Public Awareness and General Understanding of Science and Technology


The need to raise awareness and a greater general understanding of science and technology is now irrefutable as we live in a world increasingly dominated by science and its applications. Sadly there is still a great deal of misunderstanding and ignorance of science and technology mirroring in many ways the continuing problems with the basic skills in literary, numeracy and information technology capability. I fully accept that many of the following issues have been aired before but hope this article will trigger further constructive debate on this important subject. Schools, colleges and universities have a major role to play in this endeavour but with the need to establish a culture of lifelong learning other agencies must be involved and that most certainly includes the media. I prefer to use the expression ‘general understanding of science and technology’ as opposed to ‘public understanding of science and technology’. The latter can reinforce the false demarcation between science and the public namely between a sect or guild of scientists and the stereotyping of the rest of the populace.

The commentators/communicators.

So, who should be the key players to bring about a greater understanding of science and technology? One view held is that practising scientists and technologists and researchers should take the lead. Many commentators argue that these practitioners should be trained to become more effective communicators and money allocated from research funds to facilitate this for those individuals who wish to engage in this activity. I fear this approach is somewhat flawed, as many of the researchers are understandably reluctant or unable to communicate their subject to members of the public. Researchers want to conduct their research and are not necessarily required to explain their discoveries, hypotheses and theories. Many feel that the very act of attempting to do so debases and dilutes the purity of their subject. It is one of the elements of the Guild of Science that is often perceived as a closed and somewhat inward-looking academic community, and I would argue in many cases should be respected. Effective communicators are a rare breed who have to possess a very special range of talents, especially in such a complex multicultural and multidimensional topic as raising general understanding of science and technology.
Other approaches need to be explored when attempting to communicate a wider understanding of scientific and technological advances and developments and there possible impact on the world. Joseph Needham used the wonderful expression ‘an ecumenical universe of science and technology, valid for every man and women on the face of the earth’. I take this to mean that science and technology cannot be divorced from other subjects. The evolutionary roots of science and technology are multicultural and they are very much multidimensional subjects and interact with art, experience, history, philosophy, politics and religion. Joseph Needham showed these important and crucial connections and bridges in his seminal and monumental work ‘Science and Civilisation in China’. An essential element must be the evolution of the subjects and also the critical contributions made by other civilisations e.g. Chinese, Greek, Indian, Middle Eastern and Roman. Joseph Needham succeeded in building bridges between different disciplines, civilisations and nations. Too often the media, books and science commentators adopt a western centric approach where other cultures’ contributions are underplayed, ignored or dare one suggest, the authors are themselves ignorant about.
This is not to say that there have not been some gifted scientists, commentators and popularisers of science and technology. Names that immediately spring to mind include Frank Close, Richard Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann, Martin Rees , Russell Stannard and the late great Jacob Bronowski but there are, sadly, very few and I feel this kind of proposal will not bring about the hoped-for changes. Very often non- scientists who possess an enthusiasm for the subjects can be the best communicators of science and its associated dimensions. A good example of this are Melvyn Bragg’s radio programmes and the subsequent publications based on the broadcasts.

Role of the mass media.

The mass media have a significant role to play in raising awareness and a critical understanding of science and technology in society. This is particularly the case at present with issues of global warming, possible flu pandemics, genetic engineering, GM foods, possible health hazards of mobile phones and mobile phone masts and water shortages. Too often for example TV programmes use hype and whiz bang approaches with special effects and theatricalisation of events that often trivialise the significance of the issues. They are too eager to impress the viewer, further reinforcing the sense that science is mysterious, weird and incomprehensible. The media too often fail to inform and encourage insight and critical analysis in the readers and viewers. Too often the media are only interested in stories and sadly scientific and technological research has become fair game just to provide mere stories. A recent example was the launching of the hadron accelerator at CERN where a great deal of the information given in the media was the possibility of the generation of black holes and the destruction of the earth! Too often the public are confused with contradictory and paradoxical statements as a result of the reporting of research findings in the media and on the internet and is often at a loss to make a balanced judgement on the issues presented. Surely popularisers should be explainers, stimulate and sustain curiosity and bring about general understanding in scientific and technological issues and topics that can be related to people’s lives. One particular challenge for the communicators is to avoid trivialising the subject or patronising the audience in their explanations. They should transmit the basic concepts and relate them to applications of science and technology.
Programmes on cosmology e.g. the big bang, black holes and natural history e.g. dinosaurs, theories of evolution attract large audiences. But surely the fundamental question raised by these well received programmes is whether or not they add to the general understanding of the basic concepts and principles that underpin science and technology? Such programmes awake interest and curiosity and offer real opportunities for building bridges from that to a greater and more sustained general understanding of the underpinning scientific and technological principles.
Two fascinating subjects associated with linguistics namely lexicical complexity and information theory highlight some of the factors that figure in communication in both the written and spoken form. I will only briefly mention some elements that relate to the issues associated with communication of science and technology and  cannot hope to do justice to this fascinating area of linguistics .For example information theory identifies some of the problems that popular science and technical journals and newspapers have when attempting to communicate information about science and technology. Science and technology, by, definition, can be dominated by specialised jargon and abstractions. Information theory has shown that different languages, general and specialised, possess a wide range of so-called redundancy, namely that the same word can have different meanings. For example the English language possesses great richness and this has evolved over a long period of time. The English language is high in redundancy and has as a result allowed its literature to possess great richness and super abundance in its vocabulary and in the skilled hands and imaginations of many writers has created a highly admired tradition. After all many dictionaries and Roget’s Thesaurus identify and map the evolution of the meaning of words that are continually changing but scientific and technological terms and words remain the same. This is because scientific and technological terms and words must have specific and unchanging meanings. A simple example is in the words mass and weight. In everyday language these words are used loosely but in science have precise and different meanings. Other examples are energy, force, pressure, strain, stress and work. Clearly in addition to these very fundamental words science and technology like many other disciplines create their only specialised languages.
A fascinating piece of research on lexical complexity in 1992 by Hayes attempted to quantify the degree of lexical complexity by carrying out a careful analysis of the proportions of jargon and uncommon words in various publications. Hayes assigned an arbitrary scale, for example, to English newspapers, 0 being the average. Any value under 10 is considered to be a typical day’s read and comprehended by the majority of the population.
He computed a range of values for a typical day (3rd June 1992) and these were as follows:
The Sun -11. Daily Mail -2.7. The Economist 0. The Times +3.4. The Guardian +5.5. The Financial Times +9.6.
He then extended his analysis to scientific journals:
Nature attracted an index of +40 and Scientific American, often perceived as effective reading material for the lay person, had an index of +15. Other more specialised journals had indices in excess of +50.
Obviously these high scores are understandable, but ensure that only specialists can hope to comprehend the content of these publications. The critical issue and challenge for the general understanding of science and many elements of technology is how journals like the New Scientist, Scientist American and other publications can communicate the concepts, ideas, theories and hypotheses to the general reader. A real challenge now is the management and transmission of such information on the internet where often little refereeing or validation is exercised. Not easy, because science and technology have their own language, with zero or little redundancy and the additional need to use mathematics adds to the challenge and difficulty in communicating the reality of the material. This challenging prospect, I feel, merits more research if we are to improve the way we create a greater awareness and general understanding of these strategically important subjects.
A continuing concern is how the public perceive scientists. Too often a particular stereotype is projected by the media, in films, television and the press. This in some ways reached an apogee in the brilliant portrayal of Dr Pretorius – played by Ernest Thesiger, in James Whales’ classic film ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ – an eccentric, frizzy haired, white coated individual obsessed with his research with little regard to the impact of his work on society. This image continues, although not so extreme, when science spokespeople appear on the media to explain some of the high profile cases cited above, they often come over as being distant and unable, certainly unsuccessful in communicating the basic ideas to the audience.

The role of education and training.

The role of education is critical in sustaining and developing an understanding of science and technology but perhaps some of the problems could arise from negative experiences at school, namely the impression that science and technological subjects are difficult when compared with other subjects. It is too often taught in a mathematical and abstract fashion. Many people cannot easily relate to scientific and technological ideas. Science is both practical and theoretical and at school and college, students are required undertake practical work, but the results are already known and usually reinforced by the presence of a text book stating the method, procedures and the result! It is therefore not surprising that many people perceive science as absolute and pre-determined and not much to do with curiosity. The heuristic approach developed by Henry Armstrong used a more open ended research-like methodology that could support a more sustained and clearer understanding of the subjects. Practical work should involve greater use of field work and the resources of museums and scientific and technological theme parks. As increasing numbers of people, particularly young people, access information from the internet on such sites as Wikipedia there is a need to develop a greater critical faculty in students so that they question the validity and authenticity of material on the internet and go in search of wider evidence.
Measuring performance improvement.
Another factor is how to gauge general understanding of science and technology? I have problems with some techniques to assess improvement and understanding, many of which ultimately resort to league tables and performance indices. After all we seem at present to have performance indicators and league tables for practically every activity in this country or are in the process of jettisoning them.
So how do we assess and gauge the general understanding of science and technology and its improvement over time? Simple questionnaires or surveys reduce the exercise to a form of Ask the Family, Who Wants to be a Millionaire or Mastermind. Most often these require just simple recall about the names of planets or who discovered gravitation etc. The crucial question is the person’s wider and more substantial understanding of the topic. This shows development of a critical faculty and the ability to more fully appreciate the foundations of the information and what it means through analysis, reflection and synthesis. This in a sense brings us full circle, and possibly there now needs to be a re-consideration of what we mean by the word understanding in this context.
Science and technological advance is not helped by the advocates and supporters of para-science and the doom merchants who assert that science and technology is destroying the planet and scare mongering about the end of the earth. It’s headline grabbing news but it does not improve the image of the subjects or engender a greater understanding of the issues associated with these often important issues.


As our lives become ever more dominated by science and technology the critical issues associated with science and technology become more important, indeed essential. It is a great challenge for the science community, the media and equally important for all people in education and training, to start building the bridges from the inherent interest and curiosity in science and technology that people possess to a greater understanding of these important subjects. Whatever happens, it clearly is important that we continue to seek ways, through formal and informal education and training and lifelong learning, to bring about a greater general understanding of science and technology among the public and it is essential that we ourselves know what the word understanding means in this context.
This article is an updated version of two previously published pieces that appeared in ‘Technology Innovation and Society’ titled ‘Public Awareness of Science and Technology’ published in Summer 1996 and ‘Bridges to Understanding’ in ‘Science and Public Affairs’ published in December 1999 . I am grateful for permission of the original publishers to use large sections of the earlier material.

The ‘Andersonian’ – The First Technical College.

The “Andersonian” was initiated and lived on under its various names – Anderson’s Institution, Anderson’s University and Anderson’s College. The Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution which was an offshoot from it, and more recently the two combined (with Allan Glen’s School) as the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College. They all have occupied a significant place in Scottish education. The influence of these pioneering institutions on technical education cannot be over estimated.
Founded in 1796 the Anderson’s Institute was the first technical college to provide scientific instruction with particular reference to the practical application of scientific ideas. The institution was the first in the world to provide systematic evening classes in science and its application and the first to admit women unreservedly on the same terms as men. Its influence was wide spread e.g. in 1799 Count Rumford founded the Royal Institution in London based on similar lines to the Anderson’s Institution.
John Anderson (1726 – 1796) (1, 2) was initially professor of oriental languages but later occupied a chair in Natural Philosophy (1757 – 1796) at Glasgow University (founded in 1450). Anderson was an individual of great energy and held some radical views about teaching. He felt that Natural Philosophy was not just a branch of mathematics which was a view held by many academics at this time but he argued in his ‘Institutes of Physics’ (published in 1786) * that the teaching of the subject must include more practical and experimental aspects. He decided to put his ideas into practice. In addition to his regular University teaching four days a week he taught the other two days the new approach teaching the subject experimentally. The lectures on the four days were focussed on the history of Physics and Reasoning concerning facts of the material world involving plane and solid geometry, arithmetic and algebra. The new approach was very different on the other two days. No mathematical reasoning was employed in the lectures and the practical lessons and the only text book used was the ‘Institutes of Physics’*. His portrait is shown below.
John Anderson
 In addition to his professorial duties he continued to develop his radical ideas of education and delivered a series of part-time evening lectures in applied science for working class people. He strongly believed that these classes were for the benefit of ‘the Manufacturers and Artificers in Glasgow’. The lectures proved very popular and he provided free tickets to encourage such trades as bookbinders, brewers, engravers, founders, gardeners and turners to attend. A radical and visionary in every sense he was often in conflict with the university authorities. When he died he decided to leave his estate, valued at the time as £1000, to a trust dedicated to the creation of a rival university. The Andersonian Institution was founded ‘for the good of mankind, and the improvement of science’. The bequest was insufficient to fund a new university but in 1796 the Andersonian Institute was established which gradually progressed through a number of different titles, (see below), and ultimately became the Glasgow Royal College of Science and Technology. George Birkbeck was at one time a professor at the Institute (1799) and he continued to provide free classes in chemistry and mechanics (see biographies). Birkbeck’s work was continued with the same zeal by Dr Andrew Ure after Birkbeck left Glasgow. Dr Ure continued the lectures for the workers and in addition created a library in 1808 that further enhanced the reputation and standing of the Institution.
This ultimately led on to the creation of the Mechanics Institute movement. The Anderson’s Institute was in many ways the prototype for what would later become the Mechanics Institute movement in Scotland, England and beyond. The lectures continued until 1823 when the Anderson’s Institute decided to move the provision to a new independent organisation namely the Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution. The Glasgow Mechanics’ Institute was housed in a disused chapel and comprised a lecture room, library and a collection of scientific apparatus. Classes included such subjects as chemistry, mechanics, mathematics and natural philosophy. The numbers in the mechanics classes gradually declined and the trustees of the Andersonian Institution decided to implement some of the original ideas of John Anderson and formed a collegiate school with distinct groups of students for each of the elementary classes. In 1828 the Institution assumed the title of Anderson’s University. A portrait of Dr Ure is shown below he and Birkbeck were two remarkable individuals.
Dr Ure
Interesting to note that Edinburgh had in 1821 already established the Edinburgh School of Arts, which in spite of its title was a Mechanics Institute and in strict historical terms was the first institution in the movement in Britain. The Edinburgh School of Arts was funded by the rich and leading figures of the town. However what makes the Glasgow Institute distinctive was that it was financially self-supporting and self-governing where even the lecturers were elected by the general body of the members. The Glasgow Mechanics’ Institute enrolled over a thousand students in its first year. This example again clearly highlights that Scotland was most certainly the leader within the home countries in technical education. John Anderson was a remarkable individual with a great deal of foresight.
Sexton (2) delineates the various titles that attached to the Andersonian Institution up to 1894 as follows:
·         Anderson’s Institution -1798 to 1828
·         Anderson’s College Medical School – 1800+
·         Anderson’s University – 1828 to 1877
·         Technical College Weaving Branch – 1877+
·         Anderson’s College – 1877 to 1887
·         Mechanics’ Institution and College of Science and Arts– 1823 to 1887
·         Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College 1887+
A brief chronology:
·         1796 – Anderson’s Institution founded. Dr Garnett appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy.
·         1799 – Anderson’s Medical School established
·         1800 – Dr Birkbeck appointed
·         1804 – Dr Ure appointed
·         1819 – Chair of Botany established
·         1823 – The Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution succeeded the Anderson’s Institution to become the first Mechanics’ Institution possessing that name and the first in the world.
·         1825 – Chair of Mathematics established
·         1830 – Chairs of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy separated
·         Around 1830 – The first public laboratory for teaching chemistry in Britain opened at the Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution.
·         1840 – Chair of Theory of Medicine established
·         1843 – Allan Glen’s School founded
·         1870 – Chair of Technical Chemistry established
·         1875 – Chair of Applied Mechanics established
·         1877 – Name changed to Anderson’s College
·         1877 – Technical College (Weaving Branch) opened
·         1880 – Mechanics’ Institution reorganised as a Technical College
·         1881 – Name changed to College of Science and Arts
·         1886 – Merger of Institutions to form the Technical College
·         1887 – Chair of Metallurgy established
·         1889 – Anderson’s College Medical School, Partick, opened
·         1891 – Chair of Agriculture opened.
* ‘Institutes of Physics’ this book proved to be very popular and went to five editions in his lifetime. The book consisted of fifteen chapters namely (1) Somatology (the science of the properties of matter/human body), (2) Mineralogy, (3) Botany, (4) Zoology, (5) Electricity, (6) Magnetism, (7) Gravitation, (8) Mechanics, (9) Hydrostatics, (10) Hydraulics, (11) Pneumatics, (12) Optics, (13) Astronomy, (14) Cosmogony (theory or myth of the origin of the universe) and (15) Conclusions which consisted of a vast set of tables of contents under the heading of Natural Philosophy.
Glasgow also established The Commercial College in 1845 and this was subsequently called Glasgow Commercial College and Glasgow Athenaeum Commercial College. In 1903 this became the Glasgow and West of Scotland Commercial College. Again this reinforces the progressive view in Scotland to commercial education.
(1) J. Muir. Ed. By J.M.Macaulay. ‘John Anderson and the College He Founded’ Glasgow. 1950
(2) A.H. Sexton. ‘The First Technical College’ The History of the “Andersonian” and the Institutions Descended From It 1796 – 1894. London: Chapman and Hall, Ld. 1894.

Society for the Promotion of Employment of Women 1859+

The majority of women during most of the time of this history were unskilled working class. They worked in factories, in the fields and in domestic services carrying out menial tasks with no opportunity for education or training. This sorry and lamentable state of affairs was recorded in literature by Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. In addition whilst researching and writing the history of technical and commercial education I became acutely aware of the dearth of literature on women’s education and equally concerning the very narrow and stereotypical view of their role and position in society and employment. What educational provision was available was centred on domestic service or as a means of preparation for marriage and house wives- whatever that meant! Other areas open to women were lowly paid positions as governesses, lady’s companions or seamstresses. The lack of opportunities to enter the professions or other areas of employment other than those associated with domestic service for the landed gentry or menial clerical positions was almost non-existent for most of the 19th century. Where colleges and other institutions existed they inevitably provided opportunities for upper and middle class females. Unfortunately there are still gender inequality issues even today and the presence of the so called glass ceiling still exists in spite of legislation in many occupations and professions.
However there were a few isolated initiatives in the mid 19th century which identified and highlighted these inequalities and injustices for women particularly in regard to the lack of education opportunities and progression into the professions and other more highly respected areas of employment. One such movement was the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women and was founded in 1859. In 1926 the Society was later re-named the Society for Promoting the Training of Women and is still in existence today. The Society was founded by a remarkable individual Jessie Boucherett (1825-1905) who recognised the urgent need to open up new areas of employment for women and tackle the dire state of education for females that existed at the time. One of the main aims of the Society was to assist women to become economically independent through more meaningful employment opportunities. In order to assist and realise this aim the Society offered interest free loans to help cover the costs of their education and training and this activity has continued up to the present time.
 The Society has had many remarkable supporters and members including Harriet Martineau [see biography] whom I have already acknowledged as an active supporter with Charles Knight and Henry Brougham [see biographies] of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Harriet Martineau had written an article in the Edinburgh Review – founded by Henry Brougham that inspired Jessie Boucherett to establish the Society. Harriet Martineau wrote that ‘three million out of six adult English women work for subsistence, and two out of three in independence. With this new condition of affairs, new duties and new views must be accepted’. The impact on Jessie Boucherett was significant and she wrote later in a pamphlet commemorating the Society’s twentieth anniversary that she would ‘ resolve to make it the business of her life to remedy or at least alleviate the evil by helping self-dependent women, not with gifts of money, but with encouragement and training for employment suited to their capabilities’. The Society can claim many firsts including the establishment of the first commercial school offering book-keeping and shorthand classes as well as creating apprenticeship and subsequent employment opportunities in male dominated trades and crafts including horology, photography and telegraphy. The Society also managed to gain membership grades for women in a number of Professional Institutions including Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors. The archive of the Society is sited at the Girton College Library in Cambridge.
I intend to describe the progress of the education of working women particular in the technical and commercial occupations in a separate history.

James Booth (1806?-1879)

Rev James Booth (1806?-1879)

Born in Lavagh in Ireland James Booth attended Trinity College Dublin (founded in 1592) to study mathematics. Trinity College was a highly regarded institution and possessed a considerable reputation among other universities in Europe particularly in Mathematics and Astronomy with such distinguished individuals as Bartholemew Lloyd, William Hamilton, James McCullagh and John Brinkley. Interesting that Trinity College already had a well-established examination system which subsequently influenced James Booth later with his work for the Society of Arts (SoA/[R]SA. It most be noted too that Ireland produced many remarkable individuals who made major contributions to astronomy, engineering, mathematics and the physical sciences. Although a number had to emigrate to England and America because of limited opportunities within Ireland they enriched these countries with their considerable talents. Some of the contributions made by Irish scientists are recorded in the book entitled ‘Science in Ireland’ (1).
Booth left Ireland for England somewhat disillusioned after unjustifiably failing to gain a Fellowship at Trinity. He felt strongly that his mathematical work was not given the recognition that in rightly deserved. After a year he was appointed Principal and Professor of Mathematics at Bristol College. He left Bristol College to take up a post as Assistant Principal at the Liverpool Collegiate Institution where he continued his mathematical research and teaching. During his period at Liverpool he became a member of the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society in 1844and its President in 1846. During this period he travelled a great deal to London giving lectures at the Royal Society for which, along with his other mathematical researches on conic sections and coordinates, he received a Fellowship of the Society in 1846. Booth left Liverpool in1848 and went to London where he became an active member of the Society of Arts. He was also involved in establishing the Mechanics Institute in Wandsworth in 1853. A print of the Liverpool Collegiate Institution is shown below.
Liverpool Collegiate Institution
 James Booth became a major figure during the Victorian times as a propagator of the concept of universal popular examinations. He was ordained into the Church of England and although a deeply religious man achieved little in this vocation. His legacy was very much associated with the work he did with the Society of Arts, technical education and the examinations he introduced. The Society of Arts  (SoA/[RSA] had been founded in 1754.Booth was a very strong believer in free trade and competition the principles of which he wished to apply to an examination system. He subsequently became the key figure in getting the Society to stage public examinations. Booth more than any other person was responsible in establishing the Society of Arts as an examining organisation. In addition to Booth two other individuals can be identified as responsible for introducing examinations at the Society of Arts, namely Harry Chester and James Hole. James Hole was a very active member of the Mechanics Institute movement whilst Harry Chester was the key figure in the creation of the Union of Institutes (see history of technical and commercial examinations). All of these individuals advocated the importance of examinations in order to improve the effectiveness and management of the Mechanics Institutes. Foden (2) states ‘that Chester and Hole set the ball rolling in regard to the Society of Arts examinations whilst Booth gave the development direction and momentum’.
Between 1853 and 1857 Booth mapped out his ideas for the examinations that the Society of Arts would later stage. To give some idea of the proposals and the way the examinations would be managed I quote from Frank Foden’s excellent account of his life (2): The outline proposals were:
  • ‘ Examinations would be held annually, probably in March at convenient places and in different districts, the Institutions in different districts being grouped for the purpose
  • Examinations would be conducted simultaneously by papers prepared by the Examiners in London
  • Every candidate for examination shall have been, for a certain period (sat six months) a student of a class in an Institute in Union
  • A Local Committee, possessing the confidence of the Institutes at each place of examination, should receive papers, be responsible for the efficient and fair conduct of the examination, and return the worked papers by post to the Board of Examiners in London
  • The worked papers approved by the examiners would be divided into three classes, according to merit, 1st, 2nd and 3rd and corresponding certificates would be issued to successful candidates
  • The certificate should record the name and age of the candidate, the number of lessons attended out of the number given, subject of the examination and the result of the examination
  • No certificate should be awarded for any paper which gave evidence of only a smattering of knowledge, however extensive, or which was not well spelt, and fairly written
  • 1st class certificates should be very cautiously awarded, so as to indicate a high standard of solid attainment
  • A list of suitable subjects for examination should be prepared for approval by the “Conference”. Candidates might enter for any subject offered, but no candidate, after his first examination, might take up more than two subjects in the same year; a thorough knowledge of one or two subjects being far more important than superficial acquaintance with subjects.
This list highlights the vigorous approach Booth expected from the examination system. The examinations consisted of four sections and candidates sat two papers of two-and-half hours duration. Male candidates had a choice between two groups of topics: first consisting of such subjects Building and Agriculture, Elementary Physics, and Mechanics and the second offered: Anatomy, Meteorology, Physics and Physiology. For female candidates there were papers including Everyday Life and Conditions, Physiology and Domestic Economy.
A recent view of Trinity College Dublin where Booth studied mathematics is shown opposite.
Trinity college Dublin
The first examinations were held on 10th June 1856 in the Society’s Great Room. Booth was at this time was chairman of the Society of Arts Board of Examiners. The second round of examinations was held in June 1857, in London and Huddersfield with 80 and 140 candidates respectively. More subjects were added including specialist divisions of science and mathematics. In addition non-scientific and mathematical subjects were introduced e.g. Bookkeeping, English, French, Geography and History. The examinations grew in popularity and thus began the examinations system we know today. The development of examinations was largely due to James Booth and the Society of Arts and a few other enthusiasts. The examinations of the Society of Arts subsequently had a significant influence on the development of the Oxford and Cambridge examination system.
Unfortunately his relationships with the Society of Arts soured and he parted from the Society with a great deal of bad feeling and acrimony. Sadly he died a somewhat bitter man feeling he had not received the recognition he deserved both as an educator and mathematician. There is an uncanny resemblance with the life of Charles Babbage who also felt undervalued in his time. However history now recognises Booth as the major figure in creating the English examination system and also as an exceptional example of a pioneer of technical education and ‘diffuser of useful knowledge’ (a term much used in Victorian times and by later historians).
(1)   Nudds. J, McMillan. N, Weaire D and McKenna Lawlor. S. ‘Science in Ireland 1800-1930 – Tradition and Reform’ Trinity College. 1988.
(2)   F. Foden ‘The Examiner. James Booth and the origins of common examinations’. Leeds Studies in Adult and Continuing Education. 1989.
 First published in ‘t’ Magazine in August 2008 by kind permission of Simon Shaw (editor).

Warrington Academy and the Academy Movement


The existence of the small number of dissenting academies made a lasting contribution to scientific and technical education particularly through their former students and tutors. They emphasised scientific and technological subjects which at the time were shunned by the established universities. The academies taught laypeople as well as those wishing to enter the church. The Academy founded in Warrington (1756-1786) is a good example of the movement the image above of the Academy is c 1762. The Academy was supported and funded by the newly affluent industrialists from Warrington and beyond who were disillusioned by the standard of education provided by Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The examinations and the resultant value of degrees from these two ancient universities were perceived as questionable. One of the few exceptions was the mathematics course at Cambridge which had tutored Newton. These business people sponsored the academies and wanted to see subjects introduced into the curriculum that would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of commercial and industrial practices and processes. As a result Warrington Academy offered such subjects as chemistry, electricity, logic, magnetism, mathematics, optics, pneumatics as well as the more traditional subjects such as ethics, philosophy and theology. The Academy taught just 400 students in its 29 years of existence and it was never financially secure. Only about 16% of the students studied theological subjects in order to enter the church. The Warrington Academy was finally dissolved in 1786 as a result of continuing financial problems and the hostility of religious bodies to new scientific ideas. However its influence continued to live on after its closure mainly through the subsequent achievements of its former students and tutors. These included Joseph Priestley tutor at Warrington Academy (1761), formally a student at the Daventry Academy (1752), an active member of the Lunar Society and noted chemist. Joseph Priestley was a non-conformist minister who had run a school in Nantwich for a number of years before being appointed to the Warrington Academy. He developed a considerable reputation as a scientist researching gases and electricity. Thomas Percival (one of the first students enrolled at Warrington Academy, founder with others of the Manchester Academy, founder of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society and a noted medical practitioner and researcher).

Thomas Percival

Fortunately with the support of Percival after its closure in 1786 its library, equipment and the money realised from the sale of its building greatly assisted the newly opened Manchester Academy. A portrait of Thomas Percival is shown opposite. The Manchester Academy was founded in 1786 and continued the tradition of dissent by teaching subjects other than theology. was appointed teacher of mathematics and natural philosophy in 1793 and remained there until the Academy was relocated to York in 1803.

When the academy was dissolved in 1786 393 students had been enrolled and these  included Thomas Barnes, Thomas Malthus, Thomas Percival (see above), John Simpson and John Goodricke.

Other tutors at the Warrington Academy included: John Aikin, Reinhold Forster, William Enfield, George Walker, Gilbert Wakefield. John Taylor, Joseph Priestley (see above), Anna Barbauld and her brother John Aikin (children of John Aikin).

The first President was Henry Willoughby.

Jean Paul Marat was reputed to have been a tutor of French at the academy. A portrait of John Dalton is shown below.

John Dalton

 John Dalton



  1. P. O’Brien. ‘Warrington Academy 1757-86’ Owl Books ISBN 0 9514333 0X.

Broadhurst. E. M. ‘History of Collegiate Teaching some pioneers Thomas Percival’ Book of Manchester and Salford-Manchester Falkner and Co pages 30-33. 1929.

Schofield. R. E. ‘The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley’. ISBN 978-0-271-02510-0. Penn State University Press. 1997.

Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK) (1825/26 –48)

Launched in 1825/26 by Henry Brougham and Matthew Davenport Hill following an article in a journal (1821) by the radical Charles Knight deploring the woeful influence of the popular press on the working classes. Brougham had written a pamphlet ‘Observations on the Education of the People’ proposing the publication of low price books popularising science and general knowledge. A series of weekly and bi-weekly publications were produced by SDUK including the ‘The Penny Magazine’ and ‘The Penny Cyclopaedia’ as well as more expensive tomes e.g. ‘Gallery of Portraits’. Also published was the Library of Useful Knowledge costing sixpence and published biweekly and focused on scientific themes. A portrait of Henry Brougham is shown below.

Henry Brougham

Topics covered included history, geography and zoology. It was reckoned that there were 200,000 subscribers to the Penny Magazine per week many of whom were artisans but also middle class readers. The publications did not engage in political or religious issues but rather focused on popularising other areas of knowledge. The SDUK wanted to appeal to workers who had just learnt to read and the material was aimed at improving their reading as well as informing them. The SDUK focused primarily on teaching artisans the scientific principles associated with their trades and imparting useful information.

Charles Knight

The first publication in the Library of Useful Knowledge sold 33,000 copies mainly to middle class readers and in spite of Brougham’s hopes did not attract readers from the workers. The SDUK ceased most of its operations in around 1848 though some publications continued. While created with worthy and high ideals the SDUK finally failed as the sales of the publications fell. The SDUK was not a complete failure as some commentators have claimed but it did represent at the time the first attempt to create a comprehensive and inexpensive range of educational literature for the masses. A portrait of Charles Knight is shown above.
Separate biographies exist in this section of the website for both Henry Brougham and Charles Knight two remarkable individuals.

Penny Magazine 1833A copy of the front page of the Penny Magazine dated 1833 is shown opposite.


  1. R.K.Webb, ‘The British Working Class Reader’ George Allen and Unwin Ltd. 1955.

Quintin Hogg (1845-1903). Educationalist, Merchant, Philanthropist and Founder of the Regent Street Polytechnic.

Born in London and educated at Eton he was a very religious person and a keen sportsman and both interests greatly influenced his educational beliefs. After leaving school he entered the commodities business involved in particularly those concerned with sugar and tea. After a successful career he became very concerned about the woeful lack of educational opportunities and provision for young people, particularly girls, identifying that in 1880 only 2% of the 750,000 of 16 to 25 year olds, (both sexes), were attending any form of educational institution. He was very much motivated by his Christian beliefs and began to turn his energies to educational reforms.

In 1864 he founded the York Place Ragged School which attempted to get young children off the street and provide a very basic education. Following the Forster Education Act of 1870 elementary board schools were established funded by a compulsory ‘education rate’ that was levied by the local School Boards. This development undermined the ragged schools. In 1882 he founded the Young Men’s Christian Institute which offered a number of trade subjects studied in the evenings for youths aged between 16 and 22. In addition, reflecting Quintin Hogg’s beliefs, the Institute was also a social and athletic club. In retrospect he made a significant contribution to the development of London’s technical education system. Hogg was very committed to providing education for young men and women at a time when very little was being done to increase opportunities for females. The Youth’s Christian Institute was finally located in Long Acre after 1878.

In 1881/2 an old established Polytechnic Institution (1838-1841) in Regent Street that was founded in 1838 by George Cayley found itself in financial difficulties. In 1841 the Polytechnic Institution had changed its name to The Royal Polytechnic (1841-1881) and the Prince Consort had become its Patron. George Cayley was a remarkable individual being a noted scientist and aeronautical engineer. Throughout the period these institutions existed they became established centres for popularising science and new technologies and inventions. Quintin Hogg acquired the lease and closed the Long Acre site and formally opened the Polytechnic Young Men’s Institute in 1882. The Polytechnic aimed at ‘the instruction of artisans and clerks in the principles and, to some extent, the practice of breadwinning pursuits’. The fees were low and the classes often run in conjunction with the CGLI included courses in bricklaying, electrical installation, plumbing and printing. In 1891 the Polytechnic became publicly funded and was officially named the Regent Street Polytechnic. A view of the Regent Street Polytechnic is shown below.

Regent Poly 1In 1885 Quintin realised that the classrooms of the Polytechnic were empty during the daytime and as a result in 1886 established the Polytechnic Day School. Also in 1885 he opened an Institution for Girls at Langham Place and many of the classes at Regent Street were by then open to young women. By this action he made another major contribution to the educational needs of the time and through a number of day schools which were created in London. Only one of the original schools still exists namely the Quintin School.

The model of operation of the Regent Street Polytechnic prompted the City Parochial Foundation to create the London Polytechnics that included the People’s Palace, the East London Technical College (now Queen Mary College), Northern, Borough, Battersea and Chelsea Polytechnics. In fact Quintin Hogg was able to persuade the Charity Commissioners to endow more Polytechnics in London and by 1900 there were 8 and by 1904 there were 12 in number Their aims and objectives were broadly in line with Hogg’s belief and commitment to promote ‘the industrial skill, general knowledge, health and well-being of young people belonging to the poorer classes’. The Polytechnics at the time occupied an interesting place in the technical education landscape being between the newly emerging civic universities and technical colleges.

Like Lyon Playfair, Quinton Hogg made a major contribution to technical education for those people who at the time were excluded from education. He had a wide vision of education that embraced the intellectual, athletic, social and spiritual aspects of people.

The Regent Street Polytechnic became the Polytechnic of Central London in 1970 along with 29 other institutions to create the binary system of Higher Education. In 1992 The Polytechnic of Central London became the University of Westminster. Quintin Hogg’s legacy lives on through these institutions.


  1. Hogg. E. M., ‘Quintin Hogg. A biography.’ Archibold Contable and Co. 1904.
  2. Eagar. W. M. ‘Making Men. The History of Boys’ Clubs and related movements in Great Britain.’ ULP. 1953.

Future Of Physics

The Future of Physics, first published in Technology Innovation and Society, Summer 1994.

The History of Technical and Commercial Examinations –Glossary

All areas of human activity create and develop their own specialist language. The area of education and training is no exception to this rule and acronyms, abbreviations and special terms abound. The list below attempts to provide a reference of terms used in post-16 education and training as well as terms associated with schools and Higher Education. Although many of the terms are historical they still appear in many documents. This fourth version of the glossary hopefully will cross reference with the history of technical and vocational education, the history of technical and commercial examinations and the chronology. The list cannot hope to be perfectly accurate or complete but should provide a guide to the terminology, new organisations and initiatives that come and go with increasing rapidity but hopefully the list will be of use to the readership.

Update July 2017


A Advanced level (GCE).

AA Advanced Apprenticeship

AACE Army Certificate in Education

AACS Adult Advancement and Careers Service

AAD Advanced Apprenticeship Diploma

AAI Association of Art Institutions

AAP Assessment of Achievement Programme

A1 First Year of Advanced Level Study 2000+

A2 Second Year of Advanced Level Study 2000+

AB Awarding Body

ABC Awarding Body Consortium

ABCM Association of British Chemical Manufacturers’ founded in 1916.

ACC Association Chambers of Commerce

ACCA Qualifications Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales 1997+.

ACE Association of Consulting Engineers.

AEA Advanced Extension Awards first examinations in 2002

AEB Associated Examining Board (‘A’ and ‘O’ levels)

AD Advanced Diploma

AFE Advanced FE level 3 i.e. more than ‘A’ levels

aMA Accelerated Modern Apprenticeship

ALIS ‘A’ Level Information Service – an attempt to assess value added

ALL Advanced Learning Loans

AMA Advanced Modern Apprenticeship

AoN Application of Number

AOs Awarding Organisations

APEL/APL Accreditation of Prior Education (Experience) and Learning/Accreditation of Prior Learning

APU Assessment of Performance Unit established in 1965

AQA Assessment and Qualifications Alliance

AQAC Accreditation and Quality Assurance Committee

ARC Agriculture Research Council

AS Advanced Subsidiary (Originally called Advanced Supplementary which started in 1987) offered from 2000

ASC Agricultural Secretaries Certificate (Scotland).

ASDAN Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network

ASE Amalagmated Society of Engineers

ASET Association for Sandwich Education and Training

ASET Accreditation Syndicate for Education and Training

AST Advanced Skills Teacher

ATI Association of Technical Institutions

ATC/D Art Teacher’s Certificate/Diploma

AVCE Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education – vocational ‘A’ levels. replaced Advanced GNVQs in 2000


BA Bachelor of Arts

BB British Baccalaureate

BEC Business Education Council – 1974-1983

BEC British Employers Federation

BEng Bachelor of Engineering

BERA British Educational Research Association

BERR Department of Business, Education and Regulation/Regulatory

BESE Board of Education Science Examination

BIM British Institute of Management

BIS Business Innovation and Skills

B-IT Business-Implementation Techniques

BJET British Journal of Education Technology

BoE Board of Education (1899-1944)

BS Basic Skills

BSc Bachelor of Science

BSc (Econ) Bachelor of Science (Economics)

BTC British Training and Enterprise Council

BTEC Business Technician Education Council (TEC + BEC) – 1983-1996

BVQR Board for Vocational Qualifications Reform


C 1, C2 The first two years of a craft course

CA Credit Accumulation

CAC Central Advisory Council

CACE Central Council For Education

CAC (W) Central Advisory Council (Wales)

CAEL Council for Adult and Experiential Learning

CAI Computer Aided Instruction

CBA Certificate in Business Administration (Scotland).

CC’s Commercial Certificates

CCA Credit Common Accord

CCEA Northern Ireland Council for Curriculum Examinations and Assessment

CCW Curriculum Council for Wales

cea curriculum, examinations and assessment

CEE Certificate of Extended Studies

CEBR Centre for Economics and Business Research

CEF European Common Framework

CEI Council of Engineering Institutions

CELP College Employer Links Project

Cert Ed Certificate of Education

CERI Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

CEng Chartered Engineer

CFE Certificate of FE (Various stages e.g. 1,2 and 3)

CFEs Colleges of Further Education

CFE/T Certificate of FE/Teaching

CfL Campaign for Learning

CGLI City and Guilds of London Institute

CI Central Institutions

CIE University of Cambridge International Examinations

CIF Common Inspection Framework

CIS Chartered Institute of Secretaries

CITB Construction Industry Training Board

CMS Certificate of Management Studies

CNAA Council for National Academic Awards 1964/5 – 1992

COAD Centre for Optimal Adult Development

CoID Council of Industrial Design

CoP/CP College of Preceptors

COS Certificate of Office Studies

CoT College of Technology

CPhy Chartered Physicist

CPD Continuous Professional Development

CPF City Parochial Foundation

CPVE Certificate of Pre-Vocational Education 1983-1991 – replaced by the DVE in 1991

CREST Creativity in Science and Technology – to promote links between education and science and technology in industry

CREDIS Credit Framework (Wales)

CRMP Certificate in Retail Management Principles

CS Core Skills

C Sci T Chartered Science Teacher

CSA Council for the RSA

CSE Certificate of Secondary Education introduced in 1965. Ceased1986/87

CSYS Certificate of Sixth Year Studies

CT Credit Transfer

CTC Central Training Council

CTEB Council of Technical Examining Bodies – comprised of CGLI and 6 REBs

C2k Curriculum 2000.

CUC Coal Utilisation Council.

CULE Cambridge University Local Examinations.

CVU Council of Validating Universities.


DA Diploma in Art

DAB Diploma Awarding Body

DAB Diploma Development Board

DAE Diploma in Advanced Engineering

DAS Diploma Aggregation Service

DAuE Diploma in Automobile Engineering

DATEC The Art and Design Committee of TEC – 1977-83

DCAe Diploma in Aeronautics (of the College of Aeronautics – Cranfield)

DCE Diploma of Continuing Education

DCSF Department for Children Schools and Families (2007-2010)

DENI Department of Education for Northern Ireland

DES Department of Education and Science (1964-1992)

DDPs Diploma Development Partnerships

DfE Department of Education (1992-1995)

DfEE Department of Education and Employment (1995-2001)

DfES Department for Education and Skills (2001-2007)

DFE Department for Education (2010+)

Dip AD Diploma in Art and Design

Dip HE Diploma in Higher Education from 1974 HE award equivalent to the first two years of an integrated degree course

Dip Tech Diploma in Technology

Dip Tech (Eng) Diploma in Technology (Engineering)

DIUS Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

DMS Diploma in Management Studies

DoE Department of Employment

DoE Department of Education

DoPA Department of Practical Art

DoSA Department of Science and Art

DoT Department of Technology

DPSE Diploma in Professional Studies in Education

DSA Department of Science and Art

DTI Department of Trade and Industry

DUB Durham University Board

DVE Diploma of Vocational Education replaced CPVE in 1991

DWP Department of Work and Pensions


E 1, 2 & 3 Entry levels 1,2 and 3

EA Education Act

EAB Examinations Appeals Board

EAEB East Anglian Examinations Board (CSE)

EAL English as an Additional Language

EARACFE East Anglian Regional Advisory Council for FE

EAV Examining and Validating

EB English Baccalaureate

EB European Baccalaureate

EBC E Bacc Certificate

EBCs English Baccalaureate Certificates

ECDL European Computer Driving Licence

ECITB Engineering Construction Industry Training Board

ECTS European Credit Transfer System

ED Employment Department

ED Education Department

Ed Dep/ED Education Department (1856-1899)

Edexcel Awarding body formed by merger of BTEC and ULEAC in 1996

EfG Engineering for Growth

EDSU Examination Delivery Support Unit

EIGA Engineering Industry Group Apprenticeships (1953+)

EIS Educational Institute of Scotland

EITB Engineering Industry Training Board

EJEB Engineering Joint Examination Board – comprised Institutions of Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Municipal, Marine Engineers, Royal Aeronautical Society and the Institution of Structural Engineers for the purposes of examining candidates for studentship or other grades of the respective institutions

EL Entry Level

ELD Entry Level Diploma

ELWa Education and Learning Wales

EMEU East Midlands Educational Union

EMFEC East Midlands FE Council

EMREB East Midlands Region Examinations Board (CSE)

E 1,2 and 3 Entry levels 1, 2 and 3

EMTA Engineering Marine Training Authority

Eng Tech Engineering Technician

EQF European Qualifications Framework

EQCF European Qualifications and Credit Framework

ERDF European Regional Development Fund

ESB Employer Skills Board

ESIW Essential Skills in the Workplace

E2E Entry to Employment

ET Education Training

ET Education and Training

ETC Elementary Technical Course

ETDU Examinations Techniques Development Unit

EV External Verification/Verifier

EVB Examining and Validating Bodies


FAB Federation of Awarding Bodies from 2001

FBI Federation of British Industries (Now the CBI).

FCEC Federation of Civil Engineers Contractors founded in 1919.

FD Foundation Diploma.

FD Foundation Degree from 2001.

FDA Foundation Degree in Arts.

FDF Foundation Degree Forward.

FDG Foundation Degree Group.

FDS Foundation Degree in Science

FDs Foundation Diplomas

FDTF Foundation Degree Task Force

FE Further Education

FECs FEColleges

FES FE Sector

FES24 FE and Skills 24

FFORWM National Organisation for FE Colleges in Wales

FL Foundation Learning

FLT Foundation Learning Tier

FM Functional Mathematics

FMA Foundation Modern Apprenticeship

FSs Functional Skills

FSMQ Free Standing Mathematics Qualifications

FSMUs Free Standing Mathematics Units

FT Foundation Tier

FTC Full Technological Certificate awarded by CGLI


G General Course

G 1, G2 First two years of a part-time general preliminary diagnostic course at a FE college

G* One-year part-time general preliminary diagnostic course at a college

GA Graduate Apprenticeship

GCE General Certificate of Education from 19511986/87 replaced by GCSEs

GCs Group Certificates

G-CC Grouped-Course Certificate

GCSE General Certificate of Secondary Education

GEC General Education Course

GNVQ General National Vocational Qualification 1991

GRIC Graduateship/Graduate of the Royal Institute of Chemistry

GSVQ General Scottish Vocational Qualification


H Higher grade of the Scottish leaving certificate

HCOS Higher Certificate in Office Studies

HNC/HND Higher National Diploma/Certificate 1921+

HD Higher Diploma

HFE Higher and Further Education

HMIs Her Majesty Inspectors

HSLC Higher School Leaving Certificate

HT Higher Tier

HTB Hairdressing Training Board

HTC Higher technical Certificate

HTD Higher Technical Diploma


IBacc/Int Bacc International Baccalaureate

IBD International Baccalaureate Diploma

IC Intermediate Certificate (CGLI)

ICAAE International Curriculum and Assessment Agency for Examinations

ICAC Intermediate Certificate in Art and Crafts

ICWA Institute of Cost and Works Accountants

ID Intermediate Diploma

IEE Intermediate Engineering Examination

IEng Incorporated Engineer

IEQs International English Qualifications

IIA Institute of Industrial Administration – offered certificate in Foremanship and Works Supervision

IIS Institute of Industrial Studies

IML Institute of Leadership and Management – formed by the merger of NEBSM and ISM in 2002

ILAs Individual Learning Accounts

ILP Individual Learning Plan

IOM Institute of Office Management

ISM Institute of Supervision and Management

ITB Industrial Training Board

ITC Industrial Training Council

ITOs Industrial Training Organisations

ITQ Information Technology Qualification

IVQs International Vocational Qualifications


JACQA Joint Advisory Committee for Qualifications Approval

J1, J2 Prior to 1944 the two years in a junior technical school before entering a senior course in a college

JBPVE Joint Board for Pre-Vocational Qualifications

JC Joint Committee

JCC Junior Commercial Certificate

JCS Junior Commercial School

JCGQ Joint Council for General Qualifications established in 1999 comprising AQA. Edexcel. OCR. CCEA (NI). WJEC (Wales)

JCQ Joint Council for Qualifications

JMB Joint Matriculation Board

JTS Joint Technical Scheme

JTS Junior Technical School


KS Key Skills

KSA Key Skills Assessment

KS 1/2/3/4 Key Stages in National Curriculum

KSSP Key Skills Support Programme


LA Local Authority

LBs Lead Bodies

LCC London Chamber of Commerce started examinations in 1890

LCCI/LCCIEB London Chamber of Commerce and Industry Examinations Board 1890+

LEA Local Education Authority

LEAEG London and East Anglian Examining Group (GCSE + CSE examinations)

LHCRACTE London and Home Counties Regional Advisory Council for Technological Education

LIBs Lead Industry bodies

LME London Matriculation Examinations

LNE Literacy,Numeracy and ESOL

LPC London Polytechnic Council

LREB London Region Examination Board

LSIS Learning and Improvement Service

LUEs London University Examinations

LUIs London Union of Institutions


MA Modern Apprenticeship from 1995 – Foundation (FMA)/Advanced (AMA)

MAAC Modern Apprenticeship Advisory Committee – 2001+

MaST Mathematics Specialist Teacher

MC Matriculation Certificate

MCT Membership of the College of Technologists taken over by CNAA

MEnt Master of Enterprise

ME/MEng Master of Engineering

MEG Midlands Examining Group (GCSE + CSE examinations)

MLE Main Learning Element

MoE Ministry of Education (1944-1964)

MoL Ministry of Labour

MoT Ministry of Technology

MSc (Eng) Master of Science (Engineering)

MTL Masters in Teaching and Learning

MTech Master of Technology


NAA National Assessment Board

NABCE Non award Bearing Continuing Education

NABTEB National Business and Technical Examination Board

NAC National Apprenticeship Council

NACAE National Advisory Council on Art Education

NACEIC National Advisory Council on Education for Industry and Commerce

NAFE Non Advanced FE – up to level 3 i.e. ‘A’ level

NAS National Apprentice Scheme

NAW National Assembly of Wales

NBD National Bakery Diploma

NC National Certificate from 1921 Joint Committees replaced by BTEC awards

NC National Curriculum

NC/DA National Certificate/Diploma in Agriculture

NCBS National Certificate in Business Studies

NCC National Curriculum Council 1988-93

NCDAD National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design – established in 1961

NCETW National Council for Education and Training in Wales (ELWa)

NCF National Curriculum Framework

NCFE Northern Council for FE

NC/DH National Certificate/Diploma in Horticulture

NCITO National Council of Industry Training Organisations

NCS National Certificate Scheme

NCs National Certificates

NCTA National Council for Technological Awards

NCTEC Northern Counties Technical Examinations Council

NCVQ National Council for Vocational Qualifications 1987-97

NCWE National Council for Work Experience

ND New Deal

NDA National Diploma in Agriculture

ND National Diploma from 1921 Joint Committees replaced by BTEC awards

NDD National Diploma in Design

NDS National Diploma Scheme

NEA Northern Examining Association (GCSE + CSE examinations)

NEB National Examination Board (Shorter title for NEBAHAI)

NEBAHAI National Examination Board for Agriculture, Horticulture and Allied Industries

NEBOSH National Examinations Board in Occupational Safety and Health

NEBSM National Examinations Board for Supervisory and Management

NEBSS National Examination Board in Supervisory Studies – established in 1964

NGfL National Grid for Learning

NICCEA Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment

NIG NAFE Implementation Group

NIHEC Northern Ireland HE Council

NISEC Northern Ireland Secondary Examinations Council

NISVQ National Information System for Vocational Qualifications

NNEB Nursery Nurses Examination Board

NOC National Occupational Standards

NOCN National Open College Network

NPS National Preferred Scheme

NPTC National Proficiency Test Council

NQAI National Qualifications Authority of Ireland

NQF National Qualifications Framework

NR National Route

NRA National Record of Achievement 1991+

NRDC National Retail Distribution Certificate

NRCVQ Network of National Resources Centres for Vocational Guidance

NREB Northern Region Examinations Board

NROVA National Record of Vocational Achievement 1988+

NSEAD National Society for Education in Art and Design

NSLC Natural Science Learning Centre

NSTF National Skills task Force established in 1998

NTA National Training Award

NUJMB Northern Universities Joint Matriculation Board

NVG National Consultative Group for Co-ordination of Validation Arrangements in Agriculture and Related Subjects

NVQs National Vocational Qualifications 1988+

NWREB North West Regional Examinations Board (CSE)


‘O’ Ordinary level

O1, O2 First two years of an ONC course

Ofqual Office of Qualifications

OC Open  College – established in 1987 by the DTI

OD1, OD2 First two years of an OND course

OCR Oxford Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts from 1998

OCEAC Oxford Cambridge Examinations and Assessment Council

OFSTED Office for Standards in Education established in 1992 later titled Office for Standards in Education

OCSEC Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examinations Council (O and A levels)

OD Open Diplomas

ODLE Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations

Ofqual Regulator for qualifications, examinations and assessments in England and for vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland

OND/Cs Ordinary National Diplomas/Certificates from 1921 Joint Committees

1-2-1 Careers advice replaced by Jobseeker Plus  1994-1998

Op 1, Op 2 First two years of an operatives course

Open College Established by the DTI in 1987

Open Tech 1982-87 a relatively short lived project

OT Other Training – other training not leading to NVQ qualifications

OU Open University 1969 first students in 1971

OUDE Oxford University Department of Education


P1, P2 First two years on preliminary course

PCC Preliminary Craft Course (Pre-Craft Certificate)

PCE Professional Certificate in Education

PE Pitman Examinations

PEI Pitman Examination Institute

PGCE Post Graduate Certificate in Education

PIs Performance Indicators

PL Principal Learning

PNC Preliminary National Course (Pre-National Certificate)

POS Programme of Study

PRA Professional Recognition Award

PSC Pre-Senior Course

PST Pre-Senior Course

PST Preliminary Senior Technical Course. (Evening Institute)

PTC Preliminary Technical Course offered by REBs (Pre-technical Certificate)


 QAA Quality Assurance Agency

QCA Qualifications and Curriculum Authority 1997+- merger of NCVQ and SCAA.

QCDA Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency

QCF Qualifications and Credit Framework

QIA Quality Improvement Agency

QNCA Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority (Original title of QCA)


RAA Royal Academy of Arts

RACs Regional Advisory Councils

RACOFEEM Regional Advisory Council for the Organisation of Further Education in the East Midlands

RCB Regional Curriculum Board

RCT Royal College of Technologists/Technology

RDAs Regional Development Agencies

REBs Regional Examinations Boards/Bodies

REPLAN DES programme to provide better opportunities for unemployed adults – 1984-1991

REUs Regional Examining Unions

RMC Regional Management Centre

RMCA Regional Management Centre Association

RoA Record of Achievement

RoC Rules of Combination

RRQs The Register of Regulated Qualifications

RSA (Royal) Society of Arts founded in 1754

RDA Regional Development Agency

RSPs Regional Skills Partnerships

RtA Route to Achievement

RTJC Retail Trade Junior Certificate

RVQ Review of Vocational Qualifications 1986

RVQs Related Vocational Qualifications

RWE Realistic Working Environments


S1, S2 Prior to 1944 the first two years of a senior course in Scotland

SA Student Apprenticeship

SAD Science and Art Department

SANCAD Scottish Association for National Certificates and Diplomas – established in 1962

SAR Self Assessment Report

SASE Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for Employers

SATs Standard Assessment Tests

SC School Certificate

SC Schools Council 1964 replaced  SSEC that was created in 1917

SCAA School Curriculum and Assessment Authority 1993-1997 – merged with NCVQ to form QCA

SCAGES Standing Conference of Associations for Guidance in Educational Settings

SCC Senior Commercial Certificate (Scotland)

SCCE Scottish Council for Commercial Education – established in 1961

SCCE Schools Council for the Curriculum and Examinations

SCAA Schools’ Curriculum and Assessment Authority

SCDU School Curriculum Development Committee founded in 1984

SCE Scottish Certificate of Education

SCORE Science Community Representing Education

SCOTBEC Scottish Business Education Council

SCOTCATS Scottish Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme

SCOTEC Scottish Technician Education Council

SCOTVEC Scottish Vocational Education Council 1983+ Scottish equivalent of TEC and BEC

SCQF Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework from 2002

SCRAC Standing Conference of Regional Advisory Councils

SCREB Standing Conference of Regional Examination Boards

SCTEB Standing Conference on Technical Examining Bodies

SD Specialised Diplomas

SDC Scottish Diploma in Commerce (Scotland)

SDUK Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge

SE Scottish Executive

SEAC School Examination and Assessment Council 1983-1993 replaced by SCAA

SEB Scottish Examination Board

SEC Schools Examinations Council founded in 1984

SED Scottish Education Department

SFR Statistical First Release

SEG Southern Examining Group (GCSE + CSE examinations)

SEO Scottish Office

SEREB South East Regional Examinations Board (CSE)

SFA Skills Funding Council

SIAD Society of Industrial Artists and Designers

SL Supplementary Learning

SoA Society of Art

SOC Standard Occupational Classifications

SOED Scottish Office Education Department

SQA Scottish Qualifications Authority from 1997

SQC Scottish Qualifications Certificate

SRCFE Scottish Region Council for FE

SREB Southern Regional Examinations Board (CSE)

SS Skills Strategy

SSA Sector Subject Area

SSA Scottish Survey of Achievement

SSC Senior Secretarial Certificate (Scotland)

SSEC Secondary Schools Examinations Council

STC Short Training Course

SRECC Scottish Technical Education Consultative Council

S-SC Single-Subject Certificates

STF Scottish Training Federation

SUEB Scottish Universities Entrance Board

SUJB(SE) Southern Universities Joint Board (for School Examinations)

SVQ Scottish Vocational Qualification

SVQRB Scottish Vocational Qualifications Reform Board

SWEB South West Examination Board (CSE)


‘T’ Technician Course

T1, T2 First two years of a technician course

TC Technical Certificate -part of the Modern Apprenticeship framework  2002+

TCs Training Credits

TEB Technical Education Board (London)

TEC Technician Education Council

TD Technical Diploma

TGAT Task Group on Assessment and Training established in 1983

TMG Target Minimum Grade

TRADEC Trades Education Courses

TRIST TVEI-Related In-Service Training

TSP Training for Skills Programme

TVEI Technical Vocational Education Initiative from 1983


UABs Unitary Awarding Boards/Bodies

UBS Unit Based System

UCLES University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate

UESEC University Education and Schools Examination Council

UD Unit Database

UDE University Diploma of Education

UDSEB University of Durham School Examination Board – abolished in 1964

UEI Union of Educational Institutions

UF Unified Framework

UFI University for Industry from 2000

UKBVQR UK Board for Vocational Qualifications Reform

ULCI Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutions

ULEAC University of London Examinations and Assessments Council

UODLE University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations

UoD Units of Delivery

UoI Union of Institutions

UQ Unified Qualifications

ULF Union Learning Fund

UVP Unified Vocational Preparation 1976-1983 DES/TSD initiative to develop vocational preparation for young people in jobs which did not offer any training or FE


VABs Vocational Awarding Bodies

VASFE Vocational Aspects of Secondary and FE

VCE Vocational Certificates of Education

VCE ‘A’ level Vocational Certificate of Education Advanced level

VET Vocational Education and Training

VGCSEs Vocational GCSEs replaced GNVQs in 2001

VQs Awarding bodies include: CGLI. AQA. OCR. Edexcel. CITB. EITB. OU. LCCIEB. Institute of Management Foundation. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Chartered Institute of Bankers.

VQRP Vocational Qualifications Reform Programme

VRQs Vocationally Related Qualifications from 2002


WABLA (HE) Welsh Advisory Body for Local Authority Higher Education from 1982

WAG Welsh Assembly Government

WB Welsh Baccalaureate

WBA Work Based Assessment/Accreditation

WBA Work Based Assessment

WE Work Experience

WJEC Welsh Joint Education Committee (Cyd-Bwyllgor Addysg Cymru – CBAC) 1944+

WMACFE West Midlands Advisory Councils for FE

WMEB West Midlands Examinations Board (CSE)

WO Welsh Office

WRNAFE Work Related Non-Advanced FE

WULF Wales Union Learning Find



YA Young Apprenticeship

YC Youth Credit

YCFE Yorkshire Council for FE

YHAFHE Yorkshire and Humberside Association for Further and Higher Education

YHREB Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Examinations Board (CSE)

YPLA Young People’s Learning Agency

YTS Began in 1983

YUMI Yorkshire Union of Mechanics Institutions


A few definitions of terms and expressions commonly used in examining and examinations:

Academic Drift The perception by many to see academic qualifications as superior to non-academic or vocational programmes and therefore follow the supported academic routes. Also technical and vocational qualifications drift and gradually become more academic in nature.

Accreditation Set of formal procedures though which one academic body or university accredits the awards of another and acts as guarantor of appropriate standards

Achievement Outcome of learning, the acquisition of competence, skill or knowledge

Aptitude: an individual’s potential ability to acquire skills or knowledge.

Assessment: a judgement about the quality of a student’s work and the level at which the student has performed. Formative assessment is carried out during the course of study whilst summative assessment is carried out at the end of the course. Formal methods of assessment include assignments, examinations, essays, multi-choice, projects and tests.

Attainment: level of learning or achieving knowledge or skills to date in defined areas.

Competence: the ability to perform a learned and required task to a recognised standard.

Competence-based assessment: characterised by a focus on measurable learning outcomes, not inputs, the separation of learning from assessment, no-time serving criteria and an emphasis on performance in the workplace (or meaningful simulation).

Credential inflation: the supposed devaluing of qualifications as a result of more students taking them.

Criterion –referenced assessment: an approach when there is a list of criteria available to provide guidance to the standard that is required. A student is assessed according to how well the criteria have been realised and the assessment is made by the tutor or by the student (self-assessment).

Grade Inflation: occurs when the pass marks appear to increase each year but standards don’t and these can fall or just remain the same.

Norm-referenced assessment: an approach when the performance of one individual is ranked in comparison with that of the others. A crude method of limiting the number of passes.

Qualification Inflation A perception/view held by some people that jobs that once required say ‘O/GCSE’ levels now require ‘A’ levels and those that once required ‘A’ levels now require first degrees. It gives rise to so-called under-employment.

Sandwich Course: Period of study in an educational institution augmented by periods of practical work- based experience. Two forms exist e.g. thick – long periods and thin – shorter periods of placement.

Skills: Practical abilities that underpin performance

Validation: A process of quality assurance through which a course/programme of study is deemed worthy of the validating/awarding body’s approval

Workplace Competences: Inter-personal skills-( i) teamwork and ability to collaborate in pursuit of a common objective. (ii) leadership capabilities. Intra-personal skills- i) motivation and attitudes. (ii) ability to learn. (iii) problem solving skills. (iv) effective communication skills with colleagues and clients (e.g. written, verbal and numerical). (v) analytical skills and Technological and ICT skills

Chapter 17 – Concluding Remarks

Introduction and Reflections

Writing this short and history has been an enjoyable experience providing me with a rich and fascinating insight into this important aspect of the education system. Constraints of time and space have made it impossible to record all aspects of such a complex topic and as a result many key elements have not been considered e.g. education and training in agriculture, horticulture, art and design, technical and commercial education for women, work place learning and the development of technical education in Ireland and more recently Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I intend to describe these and other topics not covered in the history later.

This chapter attempts to bring the history to a conclusion and will reflect on some of the issues identified throughout the period covered. Chapter 1 of the history identified a number of problems and obstacles that have impeded the development of technical education and training particularly in England and in this chapter I will briefly reflect on some of these of factors. The history of technical and commercial education and training has most certainly confirmed that a laissez faire philosophy prevailed for most of the period since the late 18th century. Successive governments were reluctant to get directly involved in its development until well into the 19th century and even then in a guarded and half hearted fashion. Even when governments did begin to get involved and introduced a more centralist control they failed to develop consistent, fair, robust and sustained policies towards technical and commercial education and training. Whichever government was in power the school and university sectors inevitably received preference in terms of resources and understanding. Ironically the history has shown how the pendulum swung and how successive governments have gradually begun to intervene in the management of technical and commercial education. The pendulum has moved from one extreme point of disengagement to the other and currently education and training is micro managed to a massive degree in terms of content and assessment regimes in stark contrast to the laissez faire approach of the 19th century. Clearly what is now required is a more acceptable balance between these two extremes that capitalises on each of their respective advantages.

Class discrimination most certainly figured greatly in the history and sadly still persists today. A recent survey (July 2009) on social mobility again identified the continued influence of privilege and advantage in the backgrounds of children wishing to enter the professions. However the report presents a partial and biased account of the situation by using language that itself reinforces the way this country perceives the status of occupations and education. The survey categorises and ranks the perceived value and social standing of professions by using such expressions as the higher professions meaning the senior echelons of the civil service, financial services, law and medicine whilst scientific or technological professions are not included within the term! This report along with others which have appeared over many years inevitably stress that the country needs more young people to go to university in order to gain first or higher degrees. It’s all about increasing the number of graduates irrespective of the degree subject studied. In addition numerous reports and surveys seldom mention or attempt to advocate long term strategies to increase the number of graduates in subjects like engineering, mathematics, physical sciences etc. In addition these reports rarely mention the importance and role that can be played by other sectors of education e.g. colleges and training providers. These institutions can make a significant contribution in improving the flow of the vast majority of qualified people into a wide spectrum of occupations as well as supporting people in work to update their skills. This country still seems to undervalue the essential skills and competences that should be possessed by the majority of workers and assigns greater status to graduates and people in the so-called higher professions. What is urgently required is the recognition that a productive workforce is one in which all members are qualified and equally regarded. A balanced and qualified workforce increasingly involves working in teams with all members of the team bringing specific and various competences, knowledge, skills and understanding to the task/project in hand. Each member makes a contribution making use of their specific specialisms and skills. A good example of this is the engineering team where the chartered engineer, the incorporated engineer and the engineering technician work to each other’s strengths to achieve successful outcomes to their work. Their respective education and training must be seen as of equal value and the qualifications and experiences gained by each member valued.

One of the problems with much of the research about the effect of class and social mobility is that it is conducted by people who have no direct experience of the state system of education nor have they in worked technical and scientific occupations. As a result one will always get a partial and narrow set of outcomes often reflecting the backgrounds and dare I say it prejudices of the researchers. The influence of the private school sector still creates and exercises a disproportionate influence on so many aspects of this country’s life. Former students of private school education continue to occupy senior and influential positions in politics and the so-called higher professions. The issue of advantage because of privileged backgrounds or class has been known for decades if not centuries and yet the recent survey was picked up by the press and media as something that was a new occurrence. The 2009 survey again rehearsed issues that have been highlighted many time before but at least highlighted that in spite of all the initiatives over the years social divisions continue to increase and social mobility has declined. An example of the advantages gained from a privileged background was identified by Philip Vernon back in the 1950s citing the benefits of extra coaching/tuition given to pupils preparing for the 11+ examination. Vernon conclusively showed that additional coaching could increase the IQ index by 14 points. The advantage came from the fact that pupils who attended certain schools would receive more concentrated tuition in class and/or their parents could afford to pay for additional private tuition. Vernon also pointed out the benefits of such factors such as class size and resources.

Another factor identified in the history is the continued indifference towards scientific and technical education and training by politicians in this country. This deficit has been exacerbated over the past two decades by the appearance of the career politician who has little or no experience of working in industry let alone any direct experience of science or technology. Many of them enter politics as political assistants or researchers or after leaving the rarefied atmosphere of the city and yet they will be taking decisions that affect the majority of people in the country. One symptom of these career politicians is their use of language which they and their script writers bombard us with. Meaningless jargon and acronyms abound in an attempt to convince us that they are superior to ordinary mortals and innovative and very knowledgeable about the topic. Because they know little about the subject they seek sanctuary in this gobbledegook.

Throughout the history many examples of academic drift have been highlighted in the development and evolution of technical and commercial education and training. The desire to hierarchically rank institutions, occupations and qualifications abound. A wide range of descriptors are used to differentiate and segregate these elements into groups to indicate that they are better than the rest. One of the many unfortunate consequences of academic drift is that many institutions strive to get into the top league. A classic example is when a number of polytechnics were designated universities then quickly dropped large tracts of technical subjects or transferred this provision to local colleges. Universities which carry out a large proportion of research are perceived as being superior to those that are predominantly teaching institutions. Degrees are perceived of more value and a higher status than say HNDs/HNCs whilst GCE ‘A’ levels are seen of greater value than technical and vocational qualifications gained from CGLI, RSA et al. The current review of assessment (2009) that was established following the 2008 examination marking fiasco managed by QCA has already stressed that ‘A’ levels are the gold standard for entry into HE. The resultant coverage by the media again emphasised that ‘A’ levels are special and if students struggle with them they should, quote, ‘seek alternatives’ like technical and vocational qualifications. Explicitly they are placing these awards in a lower league than GCE ‘A’ level. Another current example of the obsession is associated with institutional titles adopted in order to differentiate them from other institutions, e.g. the creation of COVEs, City Academies, Specialist Schools etc. Many other examples exist but academic drift does create a false belief that a hierarchical system is beneficial for institutions, occupations and qualifications and people etc. As a result technical and practical occupations and by definition their qualifications are perceived as being of a lower value and status than the so called academic qualifications. Even more concerning is the continuing perception that technical and practical occupations and qualifications are for people labelled as “less able”.

Another really fascinating current example of how governments perceive the value of various qualifications and experience in the workplace is shown by the latest points system being introduced to assess the eligibility of immigrant workers wishing to work in this country. One key indicator in assessing eligibility is associated with degree qualifications e.g. an applicant possessing a degree or better still a Masters qualification will gain far more points than a person who does not possess a degree equivalent qualification. Equally disconcerting is that less recognition will be given to an individual who has been both successful and gained significant experience in a particular occupation. So again a degree is seen as more important than other qualifications and skills acquired through direct, sustained and proven experience in the work place.

Another factor identified throughout the history was the complacency of British industry and its supposed supremacy in the world. This attitude persisted well into the 20th century even though by then it was obvious that the country was no longer the workshop of the world and had lost the ‘empire premium’. One interesting example of this complacency was associated with the arguments about Britain’s contribution to the European Community budget in the 1970s. Britain fought hard and long to get a rebate arguing it received little back from its contribution. A little known fact was that when the initial agreements were struck regarding Britain’s contribution the government and many employers imagined that the bigger and freer market so created by entry to the Community would result in a massive increase in exports to the EC countries. Politicians and some employers still had an inflated belief that it could export more of the country’s products and services to the other nine members but this proved to be a false aspiration as we had lost our competitive edge in manufacturing. Therefore what had not been fully recognised, by the politicians and employers, and this reflected the complacency, was that by the mid-1970s the country had lost most of its manufacturing base. As a result the country was confronted with a massive deficit between the contribution made and the financial return resulting from our misguided assumption of increased export revenue to Europe.

Perhaps this history can be accused of being too negative about the development of technical and commercial education and training but I hope it triggers constructive debate. The history has described a wide range of initiatives many of which were driven by a number of remarkable visionaries but they ultimately failed because of inadequate resources or lack of political will. Increased funding, positive changes in government priorities and the resultant initiatives have over the decades promised much and raised expectations. However as a result of these hopeful signs many false dawns appeared and expectations were all too often violated and overall it is fair to say that little has improved and many fundamental weaknesses still persist. What is urgently needed now is a fundamental and radical reform in order to tackle and resolve once and for all the multitude of problems and obstacles, many of which are interrelated, that exist at present. A fundamental review and reform of public services is urgently required particularly in regard to their purpose and relationship with the private sector. So as I approach the end of the history I will attempt to draw a number of strands together.

Below is a summary of some of the issues that have and continue to impact negatively on the development of an effective system for technical and commercial education and training. The list focuses mainly on current problems associated with technical and commercial education and training. Many of these have in different forms been present over the period of this history and have most certainly contributed to its slow and disappointing development.

Current Problems and Obstacles Associated with Technical and Commercial Education and Training.

  • Continued interference and intervention from government – split responsibilities across a number of departments – no consistent policy approach.
  • Increasing micro-management of education and training from the government and its departments.
  • Too many disparate initiatives and quangos and changes in policy which are too often operated on a short term basis and without any proper evaluation.
  • The post-16 sector is still a very fragmented sector – too many organisations involved in managing the providers e.g. LSC, LLSCs, SSCs etal.
  • Inadequate funding and the operation of insensitive funding methodologies that do not fully recognise the true costs associated with practical based subjects.
  • The continuing negative view driven by the class structure and the resulting snobbery in this country towards technical and commercial education and training and practical/manual  professions
  • The damaging consequences of the continued operation of the free market resulting in wasteful competition in the drive to cut costs.
  • The belief that the USA can offer the best solutions to our problems associated with education and training instead of looking at other countries that have developed excellent technical and vocational systems e.g. Sweden. Finland, Australia etc.
  • Too many quangos and agencies that are largely unaccountable and staffed by people who possess little or no knowledge of technical and vocational education and training and have little or no knowledge of the world of work in the economy.
  • No real government commitment to involve employers in an equal way in the planning and decision taking processes – too often tokenism is exercised by politicians and their advisors and consultants.
  • Currently very few scientific and technical Foundation Degree programmes.
  • Ageing staff in FE – the majority of whom lack recent experience in work places in the economy.
  • Not clear how the proposed National Skills Academies will relate to the Centres of Excellence in FE and other specialist and centres of excellence institutions that are currently being created.
  • Skills gaps and shortages continue across practically all employment sectors.
  • In addition to the ethical issues the government continues to operate a muddled approach on economic migrants and their role in regard to skill shortages and gaps.
  • Ineffective labour market research and intelligence.
  • Ineffective careers guidance, advice and information for school leavers and adults.
  • No real sense of urgency to solve the problems associated with skills e.g., time lines being set for 2020!
  • GCE ‘A’ level still dominates and shapes level 3 qualifications.
  • The current skills agenda is still obsessed with level 2 qualifications – little emphasis on the higher skills levels.
  • The current absence of any education and training policy for the over 25 year-olds.

The second list identifies some of the factual realities that need to be recognised and addressed in order to begin to resolve and remove the obstacles.

Some Facts that Impact on Possible Reforms of Technical and Commercial Education and Training.

  • Continued closures and mergers of technical departments in colleges.
  • Continued closures or mergers of university departments in the sciences, in Mathematical and technological related disciplines – approaching 100 over the past fifteen years.
  • The concerns about the quality of graduates and grade inflation of degrees.
  • The completion rate for apprenticeship is still woefully low at 39%.
  • The inability of engineering, mathematics and science professions to attract a sufficiently high proportion of motivated and able students.
  • The continuing lack of recruitment of women into scientific, technical and technological subjects.
  • Enrolments in technical and practical based subjects continue to decline at all levels.
  • Mathematics, science and technical subjects continue to be unpopular at the post -16 stage.
  • Shortages of qualified staff in key subject areas in FE often resulting from low salaries and intense competition from other employment sectors.
  • Low staff morale in colleges and other training providers.
  • Although participation in education and training has been widened and increased particularly for the 16 to 21 age group since the early 1990s this aspect is littered with questionable targets, league tables and performance indices.
  • Relatively small increase in enrolments since the early 1990s in technical programmes above level 2.
  • GCE ‘A’ levels must be fundamentally reformed or ceased altogether.
  • The new curriculum frameworks being developed must not be based on the GCE ‘A’ level model especially the assessment regimes.
  • Imposition of the free market to encourage competition and drive down costs has seriously damaged the education and training sectors and has not necessarily led to the intended improvement in quality.
  • The introduction of broader based vocational programmes e.g. GNVQ, Applied GCSEs, Modern Apprenticeships and Vocational Diplomas etc. to encourage increased numbers of technically qualified people has yet to be fully evaluated.
  • Encouragement of a culture of lifelong learning with such programmes as New Deal still not realised its intended impact on people’s choices.
  • Industrial productivity continues to fall relative to our competitors – current level back to what it was in 1990 (OEDC and ONS figures for 2005).
  • The continued neglect of the importance of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the economy. They will play an increasingly important part in the economy and must be supported and receive special assistance from the government e.g. tax and grant concessions and lower interest rates to encourage their growth. Strategies to help SMEs develop CDP programmes for their employees.
  • Poor performance in producing graduates in science, mathematics, statistics and engineering compared with the India, China and Eastern Europe.
  • The continued poor levels of literacy and numeracy skills in the country especially among adults.
  • One in 12 secondary schools are still failing to achieve the government target for GCSE results (namely at least 30% of pupils should get five C grades at GCSE, including English and Mathematics). Of the 270 schools failing 40 are academies – so much for a goverment flag ship!
  • The SATs tests in 2009 have shown that 35,000 pupils will leave primary school unable to read or write properly. In addition the results show that 20% of pupils failed to reach level 4 in English whilst the figure in mathematics was 21% . Equally concerning even accepting the questionable value of these tests that the overall standards have declined in 2009 for the first time since their creation.
  • Another international survey on ITC and broadband performance placed Britain 25th out of 66 nations. South Korea and Sweden were placed at the top.

It is important for politicians and other policy makers to recognise that many of the above issues will take a long time and it could even be a generation before they are resolved and as a result will require long term strategies free of political dogma and short term expediency.

As a result of the above lists a number of key questions need to be asked and answered if the country is to begin to resolve these current problems.

Some Questions that Need to be Answered.

  • What, if any, is the role of central government policy in technical education and training?
  • How can the roles of national economic development, business development, employment and education and training be improved?
  • What sensible balance is required between central government, regional and local government in order to manage technical education and training more effectively and efficiently?
  • What balance is required between public and private funding and involvement in post-16 education and training to manage education and training?
  • How should skills be defined for the future in order to reflect more accurately future needs of employers, learners and occupations and most certainly the rapidly changing nature of work?
  • How best can small and medium sized enterprises be supported in order to be more successful and secure in the global economy?
  • Is it time to fundamentally review the purpose and role of the public services?
  • What levels of freedom and autonomy should education and training providers be allowed to exercise in curriculum development and delivery?
  • What levels of freedom and autonomy should examination bodies have in a climate of heavy centralist prescription?
  • How should pre-vocational, general and vocational be defined?
  • How can the image and status of technical and commercial education and training be improved?
  • How can parity of esteem be fully achieved between vocational and academic/general qualifications?
  • How best can work based learning be more effectively assessed?
  • How can colleges and other training providers develop more realistic working environments (RWEs)?
  • How should training be defined in the future as historically it has been seen as being learning a narrow set of operations or skills often by rote learning methods?
  • What is the purpose of work experience for different student populations?

These problems must be addressed by all political parties and in education and training policy on a long term basis and education and training should not used as a political pawn. Ideally education and training policy should be operated on a coalition and consensus basis that will allow the distinctive features of long term policies to be maintained and realised for the benefit of future generations of students and learners.

Since 1991 successive governments have developed and driven post-16 education and training policy through the FE sector which from this date included 6th form colleges. However these policies have had little impact on the development of technical and vocational provision in sixth-forms in schools and sixth-form colleges and it will be interesting to see if the current round of reforms will change this situation. After a number of years when successive governments removed the control and management of FE from the LEAs the current reforms to post-16 education and training will bring them back to a limited extent. The LEAs did not have a particularly good track record before in managing colleges and since the last major reforms that led to the incorporation of colleges including 6th form colleges have lost staff who possessed recent experience, sympathy and understanding of post-16 education and training. In addition the current reforms will require schools to introduce vocational programmes into the curricula. I fear schools will find it difficult to rise to the challenges presented by these changes. Schools will not be able to provide the necessary and appropriate facilities without a great deal of funding and find it difficult to appoint qualified staff in a number of vocational areas. In addition many teachers will be resistant to teaching these vocational subjects particularly those who have been involved with the comfort zone of GCSEs and ‘A’ Levels. Since the early 1990s post-16 participation rates have increased and the FE sector enrolled more students than the school and HE sectors combined and colleges recruited more ‘A’ level students than the school sector. However enrolments for technical subjects declined in relative terms to the general/academic and basic skills numbers.

Unfortunately technical and vocational education and training continued to be determined and driven by political dogma and ideology and as the responsibility has been successively moved from one government department to another i.e. DES, DfEE, DfES, DIUS etc. Even after the creation of the DfEE – later named the DfES –there was still no single departmental focus or single minister who had overall responsibility for the system. Responsibility for science has been moved across a number of different government departments over the past few years and this has weakened the profile and influence of science significantly in the political corridors. Too often politicians and staff in quangos and agencies lack understanding of science and technology and nor do they have sufficient empathy or interest in its progress. You only need to look at the wide variation in the lead times taken to introduce major reforms in technical education and training to realise the sector is too often treated with indifference. Too often hastily and poorly resourced reforms are introduced e.g. NVQs and GNVQs with little thought for the long-term consequences of these critical developments and how they relate to existing systems. However even when other reforms take a long time e.g. the formation of NTOs and SSCs it does not necessarily improve the outcome and again reflects a lack of real understanding of the implications and importance of the reforms. An equally worrying characteristic especially with increasing international competition and the demands of the global market is the government’s somewhat unhurried attitude. There often seems to be no real sense of urgency in introducing radical and fundamental reforms preferring to delay major decisions or to just tinker with the existing systems and structures.


Manufacturing continues to decline as companies out -source their production overseas and this coupled with the recent flurry of mergers and acquisitions (M&As) of domestic companies by overseas companies means that fewer technically qualified people will be needed. The additional concern following the M&As development is that Research and Development (R&D) will move to the related outsourced overseas country and will inevitably result in a reduction in the domestic training budgets. The increasing growth of mergers and acquisitions could also weaken the national corporate identity of businesses in this country and create a further fragile aspect in its economy as retrenchment always occurs when recessions happen. A survey conducted by Business Week and Interbrand (2009) identified only one British company namely HSBC in the top 50 global brands and only two others, BP and Smirnoff made it into the top 100 globally acknowledged brands. Clearly the nature of manufacturing has changed over the past few decades and the way the government defines it in terms of statistical returns and reports. Manufacturing in this country has apparently increased by about 30% over the last twenty years. However, the range of products and services in the statistical surveys has been extended to include such areas as creative industries, design, entertainment and multi-media technologies, financial and insurance services and music. So perhaps one of our strengths in future lies with the creative industries? The country has lost most of its manufacturing base and capacity throughout the 20th century. In additional the reputation of our financial and insurance services have been seriously discredited globally recently following the current (2008/09+) credit crunch and the recession. The banking and financial services can be seen as witchcraft and financial terrorism conducted in pin stripes. The obsession with the financial servives , banks and the City is reflected in the way the current administrations in this country and America are tackling the global financial crisis. It’s very much the homoeopathic approach i.e. treat the problem (disease) with the same elements that created the problems in the first place. The homoeopathic approach is more of the same and involves no major reforms to banking or the financial services which both administrations are wedded to. The approach includes further massive borrowings, continuing to allow massive bonuses to bankers, quantitative easing – printing money their do not have and participating in the usual subterfuges with the domestic and global markets that got us into the current mess. This approach will fail and the cycle of boom and bust will continue – more bust than boom particularly in the West. One element that will not be seriously considered with the homoeopathic treatment will be the reconstruction and development of a manufacturing base in Britain and the so-called government matra promising a renaissance of manufacturing will never happen. Clearly this will have a negative impact on technical and vocational education and training. It is important to remind ourselves that since 1945 many complaints have been made about the quality of British graduates and the commercial and technology relevance of their courses. At the school and college level the deficiencies have been even more manifest. The proportion of British children who continue beyond compulsory school education to study engineering/manufacturing, mathematics and the physical sciences has always been low when compared with many other nations. In addition the recent PISA survey (1) show poor literary, mathematical and scientific levels of achievement in the international performance tables and a continued reluctance to study foreign languages.

Even though the country has increased its productivity this increase in relative terms has been less than our competitors and has resulted in a declining market share in the global economy and a loss of competitive advantage. This country has not managed to achieve a balanced economy and this is currently reflected in a massive and growing trade deficit. The economy is now predominantly a service based one and driven by consumerism and we manufacture and export very little. A fundamental weakness in manufacturing in this country is its relatively high dependence on the defence industries. Currently defence industries constitute approximately 10% of our manufacturing base but in addition to questions about the ethnics of exports of armaments to some countries such a high level of dependence is also questionable. The armaments industry is very sensitive to national economic health which over the next few years will be subject to massive cut backs both here and abroad. In 2010 the value of the export of arms and weapons exceeded £14 billion – a figure the country should be ashamed of bearing in mind the countries who bought them. What little manufacturing that exists outside defence e.g. railways is very precarious and likely to disappear as global competition increases.  Another fact about employment is that 10% of the working population are employed in the retail and related occupations and as such more consideration needs to be given to their training. Any country must maintain and support a balanced economy comprising services and manufacturing in order to survive in a global economy especially at times of recession and unfortunately this country has not achieved that balance and is unlikely to achieve it because of its obsession with banking, financial services and defence.

However little of these facts and concerns seem to have been considered in any depth by the recent reviews by Leitch on skills and Foster on FE reform. These reviews write about deadlines of 2020 for the lower skill levels– it might be perfect vision (20/20) – BUT is a ludicrous time scale when you look at the speed with which other competing economies are developing their higher-level technical skills base.

Personal Observation

I think there is a much wider, fundamental and important problem with this country and it is associated with how it perceives its position, role and standing in the world. At present the country imagines it can punch above its weight in world affairs and most certainly how it manages its economy. Perhaps it is the historical resonances from the empire that has created this complacency and arrogance and false belief that the country can compete effectively in far too many aspects of world affairs and the global economy commensurate with its size and resources. The country must be more realistic, like many other countries, by deciding what products and services will perform well in the global markets and that will give them a significant edge over their competitors. Then having decided what occupational sectors will create a stable and healthy economy to invest significantly and over a long term into all the essential elements of that supporting and enabling infrastructure. Central to this infrastructure is education and training that supports those occupations. Surely it is only when the country has a clear vision of its role and purpose in the world and global economy will it be able to configure the appropriate and relevant education and training systems for its citizens.

Initiative Overload!

Below is a list of some of the initiatives that are relevant to technical education and training and have appeared since the early 1990s particularly under New Labour that are relevant to technical education – I leave you to assess how successful they have been or will be!

Accelerated Apprenticeships.
Adult Learners Inspectorate.
Adult Advancement and Careers Service.
Career Development Fund.
Centres of Excellence (COVES).
City Academies.
Employment Zones.
Foundation Degrees.
Foundation Learning Tier.
Framework for Achievement.
Business Link.
Informal Adult Learning.
Graduate Apprenticeships.
Individual Learning Accounts.
Individual Learning Grants.
Jobcentre Plus.
Learning and Skills Councils.
Learning and Skills Improvement Service.
Joint Advisory Committee for Qualification Approval.
Employer Skills Boards.
Employee Rights and Responsibilities.
Local Learning Partnerships.
Skills Pledge.
National Employer Service.
Training Quality Standard.
Skills Accounts.
Learner Registration Service.
Local Learning and Skills Councils.
Learn Direct (UfI)
Modern Apprenticeships.
National Employer Training Programme.
National Apprenticeship Service.
National Skills Academies.
National Traineeships.
New Deal.
New Start.
National Health Service University.
New Technology Institutes.
National Training Organisations.
National Qualification Framework.
Qualification Curriculum Framework.
Qualification and Curriculum Development Agency.
Curriculum 2000 (C2k)
Quality Improvement Agency.
Functional Mathematics.
Functional Skills.
Personal Learning and Thinking Skills.
Workforce Development Plans.
Sector Skills Agreements.
Right to Request Time to Train.
Framework for Excellence.
Standards Verification UK.
Sector Compacts.
Sector Skills Councils’ Agreements.
DIUS – ‘Simplification Plan’ – this must be a joke!
Regional Development Agencies.
Skills Funding Agency.
Sector Skills Councils.
Skills Task Force.
Small Business Service.
Small Firms Training Loans.
Standard Setting Bodies.
Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England.
Open Diplomas.
Specialised Diplomas.
Specialist Schools.
Time off for Study or Training.
Training for Work.
Union Learning Fund.
Vocational A levels and GCSEs.
Work Based Learning for Adults.
UK Commission for Employment and Skills.
Young People’s Learning Agency.
Regional Skills Partnership.
Advanced and Higher Apprenticeship Frameworks.
Off-Workstation Training.
Train to Gain.
World Class Skills.
Sector Qualifications Strategies.
Qualifications and Credit Framework

When the Labour government was elected it proclaimed the mantra ‘education, education, education’ which as it transpired, as many of us thought at the time, was certainly not about Technical Education and Training. The depressing fact is that after such a long and colourful history technical education and training is still not fully recognised and valued by the government or the country and is still perceived as the Cinderella of the education system. The problem with this analogy is that this Cinderella never even arrived at the ball! Politicians continue to be largely ignorant of history as evidenced by the culture of not learning from it – technical education and training has suffered greatly from this unfortunate fact. In many ways the Labour Government has been the most disappointing and depressing administration especially in regard to supporting and developing technical and commercial education and training. Lots of talk and raising of expectations but little positive improvement; a succession of ineffective Secretaries of State; numerous initiatives with no real purpose and lack of any real coherence or substance. The really worrying fact is that the government is now using the mantra ‘skills, skills, skills’ and on past performance repetition is the last thing we want!

Personal Observation

A number of references have been made throughout this history about bureaucracy, inertia and delaying tactics used by successive governments which have contributed to the slow development of technical and commercial education and training throughout the period covered by the history. That excellent and much missed education and training digest EDUCA published a super feature on this characteristic of British education policy and showed it could be represented by an equation. The equation represented the policy making process in the following way:
(t+c) + i + s = slippage. Where t represents transparency, c consultation, i new ideas and s the system or structure. It is an interesting way of representing the issue as slippage/delay/inertia occurs because each of these inter-related elements inevitably contributes to delay. After all transparency (t) and consultation (c) threaten vested interests and parochial territories that are often linked to history and as such take time to manage and overcome. New ideas (i) are often viewed with suspicion and again in this country are seen as threatening the status quo and the comfort zone of managers and senior staff who are often resistant to change. Obviously it does take time to introduce changes and new ideas properly but the critical issue is the length of time taken to manage the change process. The system/structure (s) whether existing or new will always create delays because of the inevitable resistance and hostility towards change especially if it means loss of reputation of the organisations being altered. Organisations and professional bodies will always fight to protect their territories and parochial interests irrespective of their standing and reputations. The sad reality in this country is that we seem to thrive on maximising these elements and further exacerbate the process by creating innumerable focus groups, meetings, working parties et al. apparently as a diversion.

Final Comments.

I have reached the end of this first version of the history of technical and commercial education and training but intend to correct and further enhance it in the future. I will also attempt to write histories on technical and commercial education and training for women and the home countries i.e. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and also the history of company based training during the 19th and 20th centuries. I am also interested in exploring the differences between education and training as the historical definitions have led to a number of misunderstandings and have often diluted the importance of the training process.

It’s been a rewarding project and although at times I will have come over as passionate and obsessive about the subject I hope it will prove of value to readers.


(1) programme for Internaional Student Assessment (PISA). OECD. ISBN 9789264039513. 2010.