Reorganisation of the vocational school network
As Chapter 3 covered, Latvia’s demographic challenge and the continued tight fiscal climate are driving the restructuring of the school network, including vocational schools. In 2010, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the Guidelines for the Optimisation of the Network of Vocational Education Institutions 2010-2015 that endorsed the reduction of the number of vocational education schools that MoES is responsible for from 59 in 2009/10 to 30 by 2015.
The reorganisation of the vocational school network is based on three principles: 1) accessibility - ensuring equal opportunities for the acquisition of vocational education; 2) co-operation - involving all stakeholders; and 3) resource efficiency - rational and purposeful use of the available funds (Cabinet of Ministers, 2010).
An important innovation coming out of the reorganisation has been the creation of the Vocational Education Competence Centres (VECCs). Since 2010 large vocational schools with more than 500 students have been gradually transformed into VECCs. These are to act as regional hubs for developing closer relationships with employers, provide high-quality vocational education for students (youth and adults), and develop pedagogical support for other vocational schools, and, potentially, accreditation powers, including the recognition of prior learning for adults.
Schools have to meet specific requirements to obtain VECC status. These include the number of education programmes implemented, number of students, students’ academic success, career management and co-operation with employers. The VECCs have to perform the functions of a regional or sectoral methodological centre, offer continuing education and teacher education, and assess professional competences acquired outside the formal education system. Once VECC status is achieved, schools get a 10% additional payment for personnel. By August 2015 a total of 14 vocational schools and 1 tertiary education institution had received VECC status.
Small vocational schools with fewer than 300 students are being combined with small general education schools and reassigned to the municipalities (MoES, 2015; Cedefop, 2015). This is expected to generate efficiency savings, as the municipalities can provide vocational and general education under one roof. Four vocational schools have come under the responsibility of municipalities between 2010 and 2014. During the same period 13 small vocational schools were merged with the VECCs.
The consolidation of the vocational school network is in its final stages and is expected to stabilise in the coming years, allowing reform efforts to focus on the improvement of curricula and teaching where further work (European Commission, 2015). There are no indications that, so far, the reorganisation of the school network has affected young people’s access to vocational or upper secondary general education.