Hi Everyone

Well,, here we go again! We have new standards to review and comment on. Do you know since 2005, we have changed the standards for RTOs four times. This will make five resulting in an average of every 2 years. So, every two years we change the standards by which we regulate our VET providers! Seriously, when I started that sentence, I didn’t think it would sound so bad, but there it is, every 2 years! Why do we do this to ourselves? Can we honestly say that we have experienced incremental improvement every time we have revised our regulatory standards. Some would say that the standard of training and assessment in Australia has eroded over this period and whilst that has occurred we have burdened ourselves with ever changing rules and regulations. So,, what is different this time around? Nothing. But, nevertheless, these new standards will be implemented as-is unless we speak up and try and get sensible change.

The VET Reform Taskforce released the revised RTO and VET Regulator Standards on the 25th June 2014 by the Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane, in Melbourne at an event hosted by ACPET. You can download the revised standards in full at the VET Reform site located at:

http://www.vetreform.industry.gov.au/publication/draft-revised-rto-and-vet-regulator-standards

Now, this post is not about the revised standards for VET Regulators. This post is all about the revised RTO Standards. Since the last revised standards there has been lots of change. Some notable changes include:

  • The introduction of an Accountable Education Officer – Gone
  • The introduction of the Licensed Training Organisation concept – Gone
  • The requirement for all private RTOs to be incorporated entities – Gone

The following information is my analysis of the notable changes that I think will have an impact and should be considered by you in any submission you make to the VET Reform Taskforce. 

Definitions.

“Assessment system” (must be read in context of standard 1.8) is defined as including:

  • grievances and appeals process (In other areas of the standards it is referred to as a complaints and appeals process. Why is it different in the definition?)
  • validation systems and processes;
  • moderation (Moderation what? Is it a moderation system and process? Maybe it needs to be specified and defined separately in the definitions.)
  • reporting/recording arrangements;
  • physical and human resources;
  • administrative procedures;
  • roles and responsibilities (Of who, assessors, validators, administrators, moderators, candidates, industry???);
  • partnership arrangements;
  • quality assurance mechanisms (This is subjective and the requirement will vary depending on the auditor.);
  • risk management strategies (This is subjective and the requirement will vary depending on the auditor.); and
  • documented assessment processes.

The language used in this definition will lead to significant subjectivity by auditors. It relies on all RTO’s and auditors having a consistent interpretation of the terms used in the definition such as quality assurance mechanisms and risk management strategies. What is one auditor’s opinion about a “risk management strategy” to another auditor in our experience, can be vast. By creating a long list of requirements, it will require auditors to validate each of these arrangements in the RTO. The RTO will need to put in place arrangements of such significance that they would cover all possible interpretation by auditors. It will also result is a higher number of non-compliance and grievances between RTOs and ASQA. The VET Reform Taskforce is recommended to provide greater specificity to remove the possibility of these requirements being subjectively interpreted.

“Validation” (must be read in context of standard 1.8) is defined as:

Validation is the quality review of the assessment process. Validation involves checking that the assessment tool/s produced valid, reliable, sufficient, current and authentic evidence to enable reasonable judgements to be made as to whether the requirements of the training package or VET accredited courses are met. It includes reviewing and making recommendations for future improvements to the assessment tool, process and/or outcomes and acting upon such recommendations.

This definition needs additional information that defines the minimum requirements for assessment validation. I have seen providers and some auditors that interpret assessment validation as a quality review process that occurs after every assessment activity!. It sounds bizarre but is true. There are too many ways that “assessment validation” is interpreted and the sector needs a model to rely on. Personally, we like the model available from the NCVER outlined in the publication: Maximising confidence in assessment decision-making – Resource kit for assessors. It aligns to the provided definition and specifies when assessment validation should occur. The model provided by the NQC: Implementation Guide: Validation and Moderation is over complicated and widely avoided in the sector. The VET Reform Taskforce is recommended to specify within the standards the minimum requirements on the conduct and frequency of assessment validation. More detail is required.

Standard 1.1.

Strategies must now demonstrate how it meets the Volume of Learning for a VET Course. Volume of learning is not defined in the new standards, but is specified in the AQF as the following:

  • Certificate I – 0.5–1 year
  • Certificate II – 0.5–1 year
  • Certificate III – 1–2 years
  • Certificate IV – 0.5–2 years
  • Diploma – 1–2 years
  • Advanced Diploma – 1.5–2 years

If the regulator is going to enforce this requirement, they would be wise to define “Volume of Learning” as specified in the AQF. Does this mean, if your Certificate III course is less than 1 year in duration, it will be non-compliant? How many variables come into play that have an effect on duration? Lots is the answer including such things as the target learner (and everything involved in that), method of delivery, course design, learning environment, cognitive load, frequency / importance / difficulty of the tasks being learned, etc, etc. This is hugely subjective and potentially will lead to big differences in the way it is interpreted at audit. The VET Reform Taskforce needs to either remove this requirement or provide greater specificity on how it is to be applied taking all the variables into consideration.

Standard 1.2.

The standards now specify that the RTO has for all items on its scope of registration sufficient trainers and assessors, learning resources, facilities, equipment, etc.  The need to have resources for all items on scope has not been previously specified within the standards so whilst this could have been assumed, this is a new requirement. This requirement will require RTOs to either remove unused items or ensure they have the resources to enable their delivery at all times. Many RTO’s have items on their scope which are not in current use. They are retained by the RTO to meet emerging or predicted needs of industry. These are often referred to as contingent scope items and often align with the RTO’s strategic business plan. Will this requirement now require the auditor to validate the availability of resources for every qualification on scope? Note. This new standard does not specify the need for assessment resources in this section. This must be an oversight.

This potentially creates a new burden on providers and reduces their ability to meet industry needs quickly. It will also lead to increased cost in maintaining the currency of unused learning and assessment materials and additional cost in adding items that were removed because of this requirement. The VET Reform Taskforce is strongly recommended to remove this requirement and focus regulation on the courses which actually are in use by the RTO.

Standard 1.2 (d).

The standards now specify the need for facilities and equipment to accommodate and support the number of learners undertaking the training and assessment. This requirement has not been previously specified in the RTO standards (as it is in CRICOS) so again, whilst this could have been assumed, this is a new requirement. The VET Reform Taskforce needs to either remove this requirement or provide greater specificity on how it is to be applied taking all the variables into consideration. What model should the RTO apply to determine the sufficiency of their facilities and equipment with their planned student numbers? What calculation or criteria will auditors use to determine the compliance of the RTO? Without some specified criteria on how this will be measured, this requirements is likely to result in subjective audit findings, greater red tape and cost for providers.

Standard 1.9.

The standards now specify that assessment validation must be undertaken by person/s that are not directly involved in the training or assessment delivery of that qualification and have:

a) vocational competencies and current industry skills relevant to the assessment being validated;

b) current knowledge and skills in vocational teaching and learning; and

c) training and assessment qualification or assessment skill set.

So, in addition to the staff engaged to deliver the training and assessment, the RTO now needs to engage additional staff or external services to validate the assessment being undertaken by the RTO. With this one single initiative, the VET Reform Taskforce has potentially:

  • created a new service sector in the conduct of industry specific assessment validation.
  • Added significant cost to providers.
  • Reduced the benefits of internally led validation activities.
  • Added four more criteria for an RTO to comply with and be found non-compliant with.
  • Added additional red tape to a sector already drowning in red tape.

The VET Reform Taskforce needs to reconsider this requirement and consider a more achievable requirement such as simply specifying the assessment validation model and frequency. The model should encourage industry involvement but not mandate a requirement that excludes those people involved in the delivery and certainly not lead to significant additional cost to providers. Come on! This one was not well considered and must be made more achievable.

Standard 1.11.

This standard requires that the RTO’s training and assessment is delivered only by persons who have the vocational competencies at least to the level being delivered and assessed. I have no problems with this requirement.

But,, since we are reviewing standards, it presents an opportunity to make this requirement clearer and to completely remove the subjective aspect of it. You have all experienced this. Scenario: Trainer delivering Cert IV in Frontline Management, Trainer holds a Diploma of Management and has many years of experience in ”management”. In fact they still work part time in industry as a Manager. This is a no brainer; of course the Trainer is competent to deliver units in the Certificate IV in Frontline Management! But I have seen auditors and moderated with auditors that would not accept this. They require direct evidence that the Trainer holds the particular unit that is being delivered.

In my experience this is one of the most significant areas of subjectivity within the current standards. Some auditors require the trainer/assessor to have the exact same competencies as they are delivering. This of course is stupid, as it does not take account of the majority of situations where the trainer/assessor holds a higher related vocational qualification and can demonstrate vocational experience in the tasks they are training and assessing in. This is a common area of dispute between RTO’s and ASQA. More often than not it results in the Trainers obtaining RPL for a lower level qualification from another RTO just to rectify the non-compliance. This is ludicrous. I note the commentary in the policy outline accompanying the revised standards about the decision to remove equivalence of competencies relating to training and assessment competence. I have no issue with this. What I am talking about here is equivalence of competency in vocational competency which is a different matter.

The VET Reform Taskforce should consider amending the wording to require: 

The RTO’s training and assessment is delivered only by persons who have the vocational competencies at least to the level being delivered and assessed or can demonstrate equivalence of competencies.

The VET Reform Taskforce should consider including the following definition:

Equivalence of competency is the extent to which a person holds current knowledge and skills to perform the same tasks expressed within a specific unit of competency. Evidence used to demonstrate equivalence of competency may include consideration of relevant past training, including consideration of superseded and pre-existing qualifications, directly relevant vocational experience, and professional development.

This definition borrows from the NCVER VET glossary 2011 and the NSSC Determination for trainer and assessor competencies.

Standard 5.2.

This standard says “Prior to or upon enrolment, the RTO must provide, in print or through referral to an electronic copy, current and accurate information that enables the learner to make informed decisions about undertaking training with the RTO

The current standards say: “Before clients enrol or enter into an agreement”. The whole objective of this requirement is to ensure that students are well informed about the services to be provided prior to them enrolling. I generally see good compliance and understanding with this requirement and consider it to be an important consumer protection mechanism. The new standards seem to step back from these protections by inserting the words “Prior to or upon enrolment”. What concerns me is that I can see some unethical providers taking the words “upon enrolment” to mean at the time the student is enrolled. This could lead to deceptive practices and it is just not necessary. We have clients who deliver short courses and all pre-enrolment information is available on their website. At a minimum, if the student presents that morning for a first aid course, they can still take 10 minutes to review the pre-enrolment information. Maybe this is the scenario that has prompted the change. I think it is the wrong way to go and is an unnecessary step back.

The VET Reform Taskforce is encouraged to amend standard 5.2 to say “Prior to enrolment, the RTO must provide,,,,,,”. This is an important consumer protection mechanism that must not be watered down. The standards must protect students from unethical providers and not provide loopholes in which they can operate.

Well, thats it for me. The VET Reform Taskforce has advised that written submissions from interested stakeholders on the revised standards are to sent to: vettaskforce@industry.gov.au. The closing date for submissions is 17:00 (AEST) Wednesday, 23 July 2014. Make sure you have your say and feel free to use any of the above information to incorporate into your submission.

Good Training

Joe Newbery

Published: 8th July 2014

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