Author(s):Lewis Hughes (presenting)

Conference:ECER 2017

Network:02. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)


Session Information

02 SES 07 B, Challenges of Workplace Learning

Paper Session



Chair:Fernando Marhuenda


What’s In A Name – VET Teachers Acting Upon The Meaning Of The ‘E’ In VET

Arising from Australian research, an approach is outligned to bringing vocational education and training (VET) teacher ‘educationalist’ practice into the active explicit realm – more so than being a casual, unconscious, occurrence. Thus, coupled with enrichment of VET outcomes, the status for VET will be enhahnced in the minds of ‘the-many' and an adding to the motivation and empowerment of VET teachers to influence the evolution of VET in changing times.

In taking a position that vocational education and vocational training are different but entwined, with a sense of urgency in the Australian VET context, and cautionary with respect to other country environments, this paper addresses recovering from evaporation of valuing the ‘E’ in VET as reform agendas have over- privileged the ‘T’. In essence, the offered approach is to activate VET teacher latent inclination toward being ‘educationalist’ as a step beyond just addressing knowledge and skill – such opportunity being revealed in much of the VET orientated research of the author and, in the instances of VET and Social Capital exploration, joint research by Libby and Lewis Hughes.

Cognisant that the world of learning and work is an evolving, entwined, arena and that governing agendas and educational research (seeking new knowledge) are susceptible to ambivalent relationship, this paper offers a researching, conversation-based, approach to the diverse stakeholders in VET being awakened to what they, respectively, potentially gain and/or stand to lose according to the attention given to the 'E". In turn, leading to partnering (teachers being at the core) in enriching VET delivery across the education and training dimension. In this way, coupling the valuing of research with the act of researching is, in itself, an initiator of change – hence the research  ‘What motivates, aids and/or inhibits VET teachers in drawing upon research and, themselves, engaging in research - i.e. being reflective practitioners?’ (Hughes 2016) contributing to insights informing the establishment of the VET Practitioners Research Network (an Australian initiative – )

With recovery in mind, in Australia, the turning away from the ‘E’ commenced with deliberate exclusion of ‘educationalist’ input in the late 80s early 90s Training Reform (Pusey 1991). And, more recently, the "E' has been vulnerable in circumstances of quality risk management with reliance upon  employer and student feedback. where short term ‘wants’ rather than abiding ‘needs have been the governing factor. Accordingly, this paper is an expansion upon ‘The VET status imperative of meeting client ‘needs’ more so than ‘wants’ (Hughes 2010) – chosen as the March 2013 Canadian Vocational Association  ‘Pick of the Month’ and, thus, has added incentive to the author’s sharing of outcomes from researching and supporting VET teachers in, themselves, researching and drawing upon research of others as part of their profesional pratice..

With due attention to VET teacher adverson to the term 'scholarly', this paper posits that an educationalist/ scholarly inclined VET teacher has much value as a bulwark against forces acting to reduce VET to a training for immediate ‘wants’ of the employer and/or student rather than bridging the ‘now’ and the ‘future’ vocational aligned ‘needs’ of the student, employer and community. In taking this position, the author is alert to the counter argument that VET is about industrial skilling in the present time without regard to nurturing vocational resilience as an individual attribute and a global community sustainig imperative. Accordingly, this paper is a Due Attention to the 'E' research activated VET enriching sharing with potential extrapolation to other VET environments.  


It should be noted that this paper isn’t a reporting upon a single dedicated piece of research. Rather it is an account of common ‘educationalists’ theme embedded within a number of ethnographic explorations by the author and, in some instances, joint ethnographic research by the author and his wife Libby Hughes (now deceased). Accordingly, the mining of ethnographically derived data, viewed through the prism of Cultural Historical Activity Theory, has been from research pursuing the following questions.
• What are the conditions under which Victorian TAFE Institute VET teaching staff may draw upon VET research and contribute to the body of researched knowledge? ‘(Hughes 2000) ‘
• What aids and what inhibits the outcomes from lifelong learning being applied to organisational achievement? ‘(Hughes 2007)
• What will influence men of forty five years and over to train for a new career in the community services and health industry? ’ (Hughes 2008)
• How might the occurrence of VET learning partnerships be increased and the partnerships strengthened? (Hughes 2010)
• What is the human/social capital boundary crossing tool which has acted to bring about partnership between the Australian VET system and the deaf community?’ (Hughes & Hughes 2011)
• Is there ‘want’ for VET graduates to possess more than just knowledge and skill?’ (Hughes & Hughes 2012)
• What are the motivations and means by which a VET teacher, so predisposed, contributes to a learner’s acquisition of attributes beyond technical knowledge and skills?’ (Hughes & Hughes 2013)
• What motivates, aids, and/or inhibits VET teachers in drawing upon research and, themselves, engaging in research - i.e. being reflective practitioners? (Hughes 2016)

In the above, the last listed research question is connected to the author’s involvement in the establishment of the VET Practitioners Research Network (VPRN) and is on-going. As ‘snapshot’ presented in Hughes (2016), exploration of aids and inhibitors to VET teachers engaging ‘in’ and ‘with’ research is coupled with exploration of a ‘strengthening of the utility of activity theory’ approach to initiating conversation, empathy, and co-operative action between stakeholders with disparate (and, possibly, otherwise conflicting) objectives. This is done with due account to the multi-facets of relevant community who’s interests are being served.

Also, institutional ethnography has been applied in making the Australian case that the ‘T’ in VET has been privileged, beyond the ‘E’, to the point where the ‘E’ has all but evaporated to the point of total exclusion.

Expected Outcomes

With extrapolation to other geographies in mind, the exploration of aids and inhibitors with respect to Australian VET teachers researching and drawing upon research is confirming of earlier views that there is a latent potential for VET teachers to so engage. And, such engagement leading to increased attention to the ‘E’ in VET in a manner which enriches the delivery of VET.

The act of engaging stakeholders – including VET teachers – in ‘hinged’ activity system shaped conversation does provide opportunity for empathy in respect of respective motivations and establishes a foundation for co-operative action. Such actions leading to reducing contradictions and tensions within the VET system which is coupled with nurturing circumstances where Australian VET teachers consciously engage ‘in’ and ‘with’ research as part of their teaching practice; and do so in a manner strengthening attention to the ‘E’ in VET. Noting that ‘consciously’ is deliberately emphasised as there is suggestion that many VET teachers – whilst reacting negatively to the notion of being ‘scholarly’ – are routinely researching and drawing upon research, but don’t recognise this; and giving rise to the question - What will be the effect of shifting research activity from the ‘tacit’ to the ‘explicit’ realm?

Importantly, the joint commitment by founding partners of the VET Practitioner Research Network (VPRN) – as is evident by reference to – is justification of much hope. This hope is grounded by a sense that approaches to Australian VET reform, whilst having eroded overt valuing of the ‘E’ in VET, have not driven out the latent valuing by many VET teachers who, when ‘awakened’, will serve as exemplars worthy of emulation. And, further, by preserving what the author styles as VETness the clients of VET (as variously thought of) will welcome the enriched delivery of VET – they too will have an awakening.


Angwin, J. (ed) (1998), The Essence of Action Research, Deakin Centre for Education and Change, Deakin University, Geelong
Campbell, M. & Manicom, A. (eds.) (1995), Knowledge, Experience, and Ruling Relations, University of Toronto Press, Toronto
Engestrom, Y. (2007), ‘Putting Vygotsky to Work: The Change Laboratory as an Application of Double Stimulation’, in H. Daniels, M. Cole & J.Wertsch, (eds.) The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Hughes, L. (2000), ‘To Live, Inquire and Grow in Interesting Times’ in P. Smith (ed,) Changing Education, Vo. 6, Nos 1 & 2, Deakin University, Geelong

Hughes, L. (2007), Applying outcomes of lifelong learning to organisational achievement; PhD thesis, Deakin University, Waurn Ponds, Australia.
Hughes, L. (2010), The VET status imperative of meeting client “needs” more so than “wants” – 2010 VISTA Association of VET Professionals conference, San Remo, Australia.
Hughes, L. (2016), Expanding the utility of Activity Theory – The ‘HINGE, ECER 2016, Dublin
Hughes, L.B. & Hughes, L.C. (2011), Social capital building within a human capital focused VET system: An Australian case study strengthening the deaf community – ECER 2011, Berlin, Germany.
Hughes, L.B. & Hughes, L.C. (2012), Social Capital and VET – Researching Coupling of ‘Want’ to ‘Need’: An Australian comparison with Europe – ECER 2012, Cadiz, Spain.
Hughes, L.B. & Hughes, L.C. (2013), VET Learner Acquired Social Capital: resonance with the Australian notion of Core Skills for Work, and much more arising from ‘educationalist, teacher motivations and practices – ECER 2013, Istanbul, Turkey.
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Pusey, M. (1991), Economic Rationalism in Canberra: A Nation Building state Changes Its Mind, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Stephenson, J.(1998), ‘The Concept of Capability and its Importance in Higher Education’, in J. Stephenson & M. Yorke (eds.), Capability & Quality in Higher Education, Kogan Page, London.

Svendsen, G.L.H. & Svendsen, G.T. (2004), The Creation and Destruction of Social Capital: Entrepreneurship, Co-operative Movements and Institutions, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham

Van Der Veer, R. (2007), ‘Vygotsky in Context’, in H. Daniels, M. Cole & J. Wertsch, (eds.) The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Virkkunen, J, & Newham, D.S. (2013), The Change Laboratory: A Tool for Collaborative Development of Work and Education, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1987), Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

[Various Government, VET system, and the like documents relating to VET reform in Australia – drawn upon for institutional ethnography purposes]

Author Information

Lewis Hughes (presenting)
Mount Dandenong