|dc.description.abstract||This thesis reports on an interpretive inquiry undertaken to understand the way that advanced skills for Australian VET teachers are conceptualised and how they are developed. This is an important topic which may help to inform contemporary discourse in the sector, and which examines the quality of Australian VET provision, particularly the quality VET teaching (see for example, Griffin, 2017; Harris, 2015; Smith & Yasukawa, 2017). There is a large body of work which focuses on quality teaching, however it is difficult to find agreement on the skills, knowledge, behaviours and characteristics of expert VET teachers. Considerably diverse and often conflicting conceptualisations of teaching and teachers’ work are represented in the literature on teaching in general, and while the volume is so large that it is almost overwhelming, two basic approaches have been discerned and discussed in the thesis. On the one hand, there are the conceptualisations arrived at through a ‘reductionist’ approach, which seek to reduce or atomise teaching into its various parts to arrive at a requisite list of skills, knowledge and attributes, and particular behaviours, methods or practices teachers must implement to teach well. On the other hand, there exists a more ‘holistic’ approach which seeks to understand teaching by focussing on the personal - an essential, yet somewhat intangible and often individualist quality that a teacher may bring to his/her work. It recognises the importance of the teacher as central to teaching, ‘the distinctive, irreproducible human being who inhabits the role of the teacher’ (Hansen, 2001, p. 1).In the Australian VET sector, the discourse on quality teaching has been dominated by a reductionist approach, resulting in what Mulcahy (2011) may describe as a ‘standards movement’, and which is characterised by multiple attempts to atomise VET teachers’ work into a comprehensive framework of essential, reproducible capabilities and behaviours (see for example, Innovation and Business Skills Australia, 2013; LH Martin Institute, 2016; Mitchell & Ward, 2010). This work reflects similar activity internationally and across education sectors which has resulted in the development of professional standards proceeding at ‘remarkable speed’ (Mulcahy, 2003, p. 3), triggered by neo-liberal education policy reform. The standards movement in VET is closely aligned to a debate about professionalism and the VET workforce (Atkins & Tummons, 2017; Guthrie & Clayton, 2012). It is also representative of the contemporary turn in the sector which attempts to conceptualise teaching as a competency, in which the elements of teaching practice are atomised into lists of reproducible and measurable skills and knowledge.
The research project employed a multiple case study methodology involving three case studies, each a large public VET provider in Queensland, Australia. Data to develop each case was collected through individual, semi-structured interviews with managers and teachers from each organisation. Key findings suggest divergent views between VET managers and VET teachers about the nature of advanced skills. While VET teachers with advanced skills are likely to conceptualise these holistically, their managers are more likely to express an atomised view which is highly influenced by context. It is suggested that VET teachers develop advanced skills by accessing a wide range of activities, and take personal responsibility for their own continuing professional development needs. Their development may be negatively impacted by insufficient access to necessary resources and by unbalanced organisational approaches to professional development which emphasise the capabilities needed to comply with regulatory requirements and overlook other aspects of the VET teacher’s personal and professional learning needs.
Despite the small scale and situated nature of the project, it presents implications likely to be relevant sector-wide. The research suggests that, while the reductionist approaches which dominate contemporary discussions may help to identify some of the relevant capabilities of VET teachers, they largely overlook the importance of the teacher’s personal, ethical and moral character and the features that stem from this. The thesis calls on the sector to interrogate assumptions that generate ever more lists and frameworks, and to explore alternative ‘holistic’ conceptualisations which place the being of the teacher at its core and which recognise the moral, ethical and relational aspects of teaching. Further, it proposes that developing the language to conceptualise and describe a more ‘holistic’ view of VET teaching may complement existing frameworks, to provide an even more insightful and comprehensive understanding of ‘good’ VET teaching, which may in turn help to inform strategies for the education and development of VET teachers to ensure quality teaching into the future.||en_US