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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 11988

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (11:26): I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises the value of the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) in providing young Australians with work experience and literacy and numeracy skills which in turn prepare them for further training and employment; and

(2) considers that the decision of the Victorian Government to cut VCAL funding will particularly harm disadvantaged and disengaged students who are encouraged by VCAL to remain in education and to benefit from practical education and training.

As a local MP I have had the pleasure of working with schools in my electorate to promote education. I come from a family of educators and I have benefited greatly from my own education. I have seen firsthand how important training pathways are for young people in our community. That is why I was proud when the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning was introduced by Labor in Victoria in 2002. The legacy of that decision is that today there are over 430 secondary schools, TAFEs and other training organisations which deliver VCAL to more than 20,000 students. VCAL aims to improve student retention. It is a Labor initiative which is particularly aimed at students who might go on to TAFE or an apprenticeship.

Mr Paul Desmond, Principal at St Francis Xavier in Beaconsfield in my electorate, has said:

We're in our fourth year of VCAL and young men and women are finding it a great pathway into their career futures …

At a time when we are trying to respond to the national skills shortage and skill up more young people, VCAL is critical, so it is absolutely shameful that the Victorian government has decided to cut $48 million from VCAL coordinators. The cut to funding will kick in from the start of 2012. It just shows how totally out of touch the Victorian government is when it comes to education. These funding cuts will directly affect the coordination of VCAL programs. At the moment VCAL coordinators do things like develop curriculum and assessment materials and build partnerships with local learning and employment networks and with other organisations, but the Victorian government does not think that is important. Indeed, in the Melbourne Age on 9 September 2011, the Victorian skills minister is reported to have stated that funding to VCAL coordinators was no longer needed. He said that the number of VCAL students had 'plateaued'. Interestingly, the 2009-10 annual report of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority notes something slightly different. They said:

What is remarkable is the striking and steady growth in VCAL programs since their inception five years ago; clearly a major need has been identified and continues to grow.

The Victorian skills minister thinks that VCAL demand has plateaued and yet the Victorian government's own agencies recognise ongoing and growing demand for VCAL. This is absolutely extraordinary. The federal government has made a point of trying to encourage young people to stay in education longer. We are trying to ensure they get the skills they need to enter the workforce or go on to further education and training. We have provided around $470 million to assist Victorian students in skills development. We are providing around $135 million for youth transition and around $238 million for trade training centres. We have also increased support for families with teenagers by around $160 per fortnight from 1 January 2012 so as to encourage 16- to 19-year-olds to stay in school or vocational education. So in January 2012, we are giving financial support to families to encourage teenagers to stay in school and training. But what are the coalition government in Victoria doing in January? They are cutting funding to exactly the programs that Labor in Victoria set up in 2002 to keep kids at school and in training longer.

The schools and institutions affected in my area include Berwick Secondary College, Boronia Heights College, Emerald Secondary College, Kambrya College, Mater Christi College, St Francis Xavier Beaconsfield, St Joseph's Regional College Ferntree Gully and Upwey High School. Apart from listening to local representatives like me, I think it is important that this place listen to the voices of the young students who are affected by these decisions. Here is what Candice Thomys, a student from Narre Warren South College, had to say about the cuts:

VCAL is like a second opportunity at an education for students who do not feel they can do VCE. This is our future. I think the government really needs to rethink its decision.

Let us also hear from some principals and teachers who have made known their views on the cuts to VCAL. Michael Muscat, principal of Kambrya College at Berwick in my electorate, said:

We need to keep these students at school but these cuts are diminishing the way we do that effectively. Unless we offer meaningful quality programs these kids will walk. We are taking funding from kids who most need it in the education system.

Speaking about the VCAL cuts, Mr Gary Keet, VCAL director at St Francis Xavier in Berwick, said:

It's going to make it difficult for us to go out to visit students when they're on their jobs.

So why is the Victorian government messing with a successful program and breaking something that Labor had fixed?