International Workforce Literacy Review: Australia
Literacy capacity building
The issue of appropriate formal qualifications, accredited PD options and funding for professional development remains a vexed issue.
In her research, McKenna et al (2005) identified key features that assist integrated approaches to language, literacy and numeracy teaching within vocational programs. These include:
- using a constructivist approach, which acknowledges that learning is affected by the context in which it is taught, as well as by students’ beliefs and attitudes
- developing an explicit model of language appropriate to the context of the industry
- using a multi-disciplinary approach to teaching
- providing a framework for describing language, literacy and numeracy
- conducting an analysis of the specific training package and workplace context
- ensuring there is capacity to identify critical points of intervention
- considering the needs of learners.
An elective (not compulsory) unit within the mandated qualification for VET trainers and assessors is “TAALLN401A Address language, literacy and numeracy issues within learning and assessment practice” was developed to cover the basic knowledge and skills a general trainer and assessor would need to know to address language, literacy and numeracy issues within their training an assessment practice. It does not constitute a specialist qualification.
It is a positive that this unit exists at all in this qualification because at the time of endorsement for the qualification (ANTA 2005) there was not much advocacy (by the states and territories) for the unit. In the meantime, however, several industry associations (such as Construction Queensland) have made this unit a primary focus for the professional development of industry trainers and assessors. Anecdotally, there is a call by a number of industry associations and RTOs for this unit to be made part of the core (compulsory) of the Training and Assessing (TAA) qualification. However, there is at present no formal driver at a state or Commonwealth policy level or within the Innovation and Business Skills Council (IBSA) (the ISC responsible for the Training and Assessment Training Package) to see this occur.
In 2004/5 DEST funded the development of an Advanced Diploma in LLN in VET practice in an attempt to create a benchmark qualification for language and literacy specialists that would be mandated for WELL trainers. At present WELL guidelines specify that:
Trainers must have a Certificate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment as required by the AQTF and appropriate qualifications to deliver language, literacy and numeracy training to adult learners. The Advanced Diploma in Teaching LLN in VET was recently released in South Australia. This course will be DEST’s preferred qualification for WELL trainers in the future.
However, there is no nationally accepted and applied definition of what constitutes appropriate qualifications to deliver language, literacy and numeracy training to adult learners.
There is a plethora of state-based undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications available in the teaching English as a second language and adult literacy fields, but there is currently no agreed minimum national benchmark for entry as a WELL practitioner (see Appendix G).
To date there has not been a strong uptake of the advanced diploma and at least two states have subsequently developed and accredited Graduate Vocational Certificates in LLN. DEST to date has still not mandated any qualification as the benchmark for WELL provision nationally.
WELL practitioner profiles
In 2006 MESAB researched the profile of WELL practitioners nationally and found that:
- practitioners are predominantly female (71%) and mature-aged (81% over 40 years of age and 0% under 30 years of age)
- practitioners have two or more qualifications; most of them (79%) had an undergraduate teaching qualification
- 48% of respondents came to the WELL programme after some other form of primary or secondary school teaching.
The apparently low number of young new practitioners was evidenced by the age range of current practitioners. In the absence of a recognised qualifications pathway, new entrants are being severely limited by an entry pathway based on experience.
Practitioners and managers identified a number of key skills and attributes required by a WELL practitioner over and above language, literacy and numeracy qualifications.
- experience working with adults
- understanding of workplace culture
- ability to work independently
- ability to deal with a range of stakeholder needs
- good communication skills.
The research found that WELL practitioners are required to use these skills and attributes in a number of roles in:
- face-to-face delivery
- the provision of advice to non-WELL practitioners and industry personnel
- the development of learning and assessment resources
- writing WELL Programme reports and submissions
- the capacity of a representative of the registered training organisation.
Tutor professional development
The WELL PD research noted that practitioners thought that there were few professional development opportunities available to them, either as entry-level practitioners or accessible on an ongoing basis. They noted that they were largely responsible for their own learning and development.
Key issues relating to the provision of current professional development activities included:
- decreasing opportunities to achieve adult literacy qualifications through the higher education sector
- lack of consistent induction training for entry-level WELL practitioners
- lack of opportunities for collegiate networking
- lack of opportunities to share experiences and resources
- inconsistent nature of current professional development for WELL practitioners
- lack of professional development specific to language literacy and numeracy. The most common forms of professional development were VET-related workshops, such as occupational health and safety (38%)
- lack of ongoing professional development; 36% had undertaken no professional development over the past two years.
When questioned about the possible changes to roles of WELL practitioners in the next five years and the professional development implications, respondents noted the following issues:
- It is likely that there will be a continuation of the multiplicity of changes that have occurred over the past five years, such as integration of language, literacy and numeracy and vocational training, and the broadening of the language, literacy and numeracy skills covered by the WELL Programme.
- There is growing emphasis on the need for flexible delivery.
The WELL funding guidelines state that:
The language, literacy and numeracy proficiency and training needs of workers must be assessed. The assessment should only address training issues and should only be used to meet training and employment requirements.
The National Reporting System (NRS) must be used to report the final language, literacy and numeracy outcomes of WELL participants (refer Section 3.7 of guidelines).
The National Reporting System was developed in 1996 as a tool for measurement of LLN competence in adults. It is currently under review, and a draft copy of the revised document is available for download at www.lwa.au.com
The revised NRS was trialled under the title Essential Skills Framework (ESF) but this was considered too much like the Employability Skills Framework. The current working title is the Australian Literacy and Language Framework (ALLF). A final draft will be released in September 2007 and implemented in 2008.
Reporting using the NRS has been a somewhat controversial issue for WELL as the contract calls for NRS assessments of individuals at pre assessment, but reports of group outcomes for post assessments. This is completely unlike the reporting for the LLNP that requires individual reporting of progress against NRS macro-skill indicators on each student per 160 hours.
Given the industry resistance to the use of the Pearson Impact evaluation instruments in 1996, and the recent feedback from an industry participant at one of the ISC WELL information breakfasts—‘(I am) concerned about the amount of reporting involved’—it remains to be seen if DEST will decide to tighten the reporting requirements on individual LLN skill gain or maintain their allowance of a degree of ‘broad analysis’ of LLN gain against the Training Package competencies.
Each year a percentage of WELL funding (approx 10–15%) is assigned to resource and strategic project development. These projects can be for the development of:
- whole industry strategies such as WELL Communicated: A National Strategy for the Transport and Distribution Industry (2000)
- a specific literacy information and PD resource such as the Services Industry Taking the Lead website (www.takingthelead.com.au)
- a practical learning resource that embeds literacy learning into a vocational course (such as the Certificate II in Racing, for jockeys and stablehands, www.staff.vu.edu.au/racing/index.html).
All WELL resources are listed on the DEST Literacynet site, (http://literacynet.dest.gov.au/), and on the ‘WELL database’ search option on the VocEd database (www.voced.edu.au/search/index.php?well=1).
At present there are 485 items available on the database representing WELL resource development activity since 1998. (Pre-998 resources are now considered out of date, as they predate training packages and will not have undergone any formal quality assurance). An ongoing issue has been the availability of the resources once they are produced, and related distribution and marketing. DEST, NCVER and the national ISC WELL network are collaborating on a solution to this. The topic of WELL resources (both their quality and uptake) is the focus of an evaluation project currently underway by DEST and part of the ISC WELL network 2007/8-work plan.
Current issues and planned development
The key issues that require a watching brief in coming months are the outcomes of:
- Australia’s general election and possible changes to public service departments
- Australia’s ALLS data and subsequent media attention
- implementation of new WELL KPIs
- WELL resources evaluation strategy
- Skills Vouchers uptake
- IDC recommendations on AMEP review
- review of NRS (new Australian Literacy and Language Framework (ALLF)).