Beyond the contextual: the importance of theoretical knowledge in vocational qualifications & the implications for work’

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Wheelahan, Leesa
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Professor Mike Osborne, Professor Jim Gallacher


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University of Stirling, Scotland


This paper uses a Bernsteinian analysis to argue that vocational education and training (VET) qualifications in Australia deny students access to theoretical knowledge that underpins vocational practice. Australian VET qualifications are based on training packages, which are the equivalent of English National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). Training packages are developed for broad industry areas (such as community services) and consist of qualifications at different levels that comprise 'industry'-specified units of competency. In 2005, 69% of all publicly funded VET provision was based on training packages (NCVER 2006: Table 4). The introduction of training packages caused fierce debate within Australia, particularly around the extent to which they provide students with access to 'underpinning knowledge'. Supporters of training packages argue that they merely specify the outcomes of training and the criteria that are used to assess whether those outcomes have been achieved. In contrast, I argue that training packages do shape curriculum and have consequences for teaching and learning, and consequently for the extent to which students are able to navigate the transition between formal and informal knowledge and formal and informal contexts. This argument is illustrated through comparing the current Diploma of Community Services (Community Development) with the Associate Diploma of Social Sciences (Community Development), which was the qualification that existed prior to the introduction of the Community Services training package. The first section of this paper outlines a Bernsteinian analysis of the nature of disciplinary knowledge and its relationship to workplace knowledge and practice. The second section considers the extent to which training packages constitute curriculum, while the third compares and contrasts the two qualifications.

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4th International Conference, Centre for Research in Lifelong Learning, ‘The Times they are a-changin – researching transitions in lifelong learning’

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© The Author(s) 2007. The attached file is posted here with permission of the copyright owner for your personal use only. No further distribution permitted. For information about this conference please refer to the publisher's website or contact the author.

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