Education and Training Reform Amendment (Senior Secondary Pathways Reforms and Other Matters) Bill 2021

Mr KENNEDY (Hawthorn) (13:39): During 2019—near the end of 2019—the Minister for
Education invited me to a busman’s holiday, and basically the busman’s holiday was to chair the
reference group in respect of the review into vocational and applied learning pathways in senior
secondary schooling. I must say I am delighted then to be standing here now speaking in support of
the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Senior Secondary Pathways Reforms and Other
Matters) Bill 2021, which has come directly from that review. I was delighted to have the opportunity, in a sense with a busman’s holiday, of going back to the things that I had been doing for 30 years or so, and during that time, near the end of that, we saw the introduction at Loyola College, where I was principal, of VCAL subjects and the advantages that came from those subjects being offered.

I became fond of saying, ‘A good VCAL is better than a mediocre VCE’. And why I say that is that
previous to VCAL being established and being taken on there would be plenty of students who would struggle through the VCE. They would perhaps get a minimum result, they did not enjoy the
experience and it might have even been humiliating to feel, ‘Well, I’m not up to this’, ‘I can’t do this’,
and so on. So the arrival of VCAL was a fantastic development because you could get a good VCAL
as opposed to a mediocre VCE. What did it entail? First of all, it gave you contact with employers.
You had placements where you got to meet employers, and very often those very contacts were the
ones that ended up in jobs. All the letters and all the emails that you might have sent would be for
naught except that there has been this first personal contact, the employer has met you, he or she likes the work you are doing and says, ‘Listen, we might have some part-time work here for you once
you’ve finished’, and so on. So that was a tremendous thing to witness, the development of VCAL at
our school.

In addition to the employer contact, it also was important for self-esteem and it was important for
achievement, for building of confidence. I really noticed that. In fact the VCAL kids, as I have said,
were in many ways well ahead of many of the kids doing VCE in terms of just those very attributes
that I have spoken about. So when the minister asked me to chair this reference group in support of
John Firth and the professional team, I was delighted to see that, because I had my own views about
how the thing could be further enhanced and so on.

One of the things that was mentioned at the time was that there was not a great public image about
VCAL. That funnily enough was not my experience in Watsonia, I would have to say, because people
saw the number of these students who were moving into employment; they were going forward. There would have been plenty of kids who did, say, the VCE who would have been on the unemployed list straight after school. I thought to myself, really, that VCAL needs to be further encouraged. How would it be further encouraged? Well, one of the problems, if you like, about it is funding. If you are running a VCAL program in a school, you are catering to a whole range of interests and backgrounds. Now, once you do that, you are starting to say with an offering, ‘We can offer, say, a carpentry-related something, music technology and so on and so forth’, but you cannot always offer all of those things as such. That became a bit of a problem, I remember, because then there would be groups of, say, two nor three, which were pretty uneconomic, and other groups could not run at all. So one of the things that I would welcome in this is the understanding that money invested in VCAL, for example—let us refer to it as that—is money well spent and that we will see the benefits of that as time goes on.

What I particularly liked, if I may say, was the first meeting we had, on 28 November 2019. This was
a meeting of people from government and non-government schools. But there were people there
representing industry, universities and a whole range of experiences, and it was a great group to be
involved with. The only thing I regret is that along came our old friend COVID, which meant that we
had to suddenly go online, which is never a great thing for someone like me.

But anyway, we moved from the in-person. We had perhaps four in-person meetings, but what occurred to me at the time was that really these meetings were, I think, apolitical. I did not feel there was any point-scoring or whatever. They were just to try and balance the needs of employers, for example, with the needs of teenagers, with the needs of schools and with the available financial resources and so on. It was a great experience, and I must say the work done by John Firth and his team in the department was excellent—the minutes came back quickly, investigations were conducted, schools were visited. In some ways it is almost like a study of how consultation should be conducted on something like this. In the end we came up with this review, quite a thick document, and really the way in which it has been discussed here in the house is testament to the fact that there is bipartisan support. And I am not all surprised, because of the fact that represented were all the range of interests there.

I just want to say that with this opportunity, as it develops, we will see that there will be more and
more people who, I think, will take up VCAL. We do not want to think for a minute that it is VCAL
versus academic and so on, because I do not think it is as simple as that. I know I was horrified when the federal government was talking about reducing money, effectively, for BA degrees as though they were a waste of time because there was no economic return and so on. I was really disappointed in that, being the proud owner of a BA. What we see here, I think, is people growing in satisfaction with their work and with their lives and that sort of thing. Then presumably, if they want to, they can move in on the academic. We see people taking up academic courses, for example, much later in life now.

It is very hard to make too many decisions when you are 18 years of age. That is why at 16, 17 and 18
there is VCAL as a possibility, with hopefully a good range of options, if that is the pathway you want to take. But nothing closes off. There is nothing to say that you cannot go back and do something that might be so-called ‘academic’. I think it has got a huge amount going for it, and I think they are much needed reforms. I am very proud to be part of a government that has the passion to ensure that every student in every school has access to high-quality vocational and learning options.

I was also delighted to see greater cooperation between government and non-government schools,
because my background is in non-government schooling but I have come to really enjoy and value
government schools since coming into this job. It has been great to see the cooperation. VCAL is one
of those things that actually brings the schools together, because you might only have one person in
one school who wants to study music technology, but if there happens to be another one or two or
three more from another school then there is a chance they can get together, particularly if they can
sort out things like timetables and so forth.

So thank you for the opportunity to support what is generally supported. I think we will see great things come from this.