WA teachers’ union claims fee-free TAFE places are setting struggling students up to fail

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

A stream of students currently flooding into TAFE training courses across Western Australia (WA) is placing additional pressure on lecturers, with a report from the local State School Teachers’ Union (SSTU) claiming that the students are being set up for failure.

The Federal Government’s commitment to fee-free TAFE training, the union claims, is exposing the system to “unintended consequences”, with students who lack basic maths and reading skills creating a massive shift the system is not designed to cope with.

Critical need for foundational skills training

“We are seeing people who are attending TAFE that we would not normally see enrolling in training,” the report said. “We are seeing more students that have mental health issues, lack of literacy, lack of numeracy, lack of basic ICT skills, behavioural issues and poor study skills.”

According to claims from the teachers’ union, these are problems that could have been dealt with by ensuring students enrolling first attend a foundation skills course that covered basics computer skills, maths, reading and writing.

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“However, these courses were not placed on the fee-free places list, which meant that students don’t enrol in them and are, to a large extent, set up to fail when attempting to complete a certificate at level 2 or higher,” it said. “Lecturers do not have the skills nor the time . . . to deal with all these additional issues.”

More than 18,000 fee-free TAFE and vocational education places were made available in WA this year. It is the result of a Federal and State Government investment of $112 million, designed to help tackle skills shortages in key areas.

But the SSTU report said that. although the fee-free places were welcome, there was no financial provision for extra money for lecturers, additional classrooms or resources, including access to computers or desks.

This had led to  “huge increases” in workloads, with TAFE lecturers struggling with bigger class sizes, more marking and less time to deliver course education.

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Federal Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor responded to the union’s claims by saying the government was working on removing barriers to foundation skills programs, including the requirement to be a registered job seeker.

“More than 150,000 Australians have accessed fee-free TAFE already this year, many in areas of critical skills shortages,” he said. “We will continue to work with States and Territories to ensure students and teachers in the vocational education and training sector are supported.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live