The development of a new set of final examinations to meet the needs of the labour market
From 2005 to 2015, the Czech Republic has been reforming the final examination system for the three-year VET programme. The main objectives of the reform were to:
- ensure that graduates in the same field of VET in different schools had similar knowledge and skills;
- improve the VET graduates preparedness for practice and employment;
- raise the status and prestige of the three- year VET programmes.
This reform is based on the development of a set of uniform assignments for each study field in the three-year VET programme. These uniform assignments cover the national curricula and align with the vocational competences defined in the qualification standard of the respective qualification in the National Register of Qualifications.
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (co-financed by the European Social Fund) has been developing and testing the new final examination system. Since August 2014, the final examinations have been prepared by the National Institute for Education (NUV) on the basis of a mandate from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. The NUV uses a database of topics as the basis for preparing the final examinations. In cooperation with VET schools the NUV updates the existing topics and creates new topics that cover innovation in each vocational area. The system is financed by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.
It is a legal requirement for all VET schools to use the new final examination system. This ensures that each VET school’s examinations include written, practical and oral tasks. The uniform assignment approach is based on topics, tasks, questions and sample solutions. It includes related documentation and guidelines for the assessment of learners (including performance indicators). The uniform assignments are made available to VET schools via the web portal for the examination system.
The new system of final examination puts a greater emphasis on practical mastery and the communication skills of students. One of the significant changes has been the close connections between the tests and the practical activities which are undertaken in the vocational area. Students are required to complete specific tasks in a real work environment or similar conditions. The practical test may take place both at school, where students are educated, or the workplace where practical training takes place in line with an agreement between the company and the VET school. The practical examination has to be connected to the work of a company – if this is not possible (because the practical examination does not match any topic in the database of uniform assignments) the VET school can be flexible. It can use an open topic called ‘the practical examination in the company’.
The reform process has led to several improvements in relation to quality e.g. there are new procedures to adapt the final examination for pupils with specific learning needs and a new information system to enable the examination to be taken online. VET schools have worked with an expert from a company for more than 90% of the final examinations and nearly 14% of the practical examinations took place in a company.
The uniform assignments are developed by a team of experienced VET teachers and representatives from the social partners (employers). The authors of each uniform assignment are VET teachers who are familiar with the educational needs of students following a three-year VET programme. The authors emphasise the professional application of theory within a set of practically focused tasks and questions. Representatives of employers examine and approve each uniform assignment and guarantee that the tasks meet the needs of employers and take account of the technology being used in industry or business. This ensures the content of the final examinations is connected to the requirements of the qualification and the current needs of industry and practice.
All the topics which are used to create the uniform assignments are continually updated as a result of changes to standards or rules, or when there are errors. Schools can make suggestions for changes at any time; usually they provide feedback by completing the questionnaire in the online information system for the new examination. This questionnaire is completed every year after the learners have taken their final examinations. The feedback from VET schools is used to prepare the uniform assignments for the following year.
The process of developing, implementation, evaluating and reviewing the final examinations is based on all four phases of the quality assurance cycle.
How is this practice linked to the EQAVET indicators?
- Number 1 - All VET schools are required by law to organise the final examination using the uniform assignments. This means that all the registered VET providers apply the EQAVET quality cycle principles within the process of creating, implementing, evaluating and reviewing the final examinations
- Number 4 - Information on students' outcomes in the final examination (based on the uniform assignments) and the percentage of learners who pass can be used by VET schools to monitor each programme’s success, and the percentage of learners who successfully complete a programme. The Czech School Inspectorate has recommended the establishment of a central record of students’ success in taking the final examination – currently this information is not available at a regional or national level
- Number 9 - The VET provision can be updated by using the results from the final examination. This helps to ensure the future labour market needs are met. Employers’ representatives are members of the teams that develop the uniform assignments – they assess and approve the topics prepared by teachers from VET schools. This ensures the topics are up-to-date; make best use of modern technologies; and respond to recent developments and labour market needs
What problems were encountered and overcome in using these EQAVET+ indicative descriptors?
Before 2014 the organisation and assessment of learning outcomes of VET students was the sole responsibility of individual schools. The previous system created different expectations of what skills, knowledge and competences were required from students. Following the change and the introduction of final examinations which use uniform assignments, there is greater confidence in the content of examinations and the students' results are comparable.
What lessons have been learnt by using these EQAVET+ indicative descriptors?
Feedback from VET schools has shown the value of being able to compare the results of education at VET schools across each region. In addition:
- the role of employers in defining the content has been widely accepted;
- thanks to a clearer definition of the content and the expected learning outcomes, VET schools have found it easier to prepare students for the final examination;
- improvements are on-going through the use of the online feedback questionnaire;
- VET schools can compare their students’ results with other VET schools in the Czech Republic;
- using uniform assignments has increased the prestige of the VET study programme and the value of the certificate that is awarded to learners;
- setting the final examination through the use of uniform assignments helps to strengthen cooperation with employers.
In December 2016 the Czech School Inspectorate issued its annual report for the school year 2015/2016. This report mentioned the successful implementation of the new final examination system and identified the use of uniform assignments as an example of good practice which has led to positive reactions from the VET schools.