HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [9.57 pm]: I once again want to raise my concerns about the implementation of the new TAFE student management system. In the last few weeks, I have asked a number of questions about this issue, which is having a serious impact on lecturers and administration staff, particularly during their busiest times.
One concern is the enrolment of students. I am told that under the new system, the enrolment process keeps failing. One lecturer gave me the example that they had to send a student back to admin six times in order to repeat the enrolment process. There is a fundamental problem with the system itself. The system is very unforgiving. It requires admin staff to correctly select, filter and checkbox everything in exactly the right way. If there is an error, the enrolment will not go through, and, because the system will not tell the person where the error was made, they have to start again from scratch. Sometimes even if an enrolment is completed successfully, it still falls off the system. This is creating genuine problems for students, particularly when it is key to their engaging with education. If students are moving off Newstart, Centrelink needs to be given evidence of their participation by week 6 of the semester in order that course fees can be paid. Students are finding that it is very difficult to provide that evidence, because they cannot manage to successfully complete their enrolment.
I am also hearing from TAFE staff in the regions that even this late in the semester, weeks after the semester has started, they are receiving tips on how to enrol students. I note, ironically, that these tips are still relevant, because the admin staff are still trying to enrol students. The other sorts of problems that arise around the keeping of class lists and enrolment issues impact on that area quite significantly. Lecturers who run classes on campus either do not receive SMS class lists or they receive them weeks late. Not having these lists means that lecturers are not provided information about which students are underage or international, which is critical information that they are supposed to have. Lecturers need to know this because it affects their requirements around reporting and duty of care, which are different for students in these categories. Lecturers who are looking after external students are not even getting class lists, so they do not know whom they are responsible for. They cannot tell if the system is missing students whom they should know about.
This is having a huge impact on attendance in our TAFEs. Trying to enter attendance in the system is so difficult that some colleges have already reverted to using the previous system, which was CELCAT. Although we may all expect that the system would provide a class list for a lecturer to tick off attendance, apparently it is much more difficult than that, and that is even if all the students have managed to enrol correctly in the first place. Instead, the class lists are found by searching for the national code of the unit of competency. Then lecturers have to filter down through multiple fields to the correct campus, through a process that was long enough for even my eyes to start glazing over. One lecturer found six class lists that could be the class they were teaching, but as there were zero students on five of the lists and one student on the other, it was still impossible for them to be able to mark attendance. Effectively, this means what was once a two-minute job that could have been done between classes now suddenly takes half an hour and is filled with error messages. Eventually, students have to be referred back to the helpdesk anyway. Whether this is the result of a fault in the system, a lack of appropriate training, or simply an over-complicated process that is wide open to error, we do not know; we end up with exactly the same result.
It is now week 7 of semester 2 and none of those students has been marked in the system as having attended class. All their attendance records are still on bits of paper that the lecturer is keeping in the hope that the system will one day enable the formal records to be made. The difficulties in accurately recording attendance have multiple impacts, again particularly for students who have visa or Centrelink requirements; for the TAFE college itself, which is funded by the government based on participation; and on lecturers who are doing proof-of-participation twice or, more likely, five times in multiple attempts.
Assuming students are properly enrolled, the procedure for getting results into the system is also somewhat arcane. The lecturers used to be able to pull up their class list and provide results for the whole class, but now, results need to be entered by finding the unit, filtering through to the module of the unit of competency, then hopefully finding the right student. Lecturers now need to have students’ birthdates to ensure that they have the right person because they cannot simply rely on a class list any more. It can take up to 10 minutes to enter the results for one student and that is only when everything goes right. That is partially due to the required process and partially due to the wait times for the system itself during busy periods. Of course, the end of semester is a very busy period when each lecturer is entering the results for 100 or more students and they are already working on deadlines. As with enrolments, results are occasionally falling out of the system. There is exactly the same problem. Other than finding each student by their birthdates, there is no easy way to check whether the results have stayed in the system. One lecturer is still attempting to provide results to students from last semester. All their students now need to get help from the helpdesk.
Previously, results were done through the assessment and result interface system, which I asked about earlier today. One of the stories shared with me was that between the issues of enrolments and the lack of connection to the assessment and result interface system, one lecturer turned up to an apprentice class to find that half of them were missing. On investigation, it turned out that those apprentices had never even received their call-up letters, so we are really stuffing around our apprentices who are trying to do the right thing and access the TAFE system.
In relation to the review of the implementation of the SMS, I saw that the post-implementation review noted the issues with the quality of training that staff had received when using the system. That is a frustration that has been coming across to me loudly and clearly through the stories I am being told. I also note that with the huge range of reforms happening at the same time across TAFE, the project staff are being stretched really thinly. I appreciate that this has added to the difficulty of implementing this system well, but this should have been a reason to slow down the rollout, rather than magnifying the issues by bringing all the regional colleges online as well. It simply should not have progressed into semester 2. The review acknowledged that some staff are now facing increased manual processes. Further detail would have shown that it was frontline staff at key periods of the academic calendar, when they least have the capacity to deal with these delays.
I know that meetings are happening with the Community and Public Sector Union–Civil Service Association of WA and that North Metropolitan TAFE recently held an additional frequently asked questions day about the SMS. I am glad to see that it seems that this matter is being taken a little more seriously than it was even a few weeks ago. However, I would argue very strongly—I do not think I am alone in this thought—that it is imperative that we go no further with the rollout until these issues are sorted. Lecturers need to be able to concentrate on teaching their students. We need to get to the bottom of how we can ensure that these enormous problems do not happen any further.