The vocational fate of government secondary schools

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Author: Daniel Edwards
Date: June 2007
From: People and Place(Vol. 15, Issue 2)
Publisher: Monash University, Centre for Population and Urban Research
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,618 words
Lexile Measure: 1560L

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In the mid-1980s the Victorian Government abolished the technical school system in order to erase class divisions between government high schools and techs. High schools then became de facto comprehensives, in principle dedicated to equality of opportunity for all. In fact subsequent policies and growing competition from independent schools have forced government secondary schools to specialise. For most, the only feasible path has been to offer more technical and vocational subjects, for example the new Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL). Consequently, academically-inclined students at many government schools are now less favourably placed to compete for declining numbers of university places than before. A two-tier secondary school system has evolved in Victoria, though this time with less student choice than in the one that it replaced.


This article traces recent changes in the provision of secondary school education in the state of Victoria with particular emphasis on its capital city, Melbourne. It examines the decline of the government comprehensive secondary school and the consequences of the system that has replaced it. The comprehensive school ideal was conceived as providing equality of opportunity for all students and the eradication of social divisions that existed between schools. However, the worthy aims of the comprehensive ideal were not achieved. It was fully implemented in Victoria in the late 1980s with the closure of technical schools. Since then disadvantage related to equity of access to academic post-school pathways has increased, primarily as a consequence of strong competition from the independent (private, fee-paying) school sector and the declining provision of university places in Victoria.

Since the mid-1990s, subsequent Victorian governments have devolved responsibility for competing for student enrolments and for post-school outcomes to individual government schools, thus shifting accountability from the state education department. Those schools which are unable to compete for enrolments are ultimately closed or merged. This pressure on schools has forced the demise of the comprehensive school system, because schools have begun to specialise in order to appear distinctive, attract as much government funding as possible, and survive in an increasingly competitive education market.

The research reported in this paper shows that, in their efforts to specialise, government schools have tended to turn to vocational pathways in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the independent sector. This is in preference to developing academic specialisations which would entail directly competing with the robustly resourced independent schools for a diminishing number of university places.


Comprehensive government schools began to emerge in Victoria and across much of the developed world in the 1960s and 1970s in order to facilitate growing enrolments in the secondary school years. This growth was a result of the population boom that followed World War II and of an increase in participation in education in the secondary school years. The charter of the comprehensive school in Victoria, as elsewhere, was to offer a broad curriculum to students from a wide range of social backgrounds within neighbourhood schools. These schools were established to provide all things to all...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A167152026