Secretary’s letter

I am pleased to present the Department of Education and Training’s Annual Report for 2021–22.

Over the past year, the department has focused on improving education outcomes for all Victorians. Amidst the uncertainty prompted by the COVID‑19 pandemic, Victoria’s education sectors have, and continue to, play a critical role in Victoria’s social and economic response.

As we entered the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, our focus shifted to ensuring face‑to‑face learning resumed uninterrupted. Every level of Victoria’s early childhood, education and training and skills systems have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the delivery of high-quality programs and services.

In January 2022, one million children safely returned to commence the new school year and our youngest learners started kindergarten on time. A full suite of COVIDSafe measures protected our community and minimised disruption to learning, including access to COVID-19 vaccinations for school communities, delivering 51,000 air purification devices to government and low-fee non-government schools, and the provision of 80 million free Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) to children, students and staff in schools and early childhood services. Additional measures were put in place to ensure adequate staffing in schools to manage short-term COVID-19 and winter illness related impacts.

Access to high-quality early childhood services is central to giving every child the best start in life. Victoria’s early childhood education and care services continue to improve with almost 92% of services meeting or exceeding the National Quality Standard for educational programs and practice. This has improved every year since 2015. In addition, 98% of early childhood education and care services met or exceeded the National Quality Standard for collaborative partnerships with families and communities. This is another measure that has steadily improved since 2017.

In 2021, funded kindergarten programs were made free or low cost for more than 100,000 families. Free Kinder formed part of the economic recovery support for Victorians during 2021, providing increased job security for around 4,700 teachers and 6,300 educators, as well as supporting workforce participation.

This year, our universal funded kindergarten program for 3-year-olds marked a major milestone, with the program available for at least 5 hours in around 2,700 providers across the state. We also enhanced engagement with vulnerable and disadvantaged children. In 2021, the Early Start Kindergarten program was accessed by about 400 refugee and asylum seeker families, and the proportion of 3-year-old Aboriginal children enrolled in the program increased to nearly 76%.

In schools, the department remained focused on building a modern education system that fosters excellence, equity and wellbeing.

In the 2021 National Assessment Program of Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests, a greater proportion of Victorian students achieved above the national minimum standards than any other Australian state or territory. This result was all the more welcomed, given the challenges students and teachers faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been significant improvements in Year 3 and 5 students’ reading since 2015, with the proportion of students in the top 2 NAPLAN bands increasing by 8.3 and 7.9 percentage points. Our Year 7 students achieved the highest scores of any jurisdiction in reading and numeracy, and our Year 9 students achieved the highest scores for spelling. We were delighted to see more Aboriginal students in Years 3 and 5 achieving in the top 3 NAPLAN bands in reading increase by 8.3 and 13.0 percentage points respectively.

We are reforming senior secondary school education to build the aspirations and skills of young people in Victoria, set them up for future careers, and meet the needs of the modern economy. From 2023, the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) Vocational Major will replace the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL). The department is working with all government secondary schools to lay the foundations and ensure the best possible start to the new certificates in 2023.

Our updated Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO 2.0) placed wellbeing alongside learning as a core outcome for every Victorian student. The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System made recommendations to mental health and wellbeing treatment, care, and support, including a focus on early intervention. In response, a School Mental Health Fund has been established, accompanied by a menu of evidence-based programs and initiatives. These have been designed to give schools confidence in identifying programs, staff and resources that improve mental health and wellbeing outcomes for their students. Mental health practitioners were placed in all government secondary schools to provide students with direct counselling and related activities, including family support and referral to specialist services.

We continue to support an inclusive and equitable schooling system through programs such as Glasses for Kids and Affordable School Uniforms. During 2021–22, the Glasses for Kids program provided vision screenings to more than 5,600 students and free glasses to more than 1,300 students. The Affordable School Uniforms program also supported students experiencing financial disadvantage. From July 2021 to June 2022, approximately 67,200 students from 1,329 government schools received more than 255,800 items through the program.

Schools play a key role in supporting students to thrive by providing positive and inclusive learning environments. During 2021–22, approximately 600 Victorian government schools transitioned to our new Disability Inclusion funding and support model. The department’s design of new schools and upgrades also ensure that facilities support a learning environment that does not disadvantage children with learning or physical disability.

The department continued to deliver its substantial school infrastructure program through investments in new schools, significant upgrades and modernisation projects. Since July 2017, the department has delivered 253 school infrastructure projects. This included opening 14 new schools in 2022 and completing a further 67 modernisation projects during 2021–22.

We continue to reshape our training and skills sector to meet Victoria’s changing and growing needs. To achieve this goal, the department is strengthening interactions with industry, students and communities through the new Victorian Skills Authority (VSA) and is establishing a more connected system that plans for and responds to skills demand effectively.

A vibrant Technical and Further Education (TAFE) network combined with programs, such as Big Build Apprenticeships and Free TAFE for priority courses, ensures we create relevant skills pathways for students, apprentices and trainees right across Victoria. In 2021, training subsidies supported 157,000 TAFE network course enrolments. Of these, 86% related to qualifications that lead to jobs and economic growth. Nearly 55,000 enrolments in the Free TAFE for priority courses were recorded, up from about 30,000 in 2020. In addition, the Big Build Apprenticeships program received over 1,800 expressions of interest.

Training activities were strong in 2021 and the availability of practical placements increased. An outstanding level of training quality has been maintained for 5 years, with the vocational education and training (VET) student satisfaction with training continuing to rise. At the same time, we are seeing increased enrolments from regional areas, with almost 85,000 government-subsidised course enrolments contributed by regional students in 2021. The Adult Community and Further Education (ACFE) Board has continued to provide an important point of access in the community for those learners seeking to engage in pre-accredited training through more than 260 Learn Locals across the state.

For universities, during 2021–22 we continued to rollout the $350 million Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund. Through the fund, Victorian universities have been supported to deliver capital works, applied research and research partnerships focused on boosting Victoria's productivity and economy.

I want to thank all administrative staff, educators, teachers, principals, support staff and specialists who deliver exceptional services every day across early childhood education and care, schools, and TAFE and training organisations. It is through their hard work, commitment, and adaptability that we have been able to achieve all this.

I look forward to continuing to work with all sectors across the early childhood, education and training portfolios to deliver the best possible outcomes for Victorians.

Jenny Atta