THE recent article by John Ross on the viability of many TAFE/ RTO colleges is a warning to politicians about previous decisions that were always destined to fail.

In 1973, one of the most important institutional systems were state technical schools. They provided an alternative for a significant percentage of our young people who had lost their way in schooling as they had experienced and understood it. Their interest was in rebuilding their educational foundation with work-related skills, many through training oriented to apprenticeships. These schools provided a respected path to fill in gaps in essential competencies that had passed them by in the culture of schooling.

From 1973, the education market failed to offer these opportunities as the technical schools became TAFE/ RTO colleges operating as post-Year 12 providers. A significant section of each cohort was trapped without choice in the last two years of schooling in institutions ill-equipped in both equipment and teachers trained for the purpose.

Forty years later we see the emergence of vocational programs in schools where the teaching staff are without the skills and interests that existed in the old technical schools. More critically those trained for employment in schools sit by preference in pre-university education.

The critical decision is simple and relatively cheap. TAFE/RTO colleges are a wasted asset. They must again become significant suppliers of training, competing with traditional schools in Years 11 and 12 and providing opportunities for those who by instinct are not university bound. For these young people the greatest need is to consolidate in areas of learning where relative failure is obvious. This new culture would be an opportunity for a renewal of interest in education and training in institutions already designed for the task.

The monopoly of schools as providers of education in Years 11 and 12 has failed. A natural competitor exists and there is a significant number of young people ready for high quality training.”
Don Watts

*reference to RTO’s has been added as the term TAFE has come to be a generic reference to registered training organisations that can be government or privately owned.