Developing more flexible VET qualifications to respond to students’ needs

A 2012 amendment to the legislation has enabled students who select some four year VET programmes to complete the usual maturita school-leaving certificate awarded after four years alongside a vocational certificate (typically EQF Level 3) which is achieved after three years of study. The main aim and purpose of this pilot programme is to enable students to gain a formal qualification which is important in the education sector alongside a vocational certificate which is fully accepted by the labour market. The certificate enables learners to enter the labour market directly and perform manual occupations. This is seen as a good alternative for those students who are unlikely to pass the maturita exam. Normally these students leave school without a qualification. In the 2015/2016 school year 50 secondary schools were involved in this pilot programme – this compares with 15 schools who participated in 2012/2013.

To incorporate the educational and vocational courses into one programme, the schools have reviewed all their educational processes including the school curricula. This has led to modifications in the study programmes in order to respond to the ability and performance of all students. Schools have not just added a final examination which leads to the vocational certificate at the end of year three. They have adapted the content and educational arrangements for the whole four years so the requirements of the examination at the end of the third and fourth year are fully met.

How is this practice linked to the EQAVET indicators?

  • Indicator 3 – These pilot programmes help to make VET more attractive and reduce young peoples’ possible fears of failing the maturita examination. Employers’ representatives see this pilot programme as a positive step as the school system is responding to the demands of the labour market and equipping graduates for future employment.
  • Indicator 4 – The Czech Republic has a low rate of early school leaving (around 5%). Changes to the maturita (the maturita comprises two sections: the state part of the exam which as the same  for all types of secondary schools; and the profile part which is determined by each school) have led to slightly higher completion rates but this has been accompanied by more students failing the maturita. This pilot programmes provides a “dual qualification” solution for students who fail the maturita and leave the school after four years without a qualification. Obtaining a vocational certificate does not prevent students from continuing their education as there are follow-up programmes leading to the maturita. The maturita is a condition for entering tertiary education.

What problems were encountered and overcome in using the EQAVET+ indicative descriptors?

Some schools found it difficult to incorporate the hours of practical training required by the vocational certificate into the piloted four year study programme. Some schools have tackled this problem by adding four hours of practical activities very week during the first three years.

As part of the process of evaluating and monitoring the pilot programme, the views of the teaching staff, students or their legal representatives and social partners were collected. In addition a statistical analysis looked at the students’ results in their examinations after the third year of the programme. This analysis was complicated because the involvement of schools changed and some schools did not closely follow the instructions and national guidelines.

What lessons have been learnt by using the EQAVET+ indicative descriptors?

Parents and students are very positive about the opportunity to obtain a ’double’ qualification. Exceptionally there were some fears that after obtaining their vocational certificate students might lose interest in completing their fourth year of study and leave the school. However this concern was mainly expressed about students who achieved lower grades – many of these did not enter their fourth year of study.

The social partners, especially the employers, see this model as a positive step by the school system as it responds to the demands of the labour market and prepares graduates for future employment. Employers actively search for students who are taking this type of programme in order to offer them a scholarship and other benefits during their studies. More work is needed in relation to monitoring and evaluation as currently there are no views on whether the employers have found these learners particularly useful or productive in the workplace.

Combining the maturita and a vocational certificate is only possible in study programmes which are related to each other e.g. gastronomy (four year programme) and cook/waiter (three year programme) or trader (four year programme) and salesperson (three year programme). Schools which are involved in the pilot programme agreed on whether the two programmes are complementary or the closeness of the curriculum content in order that the schools are able to harmonise the curricula.

In the four year pilot programmes less time is allocated to practical training in comparison to the three year vocational certificate courses. This has meant that schools have had to find new ways to ensure that students have the practical competences – one approach has been to focus more on interdisciplinary studies which bring together vocational subject knowledge and vocational training. In addition schools are using continuous assessment processes to ensure that the learners are gradually acquiring the required skills – this takes the form of a comprehensive annual examination. School representatives comment that the students’ results in the final examinations (the section covering the practical skills) have been comparable or better in the four year pilot programme than the three year vocational certificate programme.

The percentage of students failing the final school-leaving examination (maturita) in the pilot programme has been comparable to the national average for all four year programmes.

Schools continue to worry about the students’ level of knowledge and whether they are well enough prepared for the state controlled part of the school leaving examination. Based on past experience, and research conducted among students’ parents, schools are not worried about large numbers of students leaving the programme after the examination at the end of the year three - the primary objective of students is to pass the final examination at the end of year four.

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