We are approaching that time of year again when ASQA invite training providers along to information sessions to tell them whether they have been good or bad over the last 12 months. We do hope that the topic of discussion this year will be on quality and not just compliance. Why? Because the long-term focus on compliance and risk and wielding the stick may help close down the problematic operators but it does not necessarily help providers achieve quality outputs. There are many RTOs out there who are well intentioned, but don’t know what they don’t know, particularly when it comes to assessment.

Assessment Help is Definitely Needed!  

We see lots of RTOs that are passionate about their training programs and about equipping students for the workplace but even with these positive intentions they get caught out at audit because they don’t know how to assess their students properly.  This is frustrating for all involved and we wonder what can be done by the regulator and by providers to improve this concerning situation.

Let’s take a closer look at the data.

June 2012 – June 2013 2015 2016 2017
61% of RTOs audited were compliant for SNR15 (T&A) Only 25% of RTOs audited were compliant for Standard 1 Only 25% of RTOs audited were compliant for Standard 1 Only 28.5% of RTOs compliant at audit for Clause 1.8

We know that the Standards have changed over time and that the information is presented in slightly different ways each year, but what we see is that assessment remains a huge problem and that the issue is not going away. In fact, ASQA says in its risk documents that it is likely that assessment will always remain a very high priority in terms of systemic risk across the sector.

During ASQA’s sessions in 2018, information on the problems with assessment were presented in the context of Case Studies. Here are a few of the issues of concern:


  • Did not meet TP requirements
  • Did not meet the Principles of Assessment and Rules Evidence  
  • Lacked practical application of skills and knowledge
  • Were not administered consistently for all learners
  • Lacked complete and helpful instructions
  • Did not allow adequate gathering of evidence of competency

Why is assessment such a problem?

Many RTOs take the wrong approach to training and assessment

Even though the VET sector is (or should be) all about the development of vocational skills i.e. skills for the workplace, there are many RTOs that offer training that is mainly knowledge based. From a cost and marketing perspective we can understand why. For example, large group teaching, online delivery and high demand from students for quick courses are all factors that encourage RTOs to adapt delivery and assessment models to suit the needs of their clients/students. Flexibility is great but not at the expense of the benchmark, learning principles, the need for practice, the Principles of Assessment and the Rules of Evidence! A knowledge-based model also tends to use a didactic training approach and does not include assessment of skills and knowledge. This is not appropriate for the sector. And yet, this is what we see all the time.

VET courses were never meant to be taught in the classroom without work-based assessment

We also find that RTOs assume that skills assessment can be based on case studies without any practical assessment i.e. without the requirement for an actual demonstration of skills. Why does this happen? Trainers will argue that it is often too hard to adequately assess skills in the classroom. We agree that it can be difficult but this is vocational assessment and ‘difficulty ‘or ‘inconvenience’ is not a valid reason for non-compliant assessment. We know very well that ASQA auditors will not accept written assessments for something that requires practical application and nor should they! As a trainer/assessor it is your job to prepare the student for the workplace and part of that preparation must be assessment that simulates as much as possible, the workplace situation.

RTO staff are often not equipped to assess students

If the RTO management team does not have VET experience or if they have not developed and administered assessments themselves it can be difficult to address assessment gaps because these gaps can be overlooked or deemed inconsequential. And yet, building capability in assessment is probably one of the most important aspects of an RTO. If this is not done then the RTO is vulnerable and will struggle to address issues that arise such as spot regulator audits, changes in Training Package requirements, additions to scope etc.

Another major problem across the sector is that RTOs do not provide the opportunity for their training staff to develop assessment materials. This results in trainers not being able to practice these skills. If and when they are called upon to write an assessment task they are out of practice and unable to address the complexities of assessment that are often required, particularly where assessment is to be conducted outside the workplace i.e. where detailed simulations are required. It is not uncommon to find trainers and training managers with a poor grasp of competency-based assessment.

Commercial Resources – They Can Be Both Blessing and Curse

And the final reason why assessment is such a problem relates to commercial resources. We don’t have a problem with commercial assessments and indeed we used to sell them ourselves! They are a helpful resource for many training qualifications. But the RTO must spend the money and time required to customise and contextualise commercial resources so that they are appropriate for use with all students. It is the failure to contextualise, add instructions and simulations etc that results in non-compliances.

How do we know that all these things are an issue?

We are sometimes asked to develop comprehensive assessment systems to enable RTOs to conduct compliant assessment. However, this proactive development approach is not common. More often we are called in after the regulator has visited and when RTOs are in trouble. We are then asked to write or customise sample assessments as part of the audit rectification response, advise training managers on how to establish assessment systems and teach trainers and assessors how to write assessments. But even then, we have our work cut out to convince RTO managers about what is required to develop a quality assessment system. They want the job done quickly but there is always push back about cost, whether or not they really need skills assessments, the need for simulation and the number of times assessment must be completed etc.

Overcoming the Assessment Problem

Outlined below are some simple suggestions for RTOs to overcome some of the common assessment problems.

  • Think about assessment as a system and make sure that you develop assessment policies, processes, strategies and supporting information that will enable your RTO to develop compliant assessment
  • Write assessment tasks that align to the benchmark and meet the assessment principles etc.
  • Customise and contextualise assessments (including commercially sourced assessments) for the target audience.
  • Make sure that all assessments are supported with clear instructions for student and assessor and that the mapping clearly shows how the unit is covered by the tasks.
  • Pre-validate your assessments to make sure they are functional, appropriate and compliant before asking your students to ‘test’ them out.
  • Develop capability inhouse so that your trainers and assessors know how to develop compliant assessments. This way you can redevelop your entire assessment suite if you need to without having to buy in expertise or new commercial resources.
  • Introduce a mentoring system to help build capability in assessment development.
  • Conduct 2nd party audits to check that your assessment system is compliant.
  • For those RTO managers who have no VET training experience – complete the assessment units from the TAE and have a go at writing an assessment task. Ask your assessors to critique what you write and finesse the task until it meets unit requirements. Reflect on what you learn about assessment development and apply your new perspective to the operations of the RTO!!!  

Good, Fast and Cheap Assessment: Why you can’t have it all!

Sadly, we don’t have great confidence that these suggestions will be attractive to RTOs. Why? There is reluctance to spend the money to do the sorts of things described above and there is a wide spread perception that assessment should be cheap and easy to develop. So, short cuts will likely continue.  In response to our rather negative assumptions about the future of assessment practices, we have borrowed a model from the marketing world to help RTO managers and other staff make the necessary decisions when it comes to expenditure and assessment development.

This Good, Fast, Cheap model is often used to explain possibilities and limitations to clients who want it all! In the VET context, the client wants good (compliant) assessment. In our experience the client actually wants good, compliant assessment that is also developed quickly and at low cost. But this model shows that this is typically not possible.

What are the other options?

Fast + Cheap = Low quality product

This path is certainly an option for an RTO if you can find a consultant willing to meet short deadlines for a cheap price. But unfortunately, this approach usually produces a poor quality result which will just perpetuate the poor practices that are already in place in your RTO. This is not recommended and is very risky i.e. very likely to be non-compliant and difficult to use!

Cheap+ Good = This is definitely an option but will not happen in a hurry!

This option is available if you can find a consultant who is willing to work for a low rate but the trade-off is likely to be a longer lead time and potentially a higher volume of assessment units to be developed. In other words, a consultant is likely to offer an RTO a reduced rate to develop good quality assessment materials if the volume of work is high enough and the time frames are long enough to allow a flexible approach to the timing of the deliverables.

We often see RTOs attempting this outcome by asking existing trainers to write assessments in the belief that all trainer should be able to write assessments.  If these trainers are already on staff then there should be no extra cost to write the assessments.  What often happens is that without some external intervention the trainers will write assessments similar to the existing ones. They will take a long to time to complete the task because they are juggling the writing task between their usual responsibilities and may fail to achieve the desired change to the assessment materials. Six months down the track you will have new assessments that are similar to the originals and be rethinking your strategy, all the time placing your RTO at risk. We suggest that if you wish to or need to re develop assessments then you should also develop the capability of your staff at the same time. For example, invite some consultants (like us) to help develop sample assessments and involve your staff in the process. Establish a training program that is supported with mentoring so that the consultant works alongside your staff to write the assessments you need. The cost need not be high, or it can be incurred over time as the mentoring program is rolled out. However, it may still be a risky strategy to lengthen the development time.

Fast + Good = High development costs i.e. Expensive

This approach generally involves outsourcing all the development to consultants. This is something that we don’t usually encourage because we are strong supporters of building capability internally in your RTO. However, sometimes this is needed e.g. at the time of an audit or a short timeline to launch a new course. One strategy is to purchase commercial resources and contract consultants to customise them, maybe also using in house administration staff to complete formatting and branding tasks. But remember, no commercial resources are compliant and all of them need customisation so this approach may save some time but not necessarily money.

So which approach would we recommend?

  • If you have a long lead time then go for the good and cheap option. You will achieve the quality outcomes you need and develop your internal staff capabilities along the way.
  • If you need to work within a tight time frame, then choose the fast and good option. We would never recommend that you sacrifice the good, for the cheap option.

Our Webinars may be of help to you!

Do your staff need some professional development in this area?

What about you? When was the last time you developed an assessment task and asked a colleague to critique it for you?

We are passionate about assessment and have been delivering training and webinars across the VET sector for many years on this topic. Over the next few months we will be offering webinars on assessment development, conducting assessment, making the assessment decision and assessment review and validation.

If you would like to refresh your assessment knowledge, why not register for our webinars? Go to our webinar page for details. https://thelearningcommunity.com.au/webinars/

Or if you just want to chat to someone about assessment you can call or email us and we will be happy to meet you and try to solve your problem with you.

Contact us on info@thelearningcommunity.com.au.


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