In 2010, the cabinet of ministers (CoM) approved the Guidelines for optimisation of a vocational education establishment network for 2010-15. These guidelines aim to modernise vocational education provision and increase quality and availability of vocational education in regions. To achieve this, it is necessary to reduce numbers of State vocational schools (from 59 to 30), and to strengthen capacity of the remaining schools.
On 19 August 2014, CoM discussed the informative report Activities carried out in optimisation of a vocational education establishment network under direction of the Ministry of Education and Science and efficient use of resources, continuing structural reforms between 1 January 2013 and 30 June 2014 prepared by the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES). The report outlines reassignment of governance of vocational schools from State to local governments, merge of some schools to colleges or vocational education competence centres (VECC) and provides information about further activities of MoES to implement the structural reforms.
The report also describes activities of established VECCs. Large vocational schools with more than 500 students are gradually being transformed into VECCs. According to CoM regulation on the procedure for the allocation and nullification of vocational education competence centre status, there are specific requirements for obtaining VECC status: number of education programmes implemented, number of students, students’ academic success, career management, cooperation with employers, etc. VECC has to perform functions of a regional or sectoral methodological centre, offer continuing education and teacher education, and assess professional competences acquired outside the formal education system. If VECC status is given, a 10% additional payment for personnel is applied. Since 2011, 12 schools have gained VECC status.
The modernising vocational education infrastructure and equipment project, cofinanced by EU funds, will be completed in 2015. In total, EUR 160.6 million was invested, mainly in VECCs and schools which plan to obtain VECC status.
Vocational education schools with more than 300 students, which have not yet obtained VECC status, have been moved from State to local governments. Schools’ reassignment under direction of local governments is organised individually. So far, these schools continue to receive public funding for implementing vocational programmes. Large vocational education institutions, which in future could qualify for VECC status, will be allowed to function as independent State vocational education institutions with specialisations until VECC status is acquired.
Vocational schools with less than 300 students are reassigned under direction of local governments by joining up with small general education schools. Only Alsviki vocational school (located in northern-eastern Latvia), which offers programmes for young people with disabilities, is expected to keep its status as a State vocational education school.
Local governments show support and willingness to cooperate when implementing these reforms. Merging small schools increases their opportunity to apply for additional funds allocated to improve the learning environment. Vocational schools gradually accumulate a positive experience. The crafts and general upper-secondary school of Dobele, for example, has been offering vocational and general education programmes since 2011. The school’s facilities are efficiently used, teachers of general study subjects cooperate with general and vocational programme students, and more programmes are provided.