2 January, 2016

My TAFE story

By Irene

I have had a long and varied association with TAFE NSW. For 20 years I was an Early Childhood Educator and I welcomed great numbers of students from both TAFE and Universities to attend my service and gain experience through work placement. Our industry relies heavily on high quality graduates to not only maintain but grow the quality of education and care we provide to the children who will create our future.

Over the years a great number of private (for profit) RTO’s have entered the field and a large divide became evident in the quality of training the students from private RTO’s and TAFE received. When taking on students from private RTO’s staff at services were not seen only as mentors but needed to spend a great deal of time teaching very basic skills. This was not sustainable when industry is offering work placement experience to students with no payment. Staff taking on the constant training for students are then stretched in providing the education and care to the children they are employed to work with.

I have also been employed as a manager/consultant by a peak body within the Early Childhood Education Field. In this role I was responsible for employing staff for a number of child care services and ensuring industry standards were met. Again I was faced with the very clear divide between TAFE trained graduates and those from private RTO’s. When culling resumes it became evident very quickly that the first choice for an interview should always offered to TAFE graduates. I was often horrified at the lack of skills and basic underpinning knowledge of graduates who had paid great deals of money to gain their qualification from some private institutions.

I now work for TAFE NSW and I not only teach students hoping to enter our industry, but I also assess them in their work placement and have a great deal of contact with industry representatives when assisting students in finding services to take them on for work placement.

I am regularly asked by Directors of child Care Centres to confirm that the students are in fact from TAFE. Many centres are now refusing to take on students from private RTO’s as they are unprepared, lack foundation knowledge, require staff to teach them basic skills taking valuable time from the staff’s various work roles. Once it is clarified that we are a TAFE, our students are accepted favourably.

When assessing our students during their work placements, I have had the misfortune of assessing some of our students in services where the existing centre staff have qualifications from institutions other than TAFE or University. I am very often disturbed by the practices I see which are not only unethical but illegal. Some staff are not even aware of the basic requirements of the Regulations and National Quality Frameworks which bind our industry.

The training my colleagues and I provide to our students is underpinned by highly qualified staff with years of industry experience. We develop resources which reflect up to date theory, practice and legal requirements. These resources are developed with great care over copious amounts of time and are validated by equally highly trained educators and industry representatives. This may mean what we provide is more expensive than some private RTO’s but it produces graduates who are prepared for a very highly regulated and extremely valuable professional role.

Once we break a system such as TAFE which has set industry standards and maintained quality (even when the financial and respectful support has been consistently undermined) we let down the very services and industries which need workers to maintain their profits.

The false economy of regulating private providers and investigating the standards of their delivery will cost our community and society far more than supporting a quality Education provider such as TAFE.

TAFE has supported all levels of socio-economic students, those who may not have chosen the academic path of university, those who are disadvantaged by additional needs, reside in remote communities, are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, are Culturally and Linguistically Diverse, mothers needing to retrain… These students need added levels of support through their educational journey. Who will ensure these students (who are more expensive to take on) will be catered for by private RTO’s? Will the funding we are taking out of TAFE really cover the costs for the various authorities which will be policing the standards of education and support students receive?

Most of us choose not to live in a dollar driven world such as the USA where the division between those who can access quality education depends wholly on their socio-economic standing. Let’s continue to keep Australia the clever country – not just for the wealthy! Supporting every member of our community to reach their highest potential will only make all of us stronger!

I hope my TAFE story doesn’t become a horror story!