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In the midst of all of the news of reform

In the midst of all of the news of reform

Written by Sally Tansley

(https://www.miragenews.com/national-vocational-education-regulator-to-focus-on-training-excellence), I find myself reflecting on the fundamental reform that I believe is needed within Training Packages and would also address auditor inconsistency in relation to assessment, a topic very close to my heart.

This week I have reviewed in detail the qualification framework offered by ATHE, a global awarding organisation regulated by Ofqual and other UK and international regulators. ATHE offers a range of vocationally orientated and internationally recognised qualifications – such as business and management, law, computing and healthcare (https://athe.co.uk/)

In particular I have reviewed the Level 4 Extended Diploma of Management and the Level 5 Extended Diploma of Management, which broadly align with AQF Level 5/6 qualifications in business and leadership and management.

I was struck by the contrast in the approach. For example, looking at the unit Marketing Principles and Practices included in the ATHE Level 5 Extended Diploma of Management Level, the unit aims are To develop an understanding of general marketing principles and their application to business. Note the words “develop an understanding”. Further detail then found in the assessment criteria of this particular unit require learners to be able to, for example, explain how marketing can be defined or explain the different elements of the marketing mix. The most difficult part of this particular unit is being able to develop a marketing plan for a specific product or service. Yet this is still achievable as the focus is on development and could be done for a case study organisation.

However, contrast this with the unit BSBMKG609 Develop a marketing plan (found in a range of Advanced Diploma qualifications) where learners must develop skills and demonstrate their ability to undertake complex work functions such as “Evaluate marketing opportunity options that address organisational objectives and evaluate their risks and returns in the selection process” or “Ensure tactics provide for ongoing review of performance against objectives and budgets and allow marketing targets to be adjusted if necessary”.

The difference in the approaches is starkly apparent. With the ATHE qualifications, all learners need to be able to do is to develop their understandings and complete tasks that are achievable such as assignments to show their knowledge or a reasonably straight forward task of developing a marketing plan for a specific product or service (but not implementing it or monitoring it – difficult to achieve realistically in any type of training/assessment circumstance) and then be assessed on such. These lucky UK (and other international) learners will then be ready to apply their understandings when they finally reach the workplace.

In contrast, our Australian Training Package system requires learners to develop skills and be assessed on such so that they are completely work ready before they have entered the system. This is unrealistic and creates many of the problems that we see regarding assessment and auditor decision-making. It really is very hard, for example, to develop an assessment that will truly assess a learner’s ability to undertake such complex functions as above for the unit of competency referred to. Training Package units of competency are outcomes of being in the workplace for a period of time, not an expression of skills you would have on entering the workforce. Auditors therefore pick up on such issues.

I think if we could fundamentally reform qualifications and units within them along the same lines as the ATHE approach, it would make a massive difference to expectations about assessment. Suddenly it would be okay to have just written on an assignment on marketing principles rather than have to participate in a manufactured role-play around identifying marketing targets with stakeholders and adjusting based on feedback. It is these complex assessment approaches that often cause inconsistency in decision-making.

Furthermore, a final word of praise on the ATHE approach is that they provide assessment tools to all of those delivering their qualifications and so again we will not have auditors picking fault with assessment tools that do really try to address unit requirements (despite the difficulties mentioned above) and not focusing on whether this tiny knowledge evidence was met or not and so on and then deeming the the tool non-compliant on this basis. Rather, we will be focusing on delivering engaging, meaningful training and really just checking that the assessment system is being carried out correctly.

I strongly urge decision makers to seriously look at fundamental training package reform, considering the ATHE approach or many other similar international approaches.

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