Senior VET Researcher Focusses on Quality and Community Education Providers at CCA Conference

Senior VET researcher, Hugh Guthrie (pictured), an Honorary Senior Fellow in the Centre for Vocational and Educational Policy in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, focussed on delivery quality with a community education twist at the recent CCA Conference.

Hugh is the co-author (with Melinda Waters) of Delivering high-quality VET: what matters to RTOs? published by NCVER earlier this year.

Hugh and Melinda’s work concludes that the definition of high-quality VET delivery differs among provider types and depends on their purposes, missions and goals, their student types, the courses and qualifications they offer, and the context in which they operate. So, delivery quality can be a pretty slippery concept. However, his presentation (High Guthrie CCA Conference Presentation) pointed out that when providers talk about quality of delivery, they say it:

  • prepares their students for work and life;
  • supports students’ personal growth and well-being; and
  • results in employment or other outcomes – with these “other outcomes” being especially important for community education providers.

These three points are important for community education providers but, as Hugh pointed out, they can also deliver other programs that help develop their students’ occupational identities and meet the needs & expectations of employers they work with.

What’s really important, though, is that delivery approaches continually adapt to changing circumstances. Hugh Guthrie thinks that if there are some things that characterise providers in the community education sector, it is that they are adaptable, flexible, agile, quick and prepared to take risks in the right circumstances.

When Hugh and Melinda spoke to community education providers it became clear that they constitute a unique place in Australian VET, because they:

  • serve a local need and reach vulnerable and disadvantaged students;
  • can provide pathways into TAFE and other studies, and into work;
  • are learner-centred, with small class sizes, providing personal and student support; and
  • collaborate with other ACE providers, leveraging collective strengths, using benchmarking and collaboration with other ACE providers, as well as partnerships with local employers, other key stakeholders and community groups.

Collaboration to address issues and improve quality is one thing community education providers do well, the researchers concluded.

Hugh’s presentation summarised the key messages they got when they talked to providers in the sector in these ways:

  • High-quality delivery in ACE is defined as helping students to move to their preferred destination or to a pathway to further learning.
  • Quality starts with careful pre-delivery assessment to ensure ‘we know our students, what their needs are and that this is this the right course for them’.
  • Key foci are providing wrap-around services and strong learner support. The quality of facilities is not necessarily a mark of quality delivery in community education. It’s more about making learning environments ‘homely’ and welcoming. This is really more important to the quality of learning for their learners who often feel uncomfortable in formal education settings.
  • To judge their quality, ACE providers rely heavily on anecdotal information (as well as more formal measures) to monitor the quality of delivery and, importantly, the progress and welfare of students. They also ‘feel the vibe’ in their providers! The vibe helps you know you’re doing OK.

Providers gather information about the quality of their delivery for two main reasons: first, to use the information and data they gather to improve their practice and, second, to convince key ‘others’ they are doing a good delivery job.

He suggested that their research showed that policy makers and others external to providers themselves need to be wary of making simplistic judgements about the value of community ed programs by measuring ‘success’ in too simple or limited a way because it’s important to ensure that course and study outcomes and measures of success are conceived and measured comprehensively, fairly and validly.

Finally, he pointed out that high-quality delivery depends on many factors, some of which are beyond the control of providers. The barriers participating providers identified included a compliance view of quality (he wants to see the word compliance disappear from our quality thinking!), funding levels, the quality of training packages and difficulties in recruiting, developing and retaining teachers and trainers.

(Download a copy of Hugh Guthrie’s presentation here.)


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