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Minister letter - text only

Chris Wardlaw
Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority
Level 7, 2 Lonsdale Street

Dear Mr Wardlaw,

I write pursuant to sections 5.2.1 (2) (e) and (3) of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006.

The Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) and the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) are both strong, robust senior secondary qualifications. I note in particular the role that VCAL has played since its introduction in 2002 in enabling and encouraging many young people who might otherwise leave school to complete a senior secondary qualification.

The VCE is a certificate the quality of which is internationally recognised. I am aware that many young Victorians use the VCE to provide access not only to Victoria's outstanding universities but also the best universities across Australia and the globe.

One of the strength s of both the VCE and VCAL is that they provide access for students with differing skills and knowledge. Both the VCE and VCAL also enable every student to substantially further develop their skills and knowledge, some to levels that match the best and brightest anywhere in the world, others to a more functional level. This is a strength of both qualifications that it is important to maintain.

I also note that in 2020 it will be 30 years since the VCE was first piloted. I understand this makes it one of the most longstanding contemporary senior secondary qualifications anywhere in the world. This is a testament to the high quality design and robustness of the qualification.

Nevertheless, it is appropriate to review whether the conditions for qualification remain fit-for­ purpose more than a generation on from the genesis of these certificates.

A question of particular focus is whether there should be a more explicit requirement for students to meet minimum standards of literacy and numeracy in order to be awarded the VCE or the VCAL. At present, the VCE relies on a robust but implicit measure of literacy through a combination of the reporting of each st udent’s Grades for each Graded Assessment in their selected English study, their study score for their subject from the English group and their score achieved on the communication component of the General Achievement Test (GAT) (for those students who complete the GAT). For VCAL students, their literacy attainment levels are reported through the level of the certificate they complete - Senior, Intermediate or Foundation.

Also at present, the numeracy attainment levels for students in the VCE can be inferred from the results they achieve in their Mathematics studies, each of which is of an internationally comparable standard and often enables the attainment of a higher level of concept skills and processes than comparable studies in other Australian jurisdictions.

However, while a very high percentage (93%} of students include the study of Mathematics at least to Units 1 and 2 of their VCE, not all students include the study of Mathematics in their VCE program of study. This means that, other than the Mathematics, Science and Technology component of the GAT, for students who do not include Mathematics as part of their VCE, there is no recorded information about the numeracy level they have attained as a senior secondary student.

Numeracy is a mandatory component of the VCAL at each level and each student's level of attainment, as with literacy, can therefore be inferred from the level of the qualification that they complete. However, there is no objective standardised measure of numeracy reported as part of the VCAL.

Literacy and numeracy are widely regarded as foundational skills necessary for further employment, training and education for every senior secondary student.
Assessing and reporting the literacy and numeracy levels attained by senior secondary students may be a useful addition to the information provided by the VCE and VCAL on student attainment levels. This in turn can support student decision making about the most appropriate post-school pathways and may provide an additional level of information about student preparedness for employment and further study.

However, these benefits need to be balanced against the need to not add unnecessarily to the testing burden faced by students in their senior secondary years and to not create an unintended and unnecessary barrier to student completion of senior secondary schooling.

The evidence is very clear about the benefit to the individual and to the broader community of completing senior secondary schooling. Research shows that, on average, those who complete Year 12 tend to be more successful in making the transition from education to work than those who do not. We should therefore be very cautious about the introduction of any new barrier to the completion of senior secondary schooling.

Given the need to carefully consider these imperatives, I ask that Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) consider these matters and provide me with a report and recommendations for any changes to the qualification requirements of  both the VCE and VCAL by the end of August 2018.

I would expect that, in developing this report and recommendations, the VCAA would consult widely with experts in the field, including teachers, students, and educators, and with the broader community, including employers, industry, unions, tertiary providers and the welfare sector. I would also expect that the VCAA would examine current and emerging practice in other jurisdictions both in Australia and across the globe.

I look forward to receiving the report from the Authority in due course and thank you in anticipation for your attention to this matter.


Yours sincerely

Signed and dated 26 February 2018

The Hon James Merlino MP
Deputy Premier Minister for Education
Minister for Emergency Services