Members’ TAFE stories enlighten VET Review panellists 

Federation TAFE councillors have provided insight for the Review into NSW vocational education and training (VET), about the problems in TAFE NSW and how to fix them. 

Panellists Dr Michele Bruniges, Professor Verity Firth and Jason Ardler are currently consulting with stakeholders at roundtables and forums for feedback on boosting student access, placing TAFE at the heart of the VET system, delivering VET in NSW and preparing VET for the future. On Friday 8 September, the union hosted the panellists at Teachers Federation House. 

The implementation of the VET privatisation policy Smart and Skilled was a “snake consuming its own tail”, said Paul Shannon. “TAFE can’t afford to be paying for teachers, equipment and counsellors because they are paying to many people to manage the Smart and Skilled contract. At the moment we are cutting down what the students need to fund management and that’s got to stop.” 

Gabriele Hardy said Smart and Skilled was a “slow burn kill” of TAFE, with the associated bureaucracy sucking up money that could be spent on teaching students. “Frankly, we’re looking for money under the cushions,” she said. 

Councillors shared accounts of lack of access to courses and support. 

Melissa Preston gave an account of students who leave home for one week each month to attend to attend their course; students from Cabbage Tree Island and Moree travelling for almost two days in one direction. 

“There is complex and compounding trauma in our classrooms and not the support,” she said. “We need a rewind. We need restoration of Outreach in rural and regional areas.” 

TAFE and VET teachers need a cooperative space where they can collaborate, she said. “Lifelong learning happens through lifelong planning.” 

There’s no TAFE provision of bricklaying, titling and concreting courses between Coffs Harbour and the Queensland border, Adam Curlis said. He gave an account of a student who leaves Coffs Harbour at 3am to attend class in Newcastle at 9am and after three days of lessons travels the highway at night so they can start work the next day. 

Barriers to learning need to be addressed by the restoration of support services. “When students are unable to complete a course, they don’t get another chance unless they have a few thousand dollars,” he said. “TAFE can meet the needs of all students in NSW but only if these vital services are restored to the levels that they were in the past.” 

Access to equity is lacking where the Adult Migrant English Program is delivered by TAFE, he said. Students with less than six years education are expected to meet the same deadlines as students with higher levels of education and are after two extensions are exited from the program rather than being provided with additional support. 

Post-pandemic students only receive one 45-minute lesson per fortnight. Previously students received a one-hour lesson per week. 

Peter Clarke said TAFE VET (Externally-Delivered VET in Schools) provision was at risk because of the teacher shortage. “The TVET students of today are our apprentices of tomorrow,” he said. 

Other issues raised by TAFE Councillors included the need to remove red tape, lack of access to professional development and the recruitment of teachers for trade and nursing. 

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