in school VET programs was found to have a positive impact on Year 10 to Year 11 retention but a negative impact on retention from Year 11 to Year 12. Overall, these programs had a small negative impact on retention from Year 10 to Year 12.
- The overall negative effect on retention from Year 10 to Year 12 is larger for boys than girls, for which it is close to zero. The negative impact is too small to be of any real policy significance. This conclusion is not altered if the vocational equivalent to Year 12 is included.
- There is a clear positive impact on post-school outcomes for students who participate in school VET programs in Year 11 but do not go on to complete Year 12. These gains are more sizeable for girls than boys. Over time, however, the positive effect is diluted. These gains are not seen for those who complete Year 12.
- School VET programs provide a clear vocational pathway for some students, particularly for boys studying in the areas of building and engineering. However, for most students the pathway is not so direct. Further, when comparing students of similar ages, we see different types of vocational education and training studied in and outside the school environment. For most students, there is a poor alignment between the types of VET programs studied at school and the requirements of the world of work or further study.
- Policy issues to emerge include:
- Should school VET programs be offered at Year 10 rather than being concentrated at Year 11 and Year 12, given that many students leave before Year 11?
- Should school VET programs be better aligned with the world of work or, alternatively, concentrate on broad pre-vocational skills?
The introduction of vocational education and training (VET) programs into schools, integrated with both the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and the senior secondary certificate, was seen as a means of providing more diverse pathways to work and further study for young people. Since their inception in 1996, we have observed a rapid uptake to the extent that in 2004 around half of all senior secondary students (that is, those in Years 11 and 12) participated in school VET programs. But how successful are these school VET programs?
Our research focuses on a cohort of students from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY), following them from Year 9 in 1998 through to 2002, one year out from Year 12 for the majority of students. During this time frame we had a relatively buoyant labour market, which has historically encouraged early school leaving and falling school retention rates.
To provide context, we first look at the characteristics of students who acknowledged that they participated in school VET programs in Year 11. This in itself is interesting in that we find considerable under-reporting of participation in school VET programs, suggesting that for many students school VET programs are of such similar substance to the existing curriculum that they are not acknowledged as vocational education and training.
We then go on to look at the success of students who did and did not participate in school VET programs in Years 11 and 12. Success is measured at school as retention to Year 12 (or its vocational equivalent) and, after school, as engagement with employment or further learning. Finally, we take a look at the post-school VET pathways of our cohort, comparing them with a broader group of students of equivalent age in the public VET system.
Do school students self-select into VET school programs?
We knew at the outset that there was extensive research on the characteristics of school VET students, including being of lower academic ability, from parents with lower education levels, and attending a government school. Our analysis confirmed this, but we also found that a student's self-perceived academic ability is as good an indicator of propensity to participate in school VET programs as is actual academic ability. This is important because we know that students self-select into school VET programs because they see these programs as providing a better match with their perceived academic ability. However, we did not find that students' perceptions of their peers related to their propensity to participate in school VET programs, which is noteworthy given the importance placed on peer group pressure.
Do school VET programs improve school retention?
In looking at retention, we find a positive effect from participation in school VET programs on retention from Year 10 to Year 11, but a negative effect on retention from Year 11 to Year 12. These effects are found after controlling for a wide range of personal characteristics, including academic ability and socio-economic characteristics. The effects are larger for boys than for girls. Replacing Year 12 with the vocational equivalent does not materially change this result.
Taking the effects together our model indicates an overall decrease in Year 10 to Year 12 retention of -0.5% for boys (or -0.4% if looking at Year 12 vocational equivalent) and virtually no change for girls.
Do school VET programs assist students in their transition from school to work or further study?
We see that the transition for school VET students who leave school after Year 11 is certainly smoother than those who do not participate in school VET programs. However, the gain is soon diminished over time. For students who complete Year 12, we see no benefit from participation in school VET programs; in fact we see a slightly negative effect.
Do school VET programs provide post-school VET pathways?
We find that school VET does provide pathways for some students into further vocational education and training, and that these tend to be boys studying engineering and building courses. While we see equal proportions of boys and girls participating in school VET programs, for girls we see little evidence of post-school continuation with school VET subjects. Thus, i t would seem that girl s are using school vocational education and training as a 'taster', or for immediate employment outcomes rather than for longer term post-school VET pathways. Indeed, many students are using school VET programs to eliminate what they do not want to do post-school, rather than to direct them into post-school VET pathways.
School vocational education and training is by no means the only pathway into post-school VET courses. We see as much post-school VET activity among students who leave school before they have an opportunity to participate in these programs as we do among school VET students. However, the transition into post-school VET courses is not as smooth for these early school leavers.
In looking at the types of school VET programs, we find that the fields of education delivered in school VET programs do not line up particularly well with VET programs offered outside school (that are more likely to reflect labour market demands), and, as noted above, girls tend to shy away from the VET subjects they studied at school. In comparing VET offerings inside and outside school one note of discord is that school vocational education and training is studied at a lower level, even for the same age groups. Certificate III is the bread and butter of the VET world and there are very few of these offered at school. There may be good reasons for this; for example, schools may not have ready access to appropriate infrastructure and trainers.
This research raises several issues worth further consideration:
- Is the focus of school VET programs in Year 11 and Year 12 appropriate given that many early school leavers do not get to Year 11, and the evidence is that it does not assist Year 11 to Year 12 retention?
- Do we need to distinguish between those students who are genuinely looking for a VET pathway and those who may have a passing interest in vocational education and training? Perhaps the administrative data on numbers undertaking VET courses at school are not particularly informative, since both groups are lumped together.
- Do school VET programs need to focus more seriously on a VET pathway with a clear labour market aim? That is, do school VET offerings need to be better aligned with those offered outside school, in both field and level, and should more attention be paid to employment prospects rather than thinking about school VET programs within its educational setting? Are there other educational settings that could be integrated into the schooling framework?
- Alternatively, given that school VET programs do not provide a clear vocational pathway for many VET-inclined students, would it be better to downplay the industrial aspects of vocational education and training at school (such as the emphasis on industry competencies and AQF certificates) and emphasise broader vocational education skills? That is, should we consider school VET programs more as pre-vocational preparation? This would certainly lend itself to the school setting.