‘The VCE and Other Secondary School Certificate Options’
An overview of the current Vic education system as described by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
Senior high school students can choose from a broad range of educational options. The Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Schools programs cater for students’ individual needs and aspirations.
The VCE is an internationally recognised educational qualification implemented throughout the state, both in government and independent schools. The successful completion of the VCE sets high school students up for the next step in their educational journey, be it further study at a university or TAFE, an apprenticeship or employment. It is also possible for students to undertake a School Based Apprenticeship or Traineeship as part of their VCE.
Students embark on the VCE at a challenging time in their lives. It is important that they are focused on their goals and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Victorian government schools provide support to help students balance study with recreation, extracurricular activities and time for friends and family.
Students usually undertake the VCE over two years (Years 11 and 12) and can choose from a variety of subjects. All VCE studies include both school-based assessments and external examinations.
Students who successfully complete their VCE may apply to the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC) for calculation of their Equivalent National Tertiary Entrance Rank (ENTER). The ENTER score is one of the ways in which students are assessed for entry to tertiary institutions.
VCE studies and units
The VCE is designed to be studied in Years 11 and 12 but can be started in Year 10. About half of Victorian high school students start their VCE in Year 10.
A VCE study is made up of four units and each unit is numbered 1, 2, 3 or 4. The usual number of units studied during a VCE program is 20 to 24. The minimum required for completing the VCE is 16 units.
Units 1 and 2 can be taken as single units, but there must be at least three sequences undertaken at Units 3 and 4. Taking a sequence means that if you take Unit 3 in a subject, you will be expected to take Unit 4 of that study. Units 3 and 4 do not necessarily have to follow on from Units 1 and 2, but Units 3 and 4 are more difficult than Units 1 or 2.
Regardless of how many units you do altogether, you must satisfactorily complete at least three units from the English group with at least one unit at Unit 3 or 4. The English group includes:
o Foundation English Units 1 and 2
o English Units 1 to 4
o English as a Second Language (ESL) Units 3 and 4
o English Language Units 1 to 4
o Literature Units 1 to 4
o At least three sequences of Unit 3 and 4 studies in addition to the studies chosen from the English group, which may include any number of English sequences once the English requirement has been met. These sequences can be from VCE studies and/or VCE VET programs.
Unit learning outcomes
Learning outcomes describe the knowledge and skills a student should have by the time they have completed a unit. Each unit of each study has between two and four outcomes. For example, the learning outcomes for Unit 1 English are:
On completion of this unit the student should be able to identify and discuss key aspects of a set text and to construct a response in oral or written form.
On completion of this unit the student should be able to create and present texts taking account of audience, purpose and context.
On completion of this unit the student should be able to identify and discuss, either in writing and/or orally, how language can be used to persuade readers and/or viewers.
Choosing VCE studies
Students can choose from more than 100 studies as part of their VCE, ranging from traditional academic studies to vocational studies such as furnishing, electronics, hospitality and music industry skills.
Not all studies are available at every school, so when choosing a school for your child, you can request a list of subjects available at the time. Students can also undertake study outside their school if the school is unable to provide a particular study.
Students who are interested in a particular language, for example, can take a program with the Victorian School of Languages. There are also distance education programs and arrangements can be made with a neighbouring school.
VCE VET programs
A VCE VET program offers students a vocational certificate with VCE accreditation, just like other VCE studies. VCE VET programs will generally give credits at Units 1 to 4. These programs are excellent options for students who want to start training in a specific vocational area such as hospitality, agriculture, automotive, building and construction, furnishing or engineering while they’re at school.
As part of the VET program, students have the opportunity to put their knowledge and skills into practice in the workplace. The training contributes towards satisfactory completion of the VCE and also allows students to gain a nationally recognised vocational qualification. Students can then move on to further training at a TAFE institute or perhaps begin employment.
A number of programs have a study score available and these can contribute to the ENTER.
VCE VET programs can also be included in the VCAL program. Further information on this can be found in the VCAL section.
VCE and School Based Apprenticeships
School Based Apprenticeships and Traineeships can also be undertaken within the VCE. To be eligible, students must be 15 years of age or over, undertaking VCE studies and be employed part-time under an industrial agreement or an Australian Workplace Agreement.
Students, parents (if the student is under 18 years of age) and the employer will be required to sign a training contract. Generally, these programs provide the same contribution to the VCE as their related VET in the VCE program.
Students can also undertake a School Based Apprenticeship or Traineeships as part of their VCAL. Further information on this can be found in the VCAL section.
VCE extension studies
Extension studies are university subjects taken with the VCE and provide new challenges for high-achieving students. Each year, a small number of high school students are eligible to take up these subjects.
Schools make the selection based on university guidelines. A key requirement is that the student must have achieved, or is likely to achieve, a study score of at least 41 in a “preparatory study”, usually Units 3 and 4 of a VCE study relevant to the extension study.
An extension study can make a contribution to the ENTER as a sixth subject. Students should note that these studies do not contribute to the requirements of the VCE as they are not VCE units.
General achievement test (GAT)
The GAT is a test of general knowledge and skills in writing, mathematics, science and technology, humanities, the arts and social sciences. While it doesn’t form part of the graduation requirements for the VCE or count towards VCE results, it is an essential part of VCE assessment procedures.
It is used by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) to check that all schools are marking to the same standard in the school assessments. These checks are an important part of ensuring the VCE marking is fair to everyone.
All students enrolled in Units 3 and 4 of any VCE study or any VCE VET scored program, whether in Years 11 or 12, must sit the GAT unless they are exempted by the VCAA.
For all VCE studies, the school decides whether a student has satisfactorily completed a unit. In order to make this decision, high schools set assessment tasks based on the VCE Study Designs. Satisfactory completion of a unit is reported as ‘S’ or ‘N’ on a VCAA Statement of Results.
In addition, for Units 3 and 4 of each VCE study, students are given grades for their school-assessed coursework and their examinations. Three graded assessments are reported on the Statement of Results for each VCE study and include at least one examination, which is externally marked. The others are school assessed.
There are two types of school-based assessment: School-assessed Coursework and School-assessed Tasks.
School-assessed Coursework consists of a set of tasks that assesses students’ achievements of Unit 3 and 4 outcomes. These tasks must be done mainly in class time and the school reports the grades to the VCAA. The VCAA has procedures in place to ensure that all schools throughout the state are marking to the same standard.
A School-assessed Task is set by the VCAA. The school decides the exact content of each task so that it matches what has been taught. The VCAA specifies how marks and grades are to be awarded. The VCAA may send reviewers to the school to remark student work and, as a result, the initial teacher marks may change. Seven VCE subjects have School-assessed Tasks.
External examinations are set and marked by the VCAA. Most are held in November but some studies have examinations in June.
The VCAA uses two safety checks for examinations to ensure students get the correct grade. For each examination a student sits, the school provides the VCAA with an “indicative grade”. This is a grade the teacher expects a particular student will get based on the student’s work throughout the year.
Checks are also done against the student’s GAT result. The student’s examination script is sent to the chief assessor’s panel if there is a significant difference between their examination results and their expected results or GAT results. It is checked again to decide on a final grade.
Study score and ENTER score
The final marks given by the VCAA for each of the three assessments are used to calculate a “study score”, which is then used by VTAC to calculate an ENTER. Students can graduate with the VCE without completing the school-based assessments or the examinations, but in this case they cannot get an ENTER. The ENTER is a score calculated from Units 3 and 4 study scores. Approximately 50 per cent of tertiary courses use the ENTER as the primary means of student selection.
The ENTER is a means of comparing students across studies, rather than within them, and is used to give an overall account of student ability. The ENTER is calculated by adding up the scaled study score for an English study and the student’s next three best study scores, as well as 10 per cent of their possible fifth or sixth studies. The aggregate is then converted to a rank. Anyone who receives an ENTER has successfully met tertiary entrance requirements.
The ENTER range is between 0.05 and 99.95. If a student receives an ENTER of 40, it means they have performed better (overall) than 40 per cent of students. If a student receives an ENTER of 75, they have performed better than 75 per cent of students (and are in the top 25 per cent of students).
Delivering VCE results
The VCAA is responsible for delivering VCE results to high schools and students across the state every year. Results are posted to Year 12 students in December and for a specific period are available online, via phone and SMS to mobile phones. The results are also forwarded to VTAC, which uses them to process students’ applications for tertiary courses. Students have access to their ENTER statements in the same way (online, phone, SMS and mail).
Premier’s VCE awards
The Premier’s VCE Awards recognise outstanding achievement in VCE studies. The awards pay tribute to young Victorians who, with the support of their families and schools, have completed their VCE with distinction. The Premier’s VCE Awards are given to the top all-round VCE high achievers as well as high achievers in particular subjects.
Nominations for the awards are based on VCE study scores. Individual graded assessment scores are used to determine the top group of students for each award.
There is no need for students to apply to be eligible for the awards. Award winners are notified in April/May by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
Role of parents
Parents play a vital role in supporting their child throughout their education, particularly during the final years of high school and the transition to work or further study. One of the best steps a parent can take to help their child make an informed decision about their VCE choices is to become familiar with how the VCE works and the alternatives to it. Students can choose from a range of VET subjects as well as the VCAL (for more information, see the VCAL section).
To help students apply for university courses, VTAC has prepared a guide that covers the application process, changing preferences and accepting/rejecting or deferring offers. Major universities also offer guides for parents.
For more information, visit
The VCAL is ideal for Years 11 and 12 high school students who want a widely recognised secondary school certificate that offers a more hands-on approach and practical work-related experience. Unlike the VCE, which is widely used as a pathway to university, VCAL is aimed at students who are more likely to go on to TAFE, an apprenticeship or the workplace after school.
VCAL equips students with the practical skills that employers need and helps them develop their initiative and resilience and gain experience in teamwork and leadership. On completion of their VCAL, students will have earned credit towards a trade or industry certificate and will have knowledge of areas such as occupational health and safety. All this counts towards an apprenticeship or traineeship, allowing students to complete a trade qualification in less time.
VCAL has experienced dramatic growth since its introduction in 2003. In 2007, more than 400 providers delivered the VCAL to more than 14,000 students.
The VCAL also gives students the literacy and numeracy skills that are important for work and for life. Students will complete four compulsory strands in literacy and numeracy skills, work-related skills, industry-specific skills and personal development skills. The program also has the flexibility to allow students to design a study program that suits their interests and learning needs.
The program has three levels: Foundation, Intermediate and Senior.
Students can also develop a “themed” VCAL program, focused on a particular industry. Themed VCAL programs are available in areas such as hospitality, automotive, bricklaying, ICT industries and printing industries. The themed VCAL is for high school students in Years 11 and 12 and can be developed for the requirements of Intermediate and Senior certificates only. Students who complete a themed VCAL receive a certificate with reference to the theme.
On successful completion of the program, the student receives a VCAL Certificate, either for Foundation, Intermediate or Senior level, depending on which level they choose. Students also receive a Statement of Results listing all the VCE, VCE VET and VCAL units, as well as a Statement of Attainment for VET or Further Education courses.
Enrolment and Assessment
Students are required to enrol at the school, TAFE or education centre they are currently attending but can do part of the program at other schools, TAFE institutes, training organisations, community organisations and/or employers.
Students must successfully complete the “learning outcomes” or requirements of each unit or module of their VCAL program.
Link to VCE studies
If a student begins the VCAL and then decides the VCE is a better option for them, it is possible to transfer between certificate courses. Any VCE studies successfully completed as part of the VCAL program count towards the VCE.
Likewise, if a student has begun their VCE and wants to transfer to VCAL, they may be able to have this work recognised as part of their VCAL. If the student in this case has received an ‘S’ result for a VCE unit, it will count towards their VCAL.
Information supplied by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority
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