Those who have bled for TAFE are still the ones fighting for it

TAFE teachers have been attacked in every way and yet, AEU Deputy Federal Secretary Pat Forward told Federation members at Annual Conference, compare their attitude and that of their employers towards the institution they all serve.

"When we have asked our members to stand up for the ideals and principles of public education in TAFE institutions they have done so – even though TAFE employers have attacked them, undermined them, under-resourced them and, often, sacked them. State governments, the “owners” of the state system, exhibit no pride in their work and have shown little courage in standing up to defend the ideals of TAFE,” Ms Forward told members at Federation’s Annual Conference on July 4.

TAFE is the worst-funded education sector, Ms Forward said.

The policies that have weakened TAFE had come from all parties at all levels, undermining colleges and teachers.

She warned that the problems facing public vocational education are showing up on the horizon for public education in schools.

“The fundamental issues we face are the obsession with market design, the decades of under-resourcing, the fixation with competency-based training and the ‘moral panic’ created by the supposed need for an ‘industry-driven’ system. These issues are all interrelated and they have combined to leave TAFE where it is today.”

Ms Forward condemned the belief in both sides of politics that “a public good such as education can be determined by the market”.

Since the Keating government attempted to create a training market there have been numerous major renovations  of the VET sector, she said. The system has been changed and changed again, and this constant flux have been caused by faults due to marketisation of VET.

To lean on ideology instead of evidence-based reform is to invite debacles such as the VET Fee-Help scheme and the collapse of TAFE in Victoria – Ms Forward said she used the word “collapse” with intent.

The AEU Deputy poured scorn on the Productivity Commission’s narrative where TAFE was concerned: “Every year, cuts to TAFE are described as “improvements in efficiency and production”. 

She said competency-based training was a partner to market organisation in destroying TAFE. “The determination of bureaucrats and employer groups to base vocational education on competency-based training allows governments to rely on the fiction that inputs and processes are irrelevant to student outcomes. In competency-based training, teachers, curriculum, facilities and institutions are irrelevant.”

Governments needed to consider inputs as well as outputs, and this required a commitment to funding well-built courses and teaching, pedagogy and student engagement. Outcomes should include a care for authentic student assessment and completion.   

Failure by a student to complete a course is as important in a TAFE classroom as it is in school, Ms Forward said. Such TAFE students find their future equally damaged and their working prospects as blocked as if they had not finished school.

Ms Forward said governments and bureaucrats must give up the belief that VET must be industry-led – this had not brought any benefits but had, in fact, left the previously stable and credible TAFE-led sector confused and lacking in value.

In her speech, Ms Forward paid tribute to the late Greens leader, John Kaye, “a tireless, ferocious and passionate supporter of TAFE”, even in his dying days lobbying Premier Mike Baird about preserving the system.

“The world is poorer without him, and much less fun,” said Ms Forward affectionately. “We  miss him in TAFE every day.”

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