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You are reading: Looking to the future – Report of the review of senior secondary pathways into work, further education and training

Education Council

23 July 2020


Education must prepare young people both for active citizenship in a democratic society and for purposeful engagement with the labour market. This is vital at a time when trust in democratic governance and institutions is at a low level and cognitive technologies are transforming the future of work.

Young people are increasingly anxious about the uncertainty of their futures. The profound disruptions of COVID-19 have heightened that unease. They sense that normal life is unlikely to be fully restored. Economic recovery is likely to be slow and patchy. Working remotely, from homes or hubs, has shown the potential benefits and weaknesses embedded in how administrative and professional staff undertake their work.

School leavers do not just need to be employable. They need to be adaptable, flexible and confident. Education must provide students with the essential attributes they require for lifelong learning in whatever fields of endeavour they may choose. The professional and applied skills they need will change significantly over their lives. The jobs they do will be transformed. Some, driven by entrepreneurial ambition, will want to set up their own businesses. Most will switch careers.

To achieve this – for all young Australians – profound challenges need to be overcome.

Substantive change is needed, but there is no easy solution. There is no national panacea. Different communities, places, groups of people and school systems have distinctly different needs. Changes need to be responsive to context.

For that reason, this report is not intended to provide a highly prescriptive dictum.

Rather, it seeks to signal a bold shift in direction. It proposes a coherent package of initiatives that are intended to inform, influence and accelerate broader reform processes.

The necessary elements of change are clear. But the manner of their implementation must be determined by state and territory governments and education authorities for public, Catholic and independent schools. There needs to be a national response but it must be responsive to place-based expectations and local needs.

Australia’s federal system of government has the proven capacity to generate a valuable diversity of ideas and approaches. Each jurisdiction is well placed to work out how best to take these actions forward. The conduct of the recently established National Cabinet has shown the value of Australian governments setting directions in a collaborative manner but with each state and territory implementing decisions in their own ways, responsive to their own particular circumstances.

Reform processes are already underway. In every state and territory, we have come across innovative schools finding new ways to educate and develop their students. Many teachers are frustrated by the focus on a single number, the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). They feel it is narrowing their ability to serve the best interests of all students. They perceive that their role as educators, career guides and pastoral carers is being narrowed and distorted by a ranking score.

Academic achievement is important but not the sole reason for schooling. We need to focus more on preparing the whole person, no matter what career path they choose. The final years of schooling are an important part of the learning entitlement of all young Australians. Many senior secondary students enjoy school. Some, for a variety of reasons, just want to leave as soon as possible. Both groups need to be supported by more flexible learning.

We have found many instances of innovation. Yet much that is creative still sits at the periphery of education. Innovation needs to be embedded systemically in the senior secondary years. New approaches need to be trialled and, if successful, scaled up. Demonstration projects need to have greater influence on the traditional core of how we measure educational success.

This review presents an opportunity to exhibit genuine cross-jurisdictional collaborative leadership. The package of recommendations we are proposing offers a chance to take a new national approach to senior secondary education. We need to recognise and spread good practice in order to generate broader change. We sense that what we propose will garner widespread support across the community.

So what would success look like? In essence, eight key outcomes will be achieved:

1) All students will leave with essential skills

Senior secondary schooling will prepare young people for their future roles in the workforce and as active and engaged members of civil society. They will have the capabilities and enthusiasm to keep on learning throughout their lives.

Senior secondary schooling will include a focus on:

  • learning areas (selected by students on the basis of their interests and passions)
  • foundational skills development (literacy, numeracy, digital literacy)
  • capability development, personal growth and ethical responsibilities
  • career education and work exploration activities.

Literacy, numeracy and digital literacy will be recognised as essential skills for every student. At a time of technological transformation, when the future of work is uncertain, these attributes are more important than ever. Students must be supported to attain capability in these areas before they finish school. Every young person who leaves without them is having their economic and social future short-changed.

Young people transitioning into senior secondary schooling will have benefited from explicit pathway discussions with their teachers. So, too, will any student contemplating whether to leave school before the end of Year 12. They will use these conversations to identify their current capabilities and aspirations. They will participate in the development of a plan to build, evidence and articulate these capabilities prior to leaving school. They will have gained the discipline of planning for life.

Schools will ensure all school leavers can communicate and evidence their learning to employers and education institutions. Students will be helped to understand the various ways they have developed as individuals. They will be assured that they can show how they have acquired and applied their skills. They will be confident in their abilities but aware of how much they still have to learn.

2) All students will leave with a Learner Profile

Students will leave school with a Learner Profile, identifying the range of their skills, knowledge and experiences. It will include learning and experiences gained inside and outside of school. Students will be guided to recognise the attributes they have acquired through study in the classroom as well as from work experience, volunteering and personal achievement.

It is likely that the ATAR will continue to play a role in university selection processes, although many education providers now wish to also assess a student’s performance in a range of subject disciplines. But this ranking score will increasingly be enhanced by a greater recognition of the value of the broader set of skills, capabilities and experience that a student has gained by the time they leave school. Senior secondary students will be seen as young people, not numbers. This will change the way in which students see themselves and the manner in which they will want to present their educational achievements to others.

3) All pathways will be equally respected

The workforce of the future will require a range of skills and people with different types of qualifications. All students will be encouraged to pursue excellence and follow their passions and interests when selecting their subjects for Years 11 and 12 and considering post-school pathways.

All students will be given the opportunity to participate in meaningful career education and work exploration activities. This will allow them to acquire the skills to be work-ready. It will broaden their understanding of the employment opportunities available to them. They will be provided with assistance to navigate options and make well-informed decisions.

All school pathways will be delivered to the same high standard. While higher education will remain an aspiration for many young people, academic pathways will no longer enjoy more privileged access to school resources than apprenticeships, traineeships or other forms of vocational education and training.

4) All students will benefit from informed decision-making

Quality career guidance will be provided through a well-functioning system that extends beyond the school.

A career guidance ecosystem will provide reliable and targeted information and resources for students, parents, careers advisers, educators and employers. It will draw together schools, community career hubs and real-time industry advice. Efforts will be coordinated and overseen by the National Careers Institute.

Schools will either have teachers who specialise in career education or they will be able to draw upon support from a network of career guidance professionals.

Students and their parents will have access to earlier, more regular and intensive career advice. It will be informed by knowledge of the future labour market. It will be delivered both face to face and online.

5) All schools will have strong partnerships with industry

Meaningful, productive and mutually agreed engagement between industry and schools will be central to the education of senior secondary students. Appropriate governance arrangements will be in place to facilitate school–industry partnerships. There will be a strong focus on collaboration with local employers.

Industry-led organisations will provide a focal point for engagement between industry and education, providing up-to-date advice on skills needs. They will collaborate in developing and adapting qualifications in a fast and flexible manner. This will ensure the quality and relevance of training. A focus on responsiveness to future industry need will help ensure students graduate with relevant certifications and informed expectations.

6) All students will start to prepare their Education Passport

An Education Passport – aligned with the attributes set out in the Learner Profile – will assist individuals to communicate their qualifications, learnings and experience as they move between pathways and change career directions throughout their working lives. Its preparation will begin at school.

Students will be empowered. They will be fully engaged in the curation and demonstration of their skills, both within school and outside of it. They will be prepared to record their working lives, education and learnings.

All senior secondary students will be fully aware that Australia has an increasingly flexible structure for continued education and training when they leave school. Young people will be prepared to move between higher education and vocational training providers. They will understand the value of work-based learning. All these learning experiences will be progressively added to their Education Passport.

7) All students will be provided with equal opportunities for success

Education will remain the foundation of a ‘fair go’ Australia. Senior secondary students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be supported to ensure that they can follow the same pathways available to others at school, opening greater access to employment and education when they leave.

Genuine equality of opportunity will be achieved through responsive education that meets the needs of all students. There will be targeted interventions to support those at risk of disengagement, at all points in their learning. A culture of putting students at the centre will sit at the core of education delivery.

Accessible alternative education settings and innovative flexible learning approaches will be actively trialled, evaluated and scaled up to ensure that vulnerable and at-risk students can benefit from education settings and approaches that are tailored to their individual interests and goals. Young people will be encouraged to stay in school until they have completed Year 12. Students who decide to leave school early will have a plan for accessing training, developing their work skills and continuing their education later. Chapter 2: Exercising informed choice

8) Government policies will be informed by evidence

The rhetoric of evidence-based policy will become reality. Nationally consistent data collection arrangements will provide a coherent and seamless picture of how people move through and between education and employment pathways. Behavioural psychology will help governments to understand how, why and when young people make decisions.

Big data integration and analysis – across schooling, tertiary education and training, and the labour market – will provide insights into the exercise of individual choice over time. It will help policymakers to understand why students begin education and training courses and why, too often, they decide to drop out. It will help ensure that spending on education gets the biggest bang for its buck. It will help us to prepare senior secondary students for their futures by getting the public policy settings right.

The Unique Student Identifier will play a key role in facilitating these developments. While protecting individual privacy, it will provide a much greater understanding of the pathways taken by young people as they transition from school, the reasons they choose them, and the extent to which they meet the changing needs of the Australian economy. Governments will increasingly understand the decisions that young people make and know better how to nudge them in the right direction.

COAG Education Council leadership

Together, these eight outcomes represent a new approach to how senior secondary students are prepared for life. Figure 1 illustrates what the student pathways planning journey might look like in the future, covering the whole life cycle from primary and early secondary schooling through to early and later career stages. It incorporates improvements that are already underway and that, pursued with greater vigour and coherence, can become the basis for better lifetime outcomes for students.

But change needs leadership. Governments need not just to authorise new approaches but to actively encourage them. COAG Education Council can provide the national impetus to drive the changes, implemented in accordance with the particular circumstances of each state and territory but delivered collaboratively by school authorities committed to the same goals.

Content reproduced from the Education Council under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative 4.0 International licence.

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