RTO Standards Review – Our Feedback
On 27th October 2022, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations released the draft revised RTO Standards for review and invited feedback. The Department is seeking feedback by the 31st January 2023 (in only 12 days from the publication of this article). The Department have provided an online survey to capture this feedback and have provided the following document for review to inform the feedback:
DEWR Draft RTO Standards Consultation Paper Oct 2022 (Click)
These are my seventh Standards for RTOs that I have watched emerge for comment on their way to endorsement since 1996. I have reviewed the consultation paper they have supplied to inform this feedback which includes all of the relevant documents. Overall, I am fairly positive. If there are standards or sections here that I have not commented on, it is because I really had no comment to make. I would say that represents the majority. Noting that, there are important issues in these draft standards that need to be addressed before they are finalised and hopefully with our collective feedback we can get some improvements. What I have provided below is the feedback that I provided in the little comment boxes that they provide in the online survey to capture the feedback.
One thing that I want to highlight about these revised standards is, this is not just a change in the wording of the standards. This is a restructure of the regulatory requirements that consolidates not only the standards and some legislative instruments but also some previous general directions into a revised standard. It is important to note that you are not just providing feedback on the standards. The proposed structure includes:
- The Standards for RTOs – these contain outcome-focused requirements that go to the heart of quality training delivery.
- Guidelines – these are referenced in the Standards and outline the credentialling requirements for those delivering training and assessment and identify specified training products that are subject to additional validation requirements.
- Compliance-based requirements – these are important administrative requirements that must be met by RTOs to maintain registration.
It is important to provide feedback? Yes it is. These opportunities only come around about every 3-4 years, so take the opportunity to have your voice. I invite you to review the feedback that I provided and if you agree, I invite you to use these points to inform your own feedback. Do not miss this opportunity to influence the final standards that govern the regulation of our training industry. Responding to this survey will take you about 30-40 minutes. Take this time to contribute to the development of your VET sector. Please consider the following points in your review of the draft standards.
Concern about the prescription in the draft standards
I think the move toward less prescription makes the interpretation of the standards and requirements more variable and this is likely to result in more subjective interpretation by regulatory assessors. This will create unnecessary non-compliance and uncertainty in providers. I think that providers actually just want to know what the standard is and so, more prescription was required not less.
Suggestion about the structure of the draft standards
Training product transition seems to have a foot in both camps (the Standards and the Compliance Requirements). I would put transition requirements completely into the current compliance based requirements. I also don’t think that credit transfer needs to be within the standards. Putting it alongside RPL is part of the reason why people get confused about RPL being assessment process. Leave that section to training and assessment only and remove credit transfer which is an administrative process and put it in the compliance based requirements.
I think you need to change the name of the “compliance based requirements” document. Isn’t all of it a “compliance based requirement”? I can see this creating unnecessary confusion. Maybe something like “RTO administrative obligations” or something like that that doesn’t give the impression that it is more or less important than the standards.
Feedback on the Draft Standards
Proposed Clause: 1.1.1 Training design and practice is consistent with the training product, relevant to the needs of industry and appropriate to enable learners to achieve training outcomes.
Comment: 1.1.1. I think this clause needs to reinforce the requirement that training is intended to prepare learners for assessment. Too often we see providers requiring students to move straight to the assessment without training because it is more convenient and cost effective for the provider. I would recommend a change to the final part of the sentence to say “to enable learners to adequately prepare for assessment and achieve training outcomes”. At the end of the day, training packages only specify assessment requirements not training outcomes or training requirements. Unless you are going to overhaul units of competency to specify a training outcomes, you need to link and reinforce the connection between a training pathway leading to assessment.
Proposed Clause: 1.2.2 a. Assessment is conducted in a way that is consistent with the following principles of assessment:
a) fair – taking into account the learner’s needs, applying reasonable adjustments where appropriate and enabling reassessment if necessary,
Comment: 1.2.2 a. This clause needs to include a reference to informing learners of the requirements for assessment. The assessment is not fair if the learner does not understand what to do and the current clause focuses more on learning support and reasonable adjustments. It needs to include the requirement for the provider to provide adequate assessment instructions by informing the learner about the assessment requirements.
Proposed Clause: 1.2.2 c. Assessment is conducted in a way that is consistent with the following principles of assessment: c) valid – such that assessment of skills and knowledge is integrated with practical application and could enable the learner to demonstrate these skills and knowledge in similar situations,
Comment: 1.2.2 c. This clause needs to require that the assessment addresses the requirements of the training product. If we do not mandate that for the assessment to be valid it needs to address the requirements of the training product then, why have a training product? I suggest it be changed to “such that assessment of skills and knowledge is integrated with practical application and could enable the learner to demonstrate these skills and knowledge in similar situations in accordance with the requirements of the training product”.
Proposed Clause: 1.2.3. Assessors make individual assessment judgements that are justified based on the following rules of evidence:
Comment: 1.2.3. It is incredulous to me that you thought it was appropriate to remove validity as a rule of evidence because some people do not understand it! You are essentially lowering the bar to meet the very poor standard of delivery of TAE training products. Clause 1.2.3 needs to include validity as a rule of evidence. Don’t try and fix something that isn’t broken. It’s not enough that validity is a principle of assessment. All this means is that the assessment task is valid. The assessment task can be valid but that doesn’t mean that the provider is going to collect and assess evidence of that task being performed. Without validity as a rule of evidence there is no requirement on the provider to collect evidence that relates to the student’s performance. This would have to be one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard of. Re-include validity as a rule of evidence.
Proposed Clause: 1.3.1. Facilities, resources (including online resources) and equipment for each training product are safe, accessible, sufficient and fit-for-purpose.
Comment: 1.3.1. This clause needs to include a reference back to the providers training design. It is not enough for it to simply require learning resources in support of the training product. It also needs to specify the requirement for the learning resources to complement the providers specified training design (1.1.1). This addresses situations where provider claims to deliver certain activities as part of its amount of training but then does not have the learning resources to back it up. I would recommend a change to “1.3.1. Facilities, resources (including online resources) and equipment for each training product are safe, accessible, sufficient and fit-for-purpose and support the delivery of the training design and assessment systems.
Proposed Clause: 1.4.1. Where learners identify as having prior skills, knowledge, and experience relevant to the training product, recognition of prior learning is undertaken in accordance with the assessment system.
Comment: 1.4.1. I think this makes a requirement that is currently clear and definitive, unclear. The current requirement clearly makes it compulsory for the provider to offer RPL. No question. Was it your intent with this change of language to introduce the option for the provider to only provide RPL where the learner particularly identifies as having prior knowledge and skills? It provides a level of discretion to the provider about whether a learner identified prior knowledge and skills. For those providers who do not like offering RPL (which is the majority), it will be convenient for them that most students do not identify as having any prior knowledge and skills. This introduces a level of vagueness that will lead to many providers not developing RPL assessment tools and systemically excluding RPL as a service. If it isn’t broken, don’t try and fix it. I would recommend that you revert to the current language in the SRTO 2015.
Proposed Clause: 1.4.2. Where learners identify as having previously completed a relevant training product which is determined by the RTO to be equivalent in content and training outcomes, credit transfer is granted (unless prevented by licensing or regulatory requirements) where this is evidenced
Comment: 1.4.2. I recommend this be moved to the “Compliance Based Requirements”. Credit transfer is an administrative process and should not be confused with assessment.
Proposed Clause: 3.1.1 a. Each person delivering, or providing direction to a person delivering, training and/or assessment, has:
a) qualification(s), and/or skills and knowledge, appropriate in content and level for what they are delivering and/or assessing
Comment: 3.1.1 a. The current requirement (SRTO 2015) specifies the need for the trainer to hold the “competencies” is obviously problematic. This is because it implies that the person needs to hold the exact same competencies which is often not the case, and it then results in a subjective consideration by the ASQA assessor based on the evidence of equivalent competency. Saying this, I really think moving away from using competency as the basis for demonstrating vocational competency will open a can of worms of creating an even more subjective requirement. It seems to me that this proposed change whilst attempting to soften this requirement is going to create an a highly subjective evidence requirement for the RTO that is difficult to satisfy. If the trainer holds the same qualification but not the same units of competency, is that OK? What if the trainer does not hold the qualification but they hold the skills and knowledge, how is this evidenced? What about experience, is this a consideration? It doesn’t mention anything about required experience. I feel that this change will make the regulation of vocational competency even worse. If you must change, I would suggest the following for 3.1.1 a “hold or can demonstrate equivalent vocational competency to the level being delivered and assessed”. Then, in addition to this, include “equivalent vocational competency” in the Glossary with a detailed definition.
Proposed Clause: 3.1.1 b. Each person delivering, or providing direction to a person delivering, training and/or assessment, has b) an understanding of current industry practices relevant to the training product.
Comment: 3.1.1 b. The previous standard (SRTO 2015) required “current industry skills directly relevant to the training and assessment being provided”. It also defined (in the Glossary) as including the expectation of “experience”. This change seems to strip the requirement of industry experience away. It only seems to require an “understanding of current industry practices”. Does this mean I could finish a course yesterday and be assigned as a trainer today? Is industry experience no longer a requirement? I recommend that you leave this clause the same as 1.13b and include the same definition of “current industry skills” in the new Glossary.
Proposed Clause: 3.2.1. Trainers and assessors: a) undertake professional development, including through structured learning, to ensure current skills and knowledge in training and assessment, including engaging and supporting learners
Comment: 3.2.1 a Need a definition of “structured learning” in the context of trainer professional development. I have already had a dozen questions from different clients asking me what I think this means. I think you need to provide a definition in the Glossary about what structured learning is so that providers have something to base their strategy and practice on. I have suggested that it possibly means “A series of connected professional development events and activities that collectively develop the participants knowledge and understanding in the required capability”.
Proposed Clause: 5.2.1 Systematic monitoring and evaluation: c) enables the RTO to identify and manage risks to the achievement of the outcomes described in the Standards.
Comment: 5.2.1 c. I spent a couple of years back in 2009-10 touring the country on behalf of ACPET delivering workshops on various topics including compliance risk management. We had an entire doctrine around compliance risk management that we supplied to clients. Overall, I found that it was very seldom taken up as most providers are just simply confused by the concept of risk management particularly when you apply it to a management risk such as compliance with standards. To be honest, it’s difficult enough getting a client to understand and apply the PDCA model in support of continuous improvement let alone expecting them to apply a risk management approach to compliance management. We would have a handful of very large and well-resourced clients that apply risk management well, but other than this, virtually no takers. Even back at the time when continuous improvement was the topic of the day (2007-2012) and everybody wanted to implement arrangements in support of continuous improvement, it was impossible to get clients to switch on to risk management as a concept. I think it’s a fantastic idea, but it might be a bar too high for most providers. You would need to support the implementation of this with significant support mechanisms and material. The problem is that risk management is such a specific model of application. You talk about making the standards less prescriptive, well, this is inserting a requirement that is highly prescriptive. I think you might have been better to introduce a more general requirement that allows the provider to find the best fit quality systems for their operation. Maybe something like “5.2.1c. enables the RTO’s application of self-assurance to the achievement of the outcomes described in the Standards.”.
Suggestions for the Glossary
Refer to my comments on clause 1.1.1a, I recommend that you include the meaning of “training”.
Refer to my comments on clause 3.1.1a, I recommend that you include the meaning of “equivalent vocational competency”.
Refer to my comments on clause 3.1.1 b, I recommend that you include the meaning of “current industry skills”.
Refer to my comments on clause 3.2.1 b, I recommend that you include the meaning of “structured learning”.
Feedback on the review of Fee Protection Measures
The area where most providers have trouble with this is correlating the current fee protection threshold with the cost of trainers and tuition cost but also all the upfront cost required to attract and administer the enrolment. The standard does not differentiate between these different costs, and it should. A business should be entitled to recover the upfront costs to attract an enrolment and supply the initial learning material and this should be dealt with separately to tuition fees in the fee protection meassures.
Overall and Final Comment
In closing I make the final points:
The move toward less prescription will encourage more inconsistency in regulation for providers and this will lead to greater uncertainty about where compliance is and more subjective audit findings.
Every applicable standard or definition needs to encourage the delivery of adequate training and practice in the skills required to be demonstration in assessment. It is rare now to see time allocated to skill development with trainer supervision prior to assessment. This is the primary systemic threat to the reputation of the VET sector. I do not think the revised standards go far enough to address this.
I think the new structure is fine. Really it is just a different horse in the same horse race. If you hang around long enough, everything old is new again. Think about the 1997 QETO standards that supported the Australian Recognition Framework or the 2007 “Essential Standards” with the accompanying “Conditions of Registration”. This new edition is not ground-breaking new work. It doesn’t make it more or less complex for providers. It just introduces a new requirement that the entire sector needs to come to terms with. It will introduce operational turbulence during an otherwise extremely busy and challenging time. As you may be aware, we are dealing with a skills shortage including a shortage of trainers. Your timing could not be worse. The entire sector will need significant support to implement these changes including workshops, guidance materials, access to regulator advisors, time and maybe even some type of financial assistance (compensation) to help with implementation.
We need to mandate a system of transparent regulatory moderation on these new standards by ASQA that should be publicly available, so the regulatory interpretation of these revised standards is transparent and can inform provider strategy and practices. Reliability between ASQA auditors is atrocious and any new compliance framework should be supported by a mandatory regulatory moderation arrangement. Your draft compliance requirements talk about transparency in provider governance arrangements. I think this needs to cut both ways and the regulator needs to be transparent about their regulatory interpretations arrived at through their audit moderation.
Published: 19th January 2023