Initial training for VET teachers: a portrait within a larger canvas

By Hugh Guthrie, Alicen McNaughton, Tracy Gamlin Research report 15 August 2011 ISBN 978 1 921955 13 6 print; 978 1 921955 11 2 web


This report provides a portrait of the initial formal training for VET teachers in private and public registered training organisations. It describes the features and content of generic courses offered both in the VET sector and higher education ranging from certificate IV TAA to graduate diplomas. It also provides details about the characteristics and numbers of students enrolled in a range of courses. The report sits in the wider canvas of other initial and ongoing professional development and support for teachers. It concludes that the certificate IV is the one true foundational course, and suggests some ways to address its quality issues.


About the research

This study focuses on a critical aspect of the vocational education and training (VET) workforce: initial VET teacher training. It has identified the generic teacher education courses offered both by the VET and higher education sectors, ranging from the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (now the Certificate IV in Training and Education) to graduate diplomas. The certificate IV is not only the most significant in student number terms, but it is also the one true initial qualification. All the others are post-initial and targeted at teachers with some experience.

Key messages include:

  • Student numbers are very high for the certificate IV. Numbers are modest for the VET diploma programs, and the total numbers in higher education courses are declining.
  • The certificate IV is delivered well by some providers. However, more stringent regulation of this qualification is required, given its current pivotal role in providing initial teaching skills.
  • Initial teachers also need access to a sound induction process and support from more experienced mentors to underpin, increase and help cement their foundational teaching skills.
  • There needs to be an increased emphasis on high-quality continuing professional development. This should come in a variety of forms: formal courses at diploma level and above; effective non-formal learning; and a supportive and challenging learning culture and practices within the providers themselves.

Universities are losing their importance in VET teacher development, and this is having undesirable consequences on the depth of VET teacher professionalism. However, to strengthen their role, they need to offer flexible programs, given the competing priorities on time-poor VET teachers. Specifically, they need to develop strong connections with the VET sector and build partnerships with those providing teacher preparation programs in the VET sector itself.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary

This report examines initial vocational education and training (VET) teacher training. It focuses specifically on teachers in institutional settings, particularly public and private VET registered training organisations (RTOs). The present project set out to investigate generic VET teaching qualifications, ranging from a certificate IV to an advanced diploma delivered by VET and associate and bachelor degrees, to graduate diplomas delivered by higher education. It is part of a significant body of current work concerned with VET workforce and teaching issues and also draws on that work.

Specifically, our study aimed to:

  • identify the key teaching qualifications currently available for initial VET teachers being delivered across Australia and document their key attributes
  • use available data from 2006 to 2008 on initial teacher training courses to identify trends in enrolment numbers, numbers continuing and completing, the characteristics of learners accessing these courses and the level of qualifications already held before commencing their teaching award. Information on the outcomes for the VET-level courses was also examined. by means of the Student Outcomes Survey (SOS).

Information about the individual courses offered in both VET and higher education was based on offerings in 2010.

A range of issues needed to be considered in scoping the project. The first is defining an initial VET teacher. This is not as easy as first appears, as this group comes with a wide range of prior experience not only in their own vocation, but possibly also in teaching and training. They may be employed under varying arrangements, from permanent to casual, and thus have different levels of attachment to the VET sector and to teaching. This may affect the levels of investment they are prepared to make in acquiring their initial teaching qualification.

The second issue is what constitutes an initial teaching qualification. This, too, is not a precise concept, because most of the qualifications considered here might be regarded as generic rather than initial. The one true initial qualification is the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (Certificate IV TAA)—now the Certificate IV in Training and Education (Certificate IV TAE). Most if not all of the other generic teaching qualifications in our project scope are, in fact, post-initial qualifications.

The VET sector has six active teacher qualifications. Of these, three—the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment; the Diploma of Training and Assessment (Diploma TAA); and the Diploma of VET Practice, a Victorian award—are the most significant.

In excess of 800 providers have the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment on scope, while about 140 are registered to deliver the Diploma of Training and Assessment. The total number undertaking the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment is unknown because the NCVER data cover only a proportion of those providers with this qualification on scope. Nevertheless, some 30 950 commencements and continuing enrolments (and nearly 11 500 completions) were reported to NCVER in 2008 (see table A2, appendix 1). The age profile for the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment students is relatively old, with around 42 years of age being the average for commencing students. Most have completed some post-secondary education and about three-quarters of those already have a qualification at certificate IV or higher. Many of these—over 40%—had a degree or higher degree. This course has the largest student numbers and in that sense is the most significant offering in VET teacher training.

Relatively few are undertaking the Diploma of Training and Assessment. Those who do are slightly older on average and more highly qualified on commencement than the certificate IV students. The Diploma of VET Practice is a Victorian qualification. It has a different demographic from both the certificate IV and the diploma. This diploma has the greatest proportion of students who have a post-school qualification, but it also has the smallest proportion with a qualification at bachelor level or above. It is also has a higher concentration of males than the other two courses. The total number of commencements and continuing enrolments in 2008 for the Diploma of Training and Assessment and the Diploma of VET Practice are around 960 and 580 respectively (see table A2, appendix 1).

The poor quality of delivery of the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment is a particular issue. Improving its quality may require a more stringent examination of the providers that offer it; furthermore, the minimum levels of qualification and experience of the staff teaching the program should also be increased. A point for consideration is that no-one should be able to undertake the program without having the associated practical experience to ground what they are learning in the realities of their work role.

Another issue which has received less attention is the extent and quality of initial teacher induction and support, particularly access to high-quality mentors. VET providers need to support their staff appropriately to help them transition to this new role or teaching context. While this might best be done with an intensive offering of a foundational qualification, this may not suit all staff, casual staff in particular. Creative and complementary approaches to the delivery of initial teacher training and supporting beginning staff are required. Finally, it might even be argued that, while the quality of initial training and support is important, access to—and the quality of—ongoing and professional development is ultimately of greatest significance.

The higher education sector had 20 institutions active in 2008, although a number were clearly winding down their offerings. Higher education providers are concentrated in New South Wales and Queensland. By 2010, only 14 institutions were still active. The university-based courses are offered at both graduate and postgraduate levels, with most (13 of the 20) institutions offering both in 2008.

Overall student numbers appear to be declining in higher education, sitting at around 2000 students in 2008 and down from about 2400 in 2006. Over 65% of all students were enrolled in bachelor-level programs in 2008 and just under half were studying externally. In 2008, three-quarters of the students were enrolled at just seven of 20 providers. Many have relatively small student numbers and several have indicated that they are continuing to offer awards that may be barely viable.

The content areas of all courses are broadly similar. Most courses—whether VET or higher education—operate on a core and options approach, although a number also have major study areas to deal with the specific needs of particular groups, and some have lower-level awards nested within them. The redevelopment of the Diploma of Training and Assessment program offers the opportunity to address the more specialised training needs of staff through options and skills sets.

A number of the higher-level courses have a component aimed at providing an opportunity to undertake or certify continuing professional development activities. Such programs can be built around the key work roles and specialities of teachers, while advanced studies in key generic teaching and learning disciplines such as assessment can also be provided. Others have components or learning approaches that enable students to use their own work role to focus their learning experiences, or alternatively, conduct research into topic areas of interest.

The durations of the bachelor degrees are variable, but are around two to three years, after normal credit and admissions criteria have been met. Postgraduate awards are typically one-year equivalent full-time. Admissions criteria and credit arrangements are variable, and the higher education institutions in particular have varying degrees of stringency. Some are quite open, even at postgraduate level. A few of the others will only give substantial credit if students have completed other teaching awards; for example, the Diploma of Training and Assessment.

Teacher education courses offered both by VET and higher education will continue to survive if they offer programs that address the real development needs of VET teachers as they work to build their skills. Teachers have many choices in undertaking ongoing professional development, so that formal courses have to offer real benefits over other options.

Teacher education courses will also survive where there is a compelling reason to undertake them, such as regulatory pressure, a salary bar, or a requirement to be considered for promotion or a particularly desirable position. However, the qualifications need to provide skills, offer pathways and open doors that are valued by teachers and their employers alike.

Both VET and higher education providers need to actively engage with their client groups and other providers through appropriate partnerships and networks. It is also important that, as students, VET teachers are able to get other professional development appropriately recognised within such awards. Likewise, it is important that the learning approaches used are authentic and enable both initial and more experienced VET teachers to grow and develop through a critical reflection of their everyday practice, or by taking on specific action learning and other projects during their course.

It may also be time to acknowledge a wider range of teacher qualifications than the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment that might be regarded as 'initial', especially if the alternatives are tied more appropriately to teacher work roles and the particular demographics of the students they teach, such as those working in language, literacy and numeracy roles, English as a second language or teaching in degree courses offered in VET.

Finally, it is difficult to obtain a clear picture of the demographics of the VET workforce and what motivates people to enter, stay and move around within it. This research is needed to help us to understand the design and delivery issues confronting both initial and subsequent teacher training and development. Initial teacher training represents the portrait this report paints. However, this portrait needs to be seen within the larger canvas of ongoing professional development and the range of issues that teachers and the broader VET workforce face in their work. This explains our reference to a larger canvas.


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