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Understanding VCE, VCAL and the incoming Vocational Major

Wednesday 24th August 2022

For students in their final years of secondary school, it often seems like there are only two study options: a pathway to tertiary study through the VCE or a pathway to work through VCAL (and the incoming VCE Vocational Major). But students have the option to personalise their studies in a lot of unique ways, so it’s worth understanding the different options available, and the significant changes that are coming. It’s no longer just VCAL or VCE.

With a lot of students having to complete much of their studies remotely over the last couple years, we are committed at St Francis Xavier College to making the final years of school as great, and relevant, for every student as possible.

What is VCE?

The Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) is the state’s primary secondary education certificate and provides a pathway to tertiary study and employment. Most school learners end up becoming a VCE student, with this easily being the most popular of the end-of-school programs. 

To be awarded the VCE, students must satisfactorily complete at least 16 units of study over two years. Those 16 units (each comprising a semester of study) must include at least 3 units of a VCE English subject and at least 8 units at Unit 3&4 level (Year 12).

At St Francis Xavier College, students complete 12 units (6 VCE subjects) at the Unit 1&2 level (Year 11), and 10 units (5 VCE subjects) at the Unit 3&4 level. With over 40 VCE subjects offered at the College, students have a great range of study options available.

There are a number of VCE assessment tasks that VCE students must complete over the course of the year, including VCE SACs (school assessed coursework) and SATs (school assessed tasks), VCE exams, and the General Achievement Test (GAT). Students finish their certificate with a VCE ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank), which is the primary score that students use to get into undergraduate courses at university.

What is VCAL?

The Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) has long been a VCE alternative for senior students looking for a more practical and work-based approach to learning. However, the VCAL course is being phased out at the end of this year to make way for the VCE Vocational Major. Those currently enrolled as VCAL students will still be able to finish their Senior VCAL assessment tasks and certificate, but the Vocational Major will replace VCAL from Year 11 next year.

VCE changes and end of school study

Commencing in 2023, there will be many changes to VCE study and the pathways students can undertake. As we’ve mentioned, VCAL is being phased out in favour of the VCE Vocational Major, while the Victorian education system is also adding the Victorian Pathways Certificate

All of these changes are in service of the education system’s major goal: introducing a fully integrated Senior Secondary Certificate of Education in 2025, which will see all students able to complete their studies under one certificate. Students will be able to build a program relevant to their specific strengths, interests and future aspirations.

End of school can be a complicated and difficult period for students, even those who are sure of where they want to go. All of education’s aim needs to be on making this process as easy and supportive of students as possible.


VCE Vocational Major (VM)

The Vocational Major is a two-year applied learning program that offers students flexibility to complete their education in a more practical and skills-based manner. Similar to the VCAL program it is replacing, VCE VM prepares students to transition into apprenticeships, traineeships, university (via non-ATAR pathways) or into the workforce. However, unlike its predecessor, the VM pathway will be situated underneath the overall VCE program, allowing Victoria’s education system to move towards the integrated Senior Secondary Certificate.

VCE VM studies do not receive a study score, but students who complete the requirements will receive a Statement of Results and a Victorian Certificate of Education with the appellation of ‘Vocational Major’. Students entering Year 12 VCAL in 2023 will continue to finish that program, while students entering Year 11 will have the option to undertake the Vocational Major instead of Foundation VCAL.

The VM pathway is a structured pathway designed to help students develop work and employability skills. Students will study four core VM subjects: literacy; numeracy; personal development skills; and work-related skills. Students will also complete a VET subject of their choice and a weekly work placement.

Victorian Pathways Certificate (VPC)

The VPC is designed to accommodate students who aren’t able to complete the VCE, including the Vocational Major, due to additional external needs, previous disruptions to education or significant missed school time. VPC subjects are designed to help students make a transition into the Vocational Major, entry level TAFE or the workplace. 

Students are not able to actively choose the VPC, but may be able to opt into it on a needs basis. Discussions about VPC’s suitability for a student should be conducted between the school’s leadership and the family. The program supports student aspirations while also ensuring that they have a quality education that suits their individual background and needs.

Other options

To give students the best opportunity to complete their studies effectively, and to set them up best for their next steps, there are a variety of study options students can enrol in.

Unscored VCE

Students can opt to complete an Unscored VCE, in which they will not complete final examinations but may choose to undergo an optional work placement during the exam period. Students still study VCE units of their choice, but can pursue this option if they know they won’t require an ATAR for their pathway.

Students can still be recognised for completing the VCE, with the unscored option giving them the flexibility to remain in school without putting undue pressure on them that they don’t need.


Vocational Education and Training (VET)

VET courses provide practical skills that students can take directly into work or build upon in further higher-level qualifications. For most students, VET subjects are undertaken as part of their VCE program, giving students an early qualification that also contributes credit to their VCE studies.

VET subjects VCE students can do are varied, but depend on what each individual school offers. SFXC offers VET subjects in Media, Sport and Recreation, Music and Hospitality.

School Based Apprenticeship (SBA)

School based apprenticeships provide students with a pathway to transition from school to the workplace. An SBA allows a student to commence their apprenticeship while still completing their senior studies. This flexible option works well for students on the VCE VM Pathway. 

Higher Education Studies

Students who have previously accelerated and completed a Unit 3/4 sequence in Year 11 and achieved a high study score may consider enrolling in Higher Education studies as a Year 12 subject option. There are many Australian Universities who offer subjects for Year 12 students including Deakin University, Federation University, La Trobe University, RMIT University and the University of Melbourne. The results of these can contribute to the ATAR and provide unit credit when commencing university.

Top tips for final years study

Given how integral the VCE is to the education system, there are so many VCE resources students can make use of to amplify their opportunity and engagement. Our best tips should help families and students make the best decisions for their studies, and give them the best chance to enjoy their time at the end of their school journey.



Final moments, done your way

To make the most of your final years and to give your VCE meaning and purpose, choose the program that best suits your needs and your aspirations. We believe that all students have the capability to achieve great things, but every student should also have the opportunity to work towards something they want for themselves.

SFXC is proud to be offering the VCE Vocational Major next year alongside our existing programs. We look forward to supporting all students in their pursuit of excellence and continuing to provide a pathway for every child.