The Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV) claimed in a media release that Victorian State Government cuts to the Victorian Certification of Applied Learning (VCAL) program funding will hit refugee and migrant background students hardest.
VCAL is a hands-on option for students in Years 11 and 12. It provides students with practical work-related experience, as well as literacy and numeracy skills and the opportunity to build personal skills that are important for life and work. Like the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), VCAL is an accredited secondary education certificate.
ECCV Deputy Chairperson Mr Eddie Micallef said that many students from refugee and migrant backgrounds took VCAL education because it gave them additional language and workplace support.
“These students face additional challenges such as English language barriers, disrupted formal education and cultural barriers entering the workplace,” Mr Micallef said. “They rely on a personal relationship with their VCAL teachers for the extra assistance they need to complete their formal studies.”
Many migrant and refugee background students were concentrated in lower socio-economic areas where schools could least afford to lose vital education funding.
“Schools with high numbers of these vulnerable students will have to reduce their VCAL programs as a result of these cutbacks,” Mr Micallef said. He added he was surprised the government has taken such a short-sighted approach to education funding.
“We already face dire shortages of skilled labour so we must keep on providing students with as many workforce pathways as possible,” Mr Micallef said. “Over 40 per cent of Victoria’s population come from migrant backgrounds and they need to be supported as much as possible to continue their studies.”
The Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria represents over 100,000 ethnic community members from sixty different ethnicities across Victoria.
According to the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS), VCAL has proven highly effective in engaging young people, with enrolments increasing, on average, by 11 per cent a year in the past four years. Importantly, these enrolments translate into learning and employment pathways. According to On Track data, 85 per cent of students who completed a VCAL only qualification and 87 per cent of students who completed a VCAL/VCE qualification have followed a pathway to education, training or work after their VCAL studies.
VCOSS claims that the $12 million funding at stake enables schools and community service providers to coordinate the program to ensure the education and social needs of young people are effectively met. VCAL coordinators develop links between young people and employers and other education institutions, and tailor VCAL programs to individual needs.
The Government’s argument is that specific co-ordination money is no longer required as the program is well established.
VCOSS believes that this argument fails to appreciate the time and resources it takes to provide support to young people, particularly vulnerable and marginalised young people who may be experiencing learning difficulties, homelessness, family, mental health or drug and alcohol issues. Supporting them as well as developing relationships with employers and community services providers is resource intensive and must be appropriately funded. This is not establishment funding but rather used to resource ongoing administrative and coordination work. This work cannot simply be handballed to another teacher in the school or to another agency. The Government’s decision leaves many schools facing a budget black hole and the reality of having to reduce or cut VCAL or VCE programs to balance their budget. Such changes would particularly impact on students in rural and regional Victoria where subject choices are already often more limited.
There has been significant opposition to the Baillieu government decision from schools and community organisations. An Open Letter to the Premier was published in The Age signed by 132 School Principals and community organisations, including VCOSS and several VCOSS members. VCOSS intends to continue to raise concerns about this issue, and will urge re-funding in its 2012-13 State Budget Submission.
VCAL funding crucial
On 4 November 2011 the Australian Education Union reported that the Baillieu government has been forced to provide a one-off payment of $500,000 to cushion the blow of funding cuts to VCAL — evidence that its $48 million cut will force schools to cut VCAL programs.
AEU branch president Ms Mary Bluett said the axed coordination funding was crucial to the VCAL program and called on the Baillieu Government to reinstate the $48m in full.
“The Baillieu Government’s commitment to provide a one-off payment of $500,000 for ‘structural adjustments’ is an absolute cop out which will do very little to relieve pressure on schools who have lost up to $126,000 as a result of these cuts. We ask the State Government to explain to the community how this one-off payment will relieve over 70% of public secondary schools, special schools, TAFEs and community programs that have been affected by these cuts,” said Ms Bluett.
The AEU branch president highlighted the fact that VCAL is crucial in providing over 20,000 students every year with the hands-on-learning they need to gain practical work-related experience, literacy and numeracy skills development and a pathway into employment or further education and training. She urged the Government to listen to the concerns of hundreds of education providers who have been hit hard by these cuts and are struggling to find ways to keep the program afloat.
The AEU urged students, teachers and other community members concerned about the funding cuts to VCAL to visit www.myschoolneeds.com.au and email the Premier, Education Minister Martin Dixon and their local Member of Parliament.