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.

Chapter 16 – Developments in the Late 1990s and Early 2000.



The last two chapters will mainly describe the latest developments in technical and commercial education and training. Time will only tell if this or the next government bring about lasting improvements to this important sector of education and how this might be interpreted within an historical perspective.

The 1990s and early 2000s witnessed massive changes in the way colleges and training providers were managed. The diagram encapsulates the key strategic management after the FEFC was established.

Before April 2001 After April 2001
9 FEFC Regional Offices
82 TECs/22 LEC and
Training Standards Council (TSC)
47 Local Learning and Skills Councils
Adult Learning Inspectorate/Ofsted

The various initiatives during the 1990s had changed the FE sector and by definition technical and commercial education and training. New curricula and qualifications significantly changed the FE sector and the change process continued at a pace in the 2000s. By the late 1990s 14 million people had obtained NQV level 2 but had not progressed onto level 3. In addition almost 30% of young people failed to achieve NVQ level 2. Also 7 million adults held no qualifications at all and 21 million had not achieved NVQ level 3 or its equivalent. The population of the UK is approximately 60 million with about 28 million people in employment. Even more worrying was that 20% of all adults still had poor literacy and numeracy skills. Britain was placed in 9th place out of 12 industrial nations in the late 1990s! However these facts and indicators are understandable given the historical context described in this history. The wider context included the limited opportunities available to people both young and adult to access further education and training, the reluctance by employers to release workers to improve their skills and knowledge and the failure to support and help people with poor literacy and numeracy skills.

The FE sector was described by the Parliamentary Education and Employment Select Report on Further Education published in 1998 as an important element in the education and training system reporting that the FE colleges:

  • were the main providers of full-time and part-time education and training for 16-19 year olds, serving 500,000 people
  • were the key players in providing skills training as part of the drive to meet the National Targets for Education and Training.

Table 1 shows the comparative levels of expenditure in the education sectors in 1996-97.

Table 1. Government Spending on Education in 1996-97.

Sector Number of Students in
FTEs in millions
Total Funding
(in billions £)
Under 5s and Primary Schools 4.3 8.0
Secondary Schools 3.0 8.0
Higher Education 1.0 4.6
Further Education 1.2 3.3

Source: DfEE Departmental Report 1998.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC).

In 1999 the government published ‘Learning to Succeed’ White Paper. This set out plans to modernise and radically reform the management of post-16 education and training in England. The presentation style and content of this White Paper reflected the growing trend of such government documents – glossy and full of grandiose statements which are often difficult to comprehend and interpret. The main points were:

  • Individuals will achieve their full potential and companies will thrive
  • That can compete with the best, that is well equipped and adoptable enough to our economic future
  • That is confident, socially inclusive, with strong families and neighbourhoods, where people grow and can be equipped to play a full part in their community and
  • In which creativity, enterprise and a regard for learning can flourish.

See what I mean a list of vacuous rhetoric – motherhood and apple pie! I presume these catch all statements refer to learners, businesses, providers and society in general. Some of the reasons for the changes were that FE college provision was seen to be uneven in quality, had been the subject of sleaze e.g. franchising and also perceived as too competitive – an interesting criticism as it was the funding methodology that encouraged inter-college competition! The TECs were also seen as uneven in quality with variable standards and apt to be too bureaucratic. The LEAs were also accused of overseeing a wide variation of management of school provision. The management of these organisations was seen as poor in terms of implementing government policy especially at the post-16 stage of education. Other criticisms included incoherence and inconsistency in policy making, undue complexity, insufficient focus on quality, unhelpful competition and expense with little regard to value for money.

The White Paper went on to set the new agenda for post-16 education and training. It proposed that a new Learning and Skills Council (LSC) would be established with the following responsibilities;

  • Funding FE colleges; assuming a responsibility previously held by the FEFC
  • Advising the government on the National Training Targets and assuming responsibility previously held by the National Advisory Council for Education ad Training targets (NACETT)
  • Funding the Modern Apprenticeships, National Traineeships and other government funded training and workforce development; a former TEC responsibility
  • Developing, in partnership with LEAs, arrangements for adult and community learning
  • Providing information, advice and guidance to adults
  • Working with the pre-16 education sector to ensure coherence across all 14-19 education.

In other words, following the ‘Learning and Skills Act’ in 2001, the FEFC, TECs and LECs were replaced by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) which assumed responsibility for the planning and funding of FE and government funded training. The LSC worked through a regional network of 47 Local Learning and Skills Councils (LLSCs). It had an annual budget of £6 billion and a very wide remit which included the following elements relevant to technical and work based education and training:

  • Assess learning and skills needs and implement the Skills Task Force proposals
  • Coordinate planning and funding for: FE colleges, 6th forms, work-based training, workforce development, education-business partnerships and careers advice and guidance for adults
  • Education -Business links.

It was further stated that the LSCs would work to achieve a post-16 learning culture which would:

  • Be responsive to the needs of individuals and employers
  • Promote employability for individuals by equipping them with skills that are in demand in the labour market
  • Help employers develop employees to achieve world class business performance
  • Ensure targeted support for the most disadvantaged and promote equality of opportunities
  • Secure the entitlement of all 16-19 year olds to stay in learning
  • Promote excellence and high quality of service
  • Remove unnecessary bureaucracy and secure maximum effectiveness and value for money.

Again a long list of jargon and empty rhetoric and as time would show the LSC and the LLSCs largely failed to bring about any real lasting improvement in raising skills or putting technical and commercial education and training more centre stage in the education system.

The LSC replaced the FEFC, the LLSCs replaced the TECs, the Small Business Service and their local franchises replaced the Business Links and a new inspection regime was created replacing the Training Standards Council (TSC) and the Training Inspectorate. As a result an extended FE sector was established that comprised over 400 FE colleges, approximately 2,000 training providers, 2,000 school sixth-forms and a number of voluntary/community groups/institutions. In addition the Training Standards Council (TSC) which monitored and inspected colleges and other training providers was replaced by the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) which worked closely with Ofsted to inspect provision in the colleges and other training providers. Overall the new inspection regime was ill-equipped to assess the effectiveness and quality in colleges with many of the inspectors largely ignorant or unsympathetic towards the culture of the FE sector.

So yet another set of organisations was established to tackle the problems confronting the post-16 sector including technical education and training. The FEFC period had left the FE sector and its constituent institutions in a weakened position through the operation of a very divisive and insensitive funding regime that was based solely on the popularity of certain courses and offering little protection to low recruiting, high cost craft, technician and technologist programmes. The funding regime as mentioned before in earlier chapters was a process that was driven by ‘bums on seats’ or ‘the dash for cash’. College budgets were also subjected to a mechanism called convergence which made massive assumptions about how much courses cost and did not acknowledge the history of a college’s development and its commitment to technical and practical based subjects. If colleges were committed to high cost low recruiting courses then they were heavily penalised and many institutions ceased or reduced their involvement in technical subjects which required expensive facilities. Many colleges closed, downsized or merged their technical departments and this ultimately led to shortages in a number of technical areas e.g. plumbing, electrical installation etc. As a result of colleges’ inability to satisfy the demand private operators moved in to fill the gap, many of which were not particularly competent nor did they have proper facilities to deliver a quality provision.

As one can imagine the landscape changed significantly following the creation of LSC, LLSCs and the other new organisations after 2001. The diagram below attempts to show these changes.

Post-16 Education And Training

Post-16 Education And Training

Inevitably the structures continued to be unduly complex and this led to problems with communication and misinformation and this often created implementation strategies lacking coherence and consistency. In addition the LEAs were apt to reflect the political beliefs, values and ideology of the main political party and their elected members. This factor coupled with the emerging culture of quangos and agencies created a cocktail of confusion and uncertainty particularly in the minds of senior staff in colleges. Very often conflicting advice, guidance and information was given by these various organisations to college managers and their governing bodies. This mix of local, regional and national policies was often contradictory in nature and/or driven by political dogma. Very often local MPs could cause real problems for college managers by their interventions and ill-informed views or prejudices towards the institutions and their senior managers and what they thought was important in provision.
It might be interesting at this point to remind ourselves how this new landscape compared with the one that existed during the FEFC period.

The Structure of the FE System in England and Wales in 1995.

HE Sector
Funded by HEFC
HE Colleges/Institutions
FE Sector
Funded by FEFC and FCFCW
General FE and Tertiary Colleges
Art and Design Colleges
Agriculture Colleges
Other specialist and monotechnic colleges
6th Form Colleges
Adult Education Centres
Secondary School Sector
Funded by DfE
Welsh Office
Secondary Schools 11 to 18

Although overall student numbers have grown significantly in FE and HE during the past fifteen years enrolments in key strategic subjects like engineering, physical sciences, mathematics and statistics continued to decline. Equally worrying is the decline in enrolments in craft and technician programmes. As a result many technical subject departments in colleges and training providers continued to close or downsize in such key areas as the crafts/trades, construction and engineering etc. Clearly closing technical departments also by definition contributed further to reduced enrolments in technical subjects. Eventually the press and other media publicised shortages of training places in colleges and correctly identified that this would lead to shortages of trained and qualified plumbers, bricklayers and other crafts/trades people. The FEFC had created a bureaucratic model of incorporation and exercised significant control through its over complicated funding methodology that unfortunately the LSCs continued.

When the LSC movement was established many TEC staff were appointed partly to minimise redundancy costs and as a result the Councils were overstaffed and employed people who lacked the appropriate experience to rise to the challenging LSC agenda and oversee the planning and funding of the post-16 sector. The first few years witnessed a relatively large turn over of senior staff in the LLSCs and LSC with all the resulting uncertainties that created. In 2005 a major review was undertaken that would bring about a significant reduction in staffing and rationalisation of the number of LLSCs. So yet again the key organisation responsible for developing a stable technical education and training system was subjected to major reform and resultant disruption. The jury is still out on whether these latest proposed reforms to replace LSCs will at last create an effective set of structures and organisations that will finally manage, fund and monitor the post-16 sector and its constituent institutions in a way that will bring about a sustained improvement. Unfortunately the current recession (2008/9) will inevitably mean that colleges and other providers of technical and commercial education and training will take second place behind schools in terms of funding. I fear the compression on public sector expenditure over the next few years will have very serious and damaging impact on education and training. I think the university sector will also experience difficult times over the next few years bearing in mind the recent report (August 2009) about the questionable and variable standards of degree classifications and employers concerns about the quality of graduates entering employment. One perplexing factor currently about degree classifications is that the number of first class degrees awarded has doubled when the undergraduate population has only increased by 20%.

An Update on the Growth of Quangos and Other Unaccountable Agencies.

Whilst Blair and Brown were in opposition they stated on a number of occasions in parliament that they wished to reduce the number and power of quangos. As usual with statements from these two individuals the opposite happened as once in power the number of quangos and agencies mushroomed. Approximately 780 quangos are currently (2009) costing around £35 billion. They are staffed by unelected people who in turn may appoint unsuitable and inexperienced individuals as consultants and advisors – inevitably their cronies – advising on key issues in post-16 education and training. As has been said it takes ‘two to tango billions to quango’! If you factor in the various other agencies the number of largely unaccountable organisations rises to over 1000. Their existence is a classic example of Ministers and senior politicians creating a buffer between them and key strategic decision making process and is a protection mechanism. They can blame the chief executive of the quango or agency e.g. the recent fiasco associated with the marking of examinations results and the QCA and the rapid departure of its chief executive so avoiding any direct ministerial responsibility in the problems. Quangos are responsible for massive budgets that represent a large proportion of the annual expenditures for example on education, health, social services etc. Practically all areas of the public services are dominated by these largely unaccountable organisations and they wield immense power over these services. The leader of the opposition David Cameron has recently stated, if elected, the conservatives will reduce the number of quangos assigning many to bonfires or dustbins of history – we will wait and see if it happens this time.

The LSC movement continued to further weaken the post-16 sector and its constituent institutions after the overall negative impact of the period of management under the FEFC. Their management, planning and funding significantly was a disaster and are now being wound down and hopefully will be replaced by a more effective and efficient set of planning and funding structures. LSCs were very good at setting targets, creating league tables for colleges and private providers and ring fencing budgets that were in accord with government education and training priorities. The current programme in 2009 to improve and/or build new colleges has been a fiasco and at present approximately 100 major projects are in limbo as a result of their incompetence and inability to plan and fund this important initiative. I will provide a more reflective and considered analysis of the negative and positive consequences of both the FEFC and LSC management of the post-16 sector in a later separate article. Overall the majority of quangos and agencies have been as much use as an ashtray on a motor bike or a concrete parachute or a chocolate teapot!

Skill Levels.

Britain continued to possess poor productivity and low skill levels when compared with its main competitors. Research has shown that there is a correlation between lower productivity levels and the poor skills held by workers at all levels employment. Successive governments have attempted to tackle the problem of raising skill levels but with little success. In spite of some improvements our competitors achieved even greater levels of improvement.

Table 2 shows the qualifications held by the workforce in England in 2001 expressed as a percentage.

Table 2. Percentage of Qualifications held by the Workforce by Age and Level in England in 2001.

Age No Qualifications %
% NVQ 1 % NVQ 2 % NQV 3 % NVQ 4
16-24 16 15 23 24 24
25-49 8 10 38 29 15
50+ 21 18 14 23 24
Make 11 14 18 30 27
Female 13 15 29 18 27

Source: Labour Force Survey (LFS). 2001.

Surveys for the LFC showed that the % of employees receiving training was still relatively low e.g. only 18% of craft and related workers received training and just 15% plant and machine operatives These figures compare with a still relatively low figure of 50% of professionals – so much for Continuous Professional Training (CPD)!

Table 3 shows the productivity levels in Britain, USA and the average value for the G7.

Table 3. Productivity Levels for Workers in 2004/05
For convenience an index of 100 is assigned to Britain.

Country Index
Britain 100
France 110
America 124
G7 109

Source: Office of National Statistics and HM Treasury (2005).

The country still continues to have a poor skills profile in spite of all the government initiatives over the past few decades and the numerous skills task and review groups. The following list shows the poor standards of achievement in Britain in the mid-2000s:

  • School leavers in Britain without even the basic qualification when compared with Canada and Germany
  • Over 5 million of people of working age in Britain have no qualifications
  • 17% of adults in Britain do not have literacy skills of a 11 year old
  • Approximately 50% of the working population have very poor numeracy.

Table 3 shows international comparisons of qualification profile.

Table 3. International Comparisons of Qualification Profiles.

Country  Higher Qualifications
> Level 3
 Intermediate Qualifications
= Level 3
Lower Qualifications
< Level 3
USA 38% 49% 13%
Japan 38% 47% 16%
Germany 24% 41% 36%
France 24% 41% 36%

Source: Education at a glance. OECD. 2005.

The percentage for the higher qualifications is relatively high in Britain and has risen significantly over the last couple of decades. However this high level masks a number of important facts. The universities have diversified but many graduates are pursuing degree programmes in such subjects as media studies and other subjects whilst graduate levels in key subjects like engineering, mathematics, the physical sciences and statistics remain relatively constant and shows a decline in proportion to the total of graduate numbers. This surely springs from national political refusal to lead on and invest in new manufacturing/productive industries and the obsession with the finance and insurance sectors.

The number of graduates in science and the technologies is insufficient to satisfy the current and growing demand for engineers, mathematicians, scientists, statisticians and technologists in this country. Also the government seem to be fixated on level 2 qualifications to the neglect of level 3 and higher that are essential to increase the flow of qualified people into occupational sectors that require operatives and technicians. The government has set targets to improve level 2 skill levels by 2020 which is a ridiculously long period although of course the numbers represent perfect vision i.e. 20/20 vision but that’s about all its worth!

Most other countries have strategies in place to increase all the skill levels in much shorter time scales. Also this country has a lower percentage of graduates in the population than USA and Canada in spite of the percentage holding degrees rising from 19% in 1994 to 26% in 2004. Britain produces approximately 250,000 graduates a year whilst India and China between them produce 4 million graduates a year and in spite of much greater populations it must be remembered that they include high proportions of engineers, mathematicians, scientists and technologists. The higher qualifications profile in Britain also highlights large variations across the regions of the country with much lower rates in the NE, the Midlands and Yorkshire/Humberside regions when compared with the London area, SE and the SW. Scotland has a greater percentage of higher qualifications than England. Also 40% of disadvantaged groups like the disabled do not have any qualifications at all.

The government has set targets for the qualifications profile with a horizon of 2020 and they include the following values: 4% of workers will have no qualifications, 12% should hold qualification below level 2; 23% should hold level 2 level qualifications, 23% level 3 and 38% at level 4 or better. The plans announced by the government will involve upskilling 3.5 million adults from the lower elements of the skills spectrum from 2010. These are very ambitious targets and as always the devil will be in the detail and it is essential that providers are resourced at an adequate and sustained level. Equally important is the need to fundamentally rethink and redefine how vocational education and training is planned, funded and managed and what specific and generic skills are required for the future economy of this country.

Two recent reports (July 2009) reinforce my continuing and growing concerns about the future health of this country’ technical and scientific future. The UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has announced another round of cuts in these key subjects. The Council has currently a £80 million shortfall in its budget and this has resulted in a financial crisis in university departments of science and technology. In addition because of financial problems this country has reduced funding or felt the need to withdraw from a number of major international projects e.g. the Linear Collider, the Gemini telescope and other wide ranging projects in physics, technology and astronomy. The current recession makes the already difficult financial position of the STFC even worse and the weak exchange rate between the £ and the Euro most certainly does not help the joint projects with our European partners. This announcement coincides with the Chinese publishing their 50 year plan for scientific and technological development. The plan is predicated on the essential contribution that science and technology will make in promoting stable and rapid economic development. China intends to invest about 0.6% of GDP each year in its science and technology budget over the period of the plan. The plan will be reviewed every 5 years and reinforces the commitment that China has to these subjects and equally interesting most of the investment will support applied and industrial science.

So in spite of numerous reviews and reports on skills and skill shortages/gaps the challenges facing this country are immense not only at the graduate level but at the equally important intermediate and foundation levels i.e. levels 1, 2 and 3 in order to create a balanced and well qualified workforce across all occupational sectors. Many of the reviews and proposed reforms still adopt an atavistic and questionable way of defining skills whether occupationally specific or generic. What is very clear is that the skills profile of the workforce will change dramatically in the future to match and cope with the massive transitions that will occur because of increasing global competition and the changing nature of employment. Research has shown that the demand will increase, over the next 5/10 years, for managers, the professional occupations, associated professional, skilled trades occupations, process, plant and machine operatives and technicians (see article on skills on this website).

It is important to identify the two elements that comprise the skills issue namely skills shortages and skills gaps. Skill shortages are recruitment difficulties caused by a lack of skills in the existing labour market whilst skill gaps are skill deficiencies in employers existing workforce. A research report published in 2001 by the Office of National Statistics identified that the main occupations associated with skill shortages were those which required relatively long periods of education or on-job training. Over 50% of skill shortages were in professional, associated professional and skilled trades. Skill gaps were found in service, personal services and staff in jobs that required few skills. The main cause for skill gaps was employers’ failing to train staff, followed by the inability of employers to keep up with change. Other factors were associated with recruitment problems and poor staff retention rates. These last points again indicate the urgent and essential need for effective and on-going CPD programmes within companies or in association with colleges and training providers.

In addition to skill shortages and skill gaps is the related issue of mismatches between employers’ demands for skills, providers’ supply of education and training opportunities and the demand for skills by learners and potential learners. Three distinct elements of mismatch can be identified namely:

  • Employer demand – provider supply: mismatch between employer demand for specific skills and the flow of skilled people from colleges and training providers
  • Learner aspirations – employer demand: mismatch between what learners aim to achieve through education and training and the actual skill needs of employers/employment
  • Provider supply – learner aspirations: mismatch between the programmes offered by providers and the expectations and needs of the learners.

Addressing these mismatches will be a daunting task as it requires a fundamental rethink of how employers can be more fully and equally involved in education and training policy, greatly improved labour market intelligence methods and vast improvements in the resources made available to providers. Also all the key players need to be included fully at all stages of the review, reform, implementation and monitoring process namely: employees, employers, learners, providers, and trade unions.

Skills and Foreign Workers

One of the ways that the government has tackled the skills shortages and gaps was for the country to encourage qualified trades people and professionals to come to work in this country to fill vacancies – a policy that has raised a number of ethical questions. Although there are both positives and negatives to this complex issue it does raise a number of fundamental questions many of which impact on the development of technical education and training within this country. The government can use this approach to reduce its own investment in the education and training systems and poach talented and skilled individuals from overseas. Some third world countries can ill afford to lose these qualified people bearing in mind they have invested their limited budgets to train and educate these individuals. The policy is also flawed as many of the people will return home relatively quickly and we will still be unable to provide an adequate supply of skilled people to address skill shortages and gaps. Many have returned home during the current recession (2008/9) seeing their home economies as stronger and more secure than our own. In 2000 there were approximately 1.1 million foreign national workers in the country the number having grown by 29% since 1992. During the 1990s, net losses of British professional, managerial, clerical and manual workers had been compensated for by foreign workers coming to this country. In 2000 7.9% of people in employment were foreign born and were in some of the following occupational areas:

  • 15.1% as natural scientists
  • 26.8% as health professionals
  • 13.3% in computer industries
  • 12.1% in other professional occupations
  • 12.4% in textile trades
  • 10.2% as metal working operatives.

There needs to be a carefully managed approach to recruiting workers from overseas balancing all the complex and contentious issues that recognise the consequences both positive and negative of such policies. Even accepting all the consequences of a global market and the inevitable movement of labour what must not happen is the adoption of a selfish and lazy policy in recruiting overseas workers. The country must continue to resource technical education and training at an adequate level to improve the flow and stock of qualified workers and not attempt to reduce the expenditure by poaching workers from abroad. To create a culture of dependency on overseas workers is amoral and must not be an excuse to reduce the investment level into this countries education and training system. It is also demoralising for the home population.

New Technology Institutes (NTIs)

In 2002 the DfES announced that 18 regional groups of HEIs, FE colleges and private providers would be designated New Technology Institutes (NTIs). NTIs would provide IT training for up to 10,000 people by 2005 with particular emphasis on SMEs. Programmes of study at advanced level would be offered (> level 3) e.g. NVQ level 3, Foundation degrees and progression routes to honours degree would be available to students. Students could study full-time or get release from their place of work. In addition NTIs would offer advice and support to SMEs on the effective introduction and use of new technologies and innovative business practices.

This initiative mirrors the creation of Centres of Vocational Excellence (COVEs) from the late 1990s. Initially these were to be in FE colleges that had received good inspection reports. In 2001 the DfES and LSC suggested an extension of the initiative to include: private training providers, voluntary organisations, group training arrangements of a cluster of companies and the training arms of large companies. Whether or not these initiatives will improve technical education and training remains to be seen. A number of designated COVEs have since lost their title and additional funding as a result of later poor inspection reports – another example of short termism. I would argue that to tackle the improvement of quality in technical and commercial education and training this selective and cherry picking approach will be unsuccessful. What is urgently required is a far more radical and fundamental overhaul e.g. a root and branch reform of the system as opposed to the usual incremental/tinkering approach in order to bring about a stable, relevant and high level quality provision in the technical and vocational education and training sector.

Latest developments with Industry Lead Bodies

The 73 National Training Organisations (NTOs) were developed in the mid 1990s at a slow pace and were mandated to set standards and encourage employers to train in their sectors. The government decided in 2000 that there were too many NTOs and in 2001 replaced them with Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) numbering around 25. The SSCs have been required to:

  • Reduce skills gaps and shortages
  • Improve productivity
  • Increase opportunities to promote skills and productivity across the workforce
  • Improve learning supply through involving HE (whatever that means?), apprenticeship programmes and occupational standards

The formation of the SSCs also took a relatively long time, around 2 years, and as a result caused a great deal of concern, confusion and uncertainty in the minds of employers and providers. Many commentators felt it reflected the government’s lack of understanding of the purpose and general ignorance of technical education and the need to more precisely define occupational standards.

Because of the current industrial climate and the challenges from the global market it is essential to have a strong sectorial training structure that can address such issues as increasing productivity and national competitiveness. But already fundamental concerns are being expressed about the long-term effectiveness of SSCs. Government funding is not generous and is time limited and ultimately it is expected that employers will pick up the tab – history would indicate this is a false and dangerous assumption. Also questions are already being asked about how the Councils will relate to the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) and other agencies in the education and training landscape. Because of the poor history of previous industrial lead bodies it will take time for the SSCs to become established, accepted by employers and effectively address the long standing problems associated with training and skills and the validity of occupational standards in this country. It is essential that they succeed and do not repeat the mistakes and replicate the poor performance and track records of the previous lead bodies.


The Review of Vocational Qualifications in 1986 led to the creation of the NCVQ and NVQs based on occupational standards developed and hence ostensibly owned by industry and set by a succession of industry lead bodies such as ILBs later called Lead Bodies (LBs), NTOs and currently SSCs. Eventually the NCVQ was merged with its equivalent for school qualifications namely Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) to create the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). Sadly SCAA personnel dominated QCA and as a result technical and vocational qualifications became the responsibility of an organisation that had little commitment let alone expertise to advance the achievements of the NCVQ. The Review of Vocational Qualifications failed to rationalise and hence reduce the number of qualifications, many of them in technical and commercial areas. This failure can be highlighted by analysing the FEFC qualifications database of 1998 that showed 14,413 different qualifications being delivered by some 600 awarding bodies. The following list shows the details for 1998:

Award Type No. of Awards
GCSE: 1,598
GCE A and AS: 1,752
Access to HE: 1,155
NVQ: 1,811
GNVQ: 216
Others: 7,881

In spite of subsequent reviews the current situation continues as little has happened in rationalising the qualifications jungle and there are still too many awards and awarding bodies.

As mentioned in earlier chapters of this history the vested interests of professional and other award bearing bodies resisted earlier attempts to rationalise the qualifications system. Although, to be fair, in some cases there was evidence that these ‘other qualifications’ did satisfy the needs of employers. Unfortunately the increasing intervention and interference of successive governments in the qualification system has not brought about the rationalisation that is urgently required. Instead government meddling has brought about a large number of changes including the creation of yet more regulatory bodies and produced even more confusion and complexity to the qualifications landscape. The latest attempt is the Framework for Achievement (FfA) which is already attracting a great deal of criticism especially in regard to the proposals associated with the technical and vocational qualifications.

Vocational Qualifications

In 2001/02 the government announced its intention to raise the status of vocational options and to abolish the historical distinctions between the vocational and the academic qualifications. In order to achieve this worthy aim the following measures have been gradually introduced after 2002:

  • The development of new GCSEs in vocational subjects
  • Introduction of ‘hybrid’ GCSEs with a common core supported by optional vocational or general units
  • QCA is would develop new specifications for GCSEs in areas relating to science and geography and these were piloted from 2003
  • Removal of the label ‘vocational GCSE’
  • Retention of the six units of Intermediate and Foundation GNVQs until there are sufficient new GCSEs to provide suitable alternatives.

One issue that has always intrigued me is the way the term vocational is interpreted in the succession of reforms that have occurred over the past few decades. In the 1950s/60s/70s the vocational curriculum tended to mean practical craft skills. Vocational inevitably meant ‘work related’ in those days and was associated with making things or repairing them. At this time people who had poor literacy and numeracy skills but were good at manual and practical skills could still find jobs in the UK’s manufacturing sector. Fortunately opportunities existed albeit limited ones for these people to attend colleges or be apprentices so that they could develop their manual dexterity skills often referred to as ‘hand and eye’ skills in order to gain qualifications in the their respective crafts or trades and which would provide them with theory background.

But times have changed and a fundamental rethink of what vocational means is needed in a country that is so dependent on service based industries e.g. retailing, travel and tourism, health and social care. These require a different mix of theory and application with competence of interpersonal skills, numeracy and communication. Hand and eye skills are still important but now require very different additional skills in order to cope with the new forms of technology including those associated with IT. Perhaps in the global market there is not such a need for hand and eye skills as people would argue that the emerging economies could take over those forms of activities which I feel is a somewhat patronising and false attitude. I personally still think that there is a place for the person who possesses manual skills to work in such areas as conservation, heritage and restoration work, general maintenance of domestic properties etc. Colleges and other training providers must continue to offer provision albeit on a more limited scale than previously available in order to capitalise on these very special practical skills possessed by some individuals for skills that will still be needed. The future nature of skills whether generic or specific across most occupational areas requires constant attention, assessment and reform as technology and science advances at an ever accelerating rate and the knowledge half life associated with many subjects continues to decrease.

A vocational qualification surely should be a statement of competence relevant to work and intended to facilitate entry into, or progression in, employment, FE and training. If this definition is accepted then vocational programmes must be designed to recognise the skills, knowledge and understanding that will be required at each stage of the education and training stages and most certainly in the final work place. Vocational education and training now seems to be the accepted terminology in education and training including I presume technical and practical subjects. If one accepts this that technical and commercial subjects are subsumed in this all embracing term then clearer definitions are required to differentiate the precise sub-elements and most certainly the way education and training is developed and delivered.

Progress of New Deal in the 2000s.

In 2000 evidence was published to show that the New Deal was not achieving the government’s intentions particularly the ND for Young People. At the end of December 1999 277,800 had left the ND, 66% of them into jobs. Of those finding jobs about 73% entered sustainable jobs and the remainder into jobs lasting less than 13 weeks. Over 85% of the sustainable jobs were unsubsidised. Overall 42% of the leavers entered sustainable and unsubsidised jobs not a particularly indicator of success when you think 50% would have got a job without undertaking the ND. The report further analyses the young people who left the ND. Of the 277,800 leavers:

  • 12.4% left before having a first interview for the scheme
  • 59.4% left during the Gateway before entering employment
  • 11.5% left from one of the options (37.6% from the education and training option, 26.4% from the employer option, 16.4% from the environment task force and 17.8% from the voluntary sector option.)

In addition the quality of the provision and student support was criticised by the inspection reports. The government dismissed the findings and continued to invest heavily in the scheme in spite of continuing criticism about its contribution to job placement and creation and most certainly issues associated with value for money.

Research at the same time from the Skills Task Group showed that 47% of adult non-learners preferred to do other things than learning by attending formal classes and over 30% said they were not interested in learning. Survey after survey has highlighted the deplorable levels in literacy and numeracy in this country and this coupled with the reluctance among adults to engage in further learning continues to cause concern. Many of the jobs in the future will be in the service economies and the employees will require good communication, IT and numerical skills.

Modern Apprenticeships (MAs) 2000 to the Present.

Apprenticeship programmes continued to be reviewed and reformed and in autumn of 2000 the government consulted on the reforms to the apprenticeship framework. Some of the key points that emerged from the consultations and were subsequently adopted included:

  • The MA framework to be extended to areas where there are, as yet, no apprenticeships
  • All MA frameworks to include an NVQ, key skills and a technical certificate to provide appropriate understanding knowledge and understanding
  • In most cases technical certificates will be existing qualifications, which will retain their existing names but will be designated by the NTO as relevant to a specific MA
  • All MAs will be required to undertake some study away from the direct working environment; this could be at a college, at a learning centre or within the company
  • An Apprenticeship Diploma will be introduced to recognise achievement of all three of the MA components
  • There will be an entitlement to an MA for all young people with the necessary aptitude and enthusiasm; the LSC will have the responsibility for identifying an appropriate place
  • Special ‘pre-apprenticeship’ learning’ programmes will be introduced for young people who are not yet ready to enter a Foundation MA
  • The DfEE will work with the LSC to promote MAs to employers both public and private but there will not be any financial incentives offered to employers.

In essence one can see some positive progress in reforming apprenticeship programmes but the administrative structures are still complex and involve unnecessary bureaucracy. One of the key issues is the balance between on and off job training and how these elements are assessed. There is a distinct and important difference between work-based and work-place learning and this distinction must be clarified in the way vocational and apprenticeships programmes are operated and managed especially in terms of assessment. Work-based learning is about linking learning to the work role and comprises three inter-related components namely:

  • Structuring learning in the workplace
  • Providing appropriate on-job training/learning opportunities
  • Identifying and providing relevant off-job learning opportunities

Careful consideration is required when planning where simulation of techniques or working in realistic environments (RWEs) are used on college and training providers premises. Work placement programmes e.g. within the vocational diplomas must also be integrated into the off-job activities but it is equally important to recognise their different purposes and how the assessments for each element are weighted and recorded.

A Key Factor.

As this history has highlighted a major problem that continually blights the technical education and training system is its fragmented nature and the absence of a clear national purpose. There is now an urgent need to identify and define the key factors and how they interrelate and interact with each other to drive and manage the system in a sustained way and be effective, efficient and economic. It’s the absence of this analysis and the complex balances between them that has contributed to many of the problems in technical education and training. To date each recent government emphasised one selected factor over others and this created a system that was out of balance. Some of the critical factors are:

  • Funding – who pays – learners, government, employers – and at what proportion?
  • The roles of private vs. public sector providers in technical education and training
  • What kind of market should operate – totally free or partly controlled in order to protect subjects of strategic importance to the country
  • Degrees of freedom and choice that should be available to the student in the curriculum?
  • Supply and demand issues

Each of these factors requires a detailed, holistic and careful analysis. For example, unpacking the demand – supply factor is critical when considering skills shortages and the effectiveness of labour market intelligence and technical education. This factor is a complex mix of interactions that includes: employer demand vs. provider supply; student aspirations vs. employer demand; and provider supply vs. student aspirations. The effective management of these often competing elements is essential in order to begin to resolve many of the current problems associated with labour market intelligence and identifying skills gaps and shortages. What is urgently required is the creation of a stable and secure set of structures that will tackle the long standing problems confronting the country in regard to skill shortages and skill gaps, productivity and international competitiveness.

Other Important Reports and Relevant Developments to the mid-2000s.

In 1998 ‘Further Education’ published a report by the Education and Employment Committee.
In 2000 ‘Learning and Skills Act’ published which established Learning and Skills Councils. Created new youth service, Connexions . Reformed the inspection arrangements by extending Ofsted role and created the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI).
In 2000 ‘Learning to Succeed-Raising Standards in Post-16 Learning’ DfEE/ES published
In 2000 Foundation Degree Consultation launched; a two year programme at sub degree level. Initially there were very few programmes in technical subjects. FD is again dominated by non technical subjects like business, media studies etc.
In 2000 University for Industry (UfI) became operational. It was later badged Learndirect.
In 2001 Learning and Skills Councils (LSCs) established.
In 2001 ‘Skills in England 2001 the key messages’ published by Leeds Metropolitan University (Mike Campbell).
In 2001 ‘Centres of Vocational Excellence’ consultation published.
In 2001 Connexions a new youth support service introduced; basically a reconfigured careers service.
In 2002 Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) replaced the National Training Organisations (NTOs.)
In 2002 City Academies established. They were institutions funded either by the state or individuals and companies. Recent inspection reports show that 50% have failed to achieve a satisfactory standard.
In 2002 14-19 ‘Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards’ published.
In 2002 introduction of the vocational GCSEs.
In 2003 ‘21st Century Skills – Realising our Potential’ published.
In 2003 ‘Future of Higher Education’ published.
In 2003 working party established to reform the 14-19 learning. This followed the publication of ’14-19: Opportunity and Excellence’.
In 2004 University top-up fees introduced.
In 2005 the interim Leitch Report ‘Skills in the UK: The long-term challenge’ published.
In 2005 ‘Realising the Potential’ (Foster Review) published on the future of FE College.
In 2005 ‘Skills: Getting on in business, getting on in work ‘published.
In 2005 QCA asked by the DfEE to carry out review to develop Specialised Diplomas
In 2006 National Skills Academies announced.
In 2006 ‘FE Reform: Raising Skills. Improving Life Chances’ -this is very much a Treasury driven White Paper even though it is published by the DfES – a sign of things to come?
In 2006 ‘Skills for Productivity’ DfES and DTI.
In 2008 ‘Re-skilling for recovery: After Leitch, implementing skills and training policies’ (HoC. DIUS Committee) published.
In 2008 ‘Building Skills, Transforming Lives’ Conservatives Policy Paper No. 7 published.
In 2009 ‘Ambition 2020: World Class Skills and Jobs for the UK’ (UKCES) published.
1n 2009 ‘Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England’ (DIUS) published; similar document published in Wales by DCELLS.
In 2009 ‘Apprenticeships: Understanding the Provider Base’ published LSC.

Chapter 17 will attempt to bring this history to a conclusion and provide a review of what lessons have been learnt by successive governments.


A comprehensive book list is provided in a separate section of this website whilst other primary resource references have been given at the end  of the chapter where appropriate.

In addition a comprehensive chronology and glossary are provided in separate sections of this website which I hope will be helpful to the reader

Chapter 15 – The Developments in the 1990s

Introduction and Review

In spite of all the government initiatives and the activities of the MSC and its successors during the 1980s technical education and training continued to be seen as second class. It was still a political pawn subject to the latest whim of a succession of governments which showed little understanding of its strategic importance to the country. What was still lacking was a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the purpose of the technical education and training system and its relationship to the country’s economic performance. This was in many ways the most critical factor that held back the development of a unified and coherent national system. This aspect will be considered in more depth in the final chapters of the history.

When the government changed in 1997 evidence from international surveys continued to show that the country was performing badly when compared with our main competitors. The country still had fewer young people in training and poorly qualified employees in most sectors of employment. The new government meant a new broom with all the inevitable consequences that would precipitate. The policy pendulum swings in the opposite direction irrespective of any positive progress that the previous administration had introduced. This history has shown that a change of government and/or Ministers inevitably leads to a multitude of ill-thought out initiatives and increasing centralist control of education guided by myriads of advisers, consultants, agencies and quangos. Targets and league tables which were of questionable value and driven by political agendas were introduced for practically every aspect of education and training, bureaucracy expanded exponentially and the quangos went from strength to strength. Two Green Papers the ‘Learning Age’ and ‘Lifelong Learning’ announced the government’s intentions and commitment towards lifelong learning (see later in chapter for more information about government proposals).

As a result of the expansion of student numbers in HE the country began to see increasing graduate unemployment as well as graduate under employment. As a result of the expansion in graduate numbers during the 1990s one could translate the 1980s headline ‘training without work’ into ‘education without work’. This unfortunate development reflects the inadequacy of managing the demand-supply equation and labour market intelligence. The current recession highlights the problems implicit in expanding the university sector without sufficient regard to the critical issues of supply and demand. In July 2009 an average of 50 graduates were applying for each job vacancy. The degree of frustration felt by the graduates must be extreme when one considers the debt they have on graduation the average student debt in 2009 was over £20,000. A fundamental review is now required about the purpose of higher education with particular regard to the range of subjects offered and the relative proportions of graduates in key areas like engineering, manufacturing and the mathematical and scientifically related subjects. Equally important is the complex issues associated with youth unemployment. To date there has been no real sustained or effective policies on youth unemployment only short term knee jerk reactions as can be seen by the latest policies being introduced currently ( July 2009). At times of recession/depression there are real opportunities to tackle youth training and to begin to address some of the long standing issues around skill shortages and gaps but sadly the governments go for head line grabbing initiatives that lead nowhere.

General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs).

Following the publication of the White Paper ‘Education for the 21st Century’ a new qualification was created namely the General National Vocational Qualification (GNVQ). This qualification was a broadly-based vocational award set at three levels i.e. foundation, intermediate and advanced. It comprised a vocational theme with three core skills of communication, information technology and application of number. GNVQs more closely relates to the needs of employment than GCE ‘A’ level but even so they are only a general rather than specific preparation for work. By incorporating a range of core skills and cognitive processes the awards would be a foundation for future learning and life in general. It was hoped it would provide equity with GCSEs (intermediate level being equivalent to grades A* to C and foundation level equivalent to grades D to G) and GCE ‘A’ levels (advanced GNVQ being equivalent to GCE ‘A’ Levels). Sadly and very predictably this hope was never fully realised as the gold standard of ‘A’ levels ruled the roost!

It was further hoped that the GNVQ awards would allow progression to either employment or HE. Again this proved problematic as a number of universities particularly the so-called Russell League Universities were resistant to recognising it as an entry qualification for their degrees. However the newer universities i.e. the former polytechnics and CATs were far more positive towards the GNVQ reflecting their historical roots in technical and vocational education. Programme areas offered included Art and Design, Business Studies, Construction and the Built Environment, Engineering, Hospitality and Catering Information Technology and Manufacturing, Land and Environment, Leisure and Tourism, Media Studies, Performing Arts, Retail and Distribution and Science.

Table 1 shows the number of GNVQ Awards by level in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Table 1. Number of GNVQ Awards by Level in England, Wales and Northern Ireland between 1993/94 and 1997/98.

Level 1993/94 1994/95 1995/96 1996/97 1997/98
Foundation 2,921 6,152 7,483 7,662
Intermediate 15,587 29,931 44,688 45,996 43,028
Advanced 1,236 11,929 30,921 36,997 41,346

Source: Joint Council for Vocational Awarding Bodies.

The Joint Council for General Qualifications (JCGQ) was established in 1999 and comprised the three Unitary Awarding Bodies namely the AQA – Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, Edexcel – incorporating BTEC and the London Examinations and OCR – the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR) together with CCEA the Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment and WJEC the Welsh Joint Education Committee. The JCGQ were responsible for overseeing the following range of qualifications: GCSE, ‘A’ levels, GNVQ, Certificate of Achievement, Key Skills and Advanced Extension Awards.

In 2000 the government announced that GNVQs would be replaced gradually by so-called vocational GCSEs and ‘A’ levels and as a result the existence of GNVQs was airbrushed from the history of education. The awarding boards then announced that the last assessments for GNVQ would be in 2005 to 2007. So the hope of establishing parity of esteem between vocational and general/academic qualifications failed again and still waits to be achieved. As long as the supporters of GCE ‘A’ levels are in the driving seat it is unlikely that any future reviews will change the situation. It must be remembered that when GCE ‘A’ levels were introduced in 1951 they were mainly aimed at just 5% of the 16-19 age cohort and also for students in the independent sector and grammar schools. Currently over 30% of the age cohort take ‘A’ levels because of their assumed superiority. Since the 1950s, in spite of a series of supposed reforms to them and coupled with the massive transformations that have occurred in employment and higher education (HE) the basic structure of ‘A’ levels has fundamentally remained the same. Except of course for the recurring concerns expressed when the annual results come out that standards have dropped and that ‘A’ levels were not what they used to be! The greatest supporters of ‘A’ levels are to be found in the independent schools sector and 6th form colleges and these institutions are often highly praised by politicians who seldom extol the strengths of colleges offering technical subjects and examinations. Ofsted is most certainly more comfortable inspecting the academic/general subjects and examinations than the technical and vocational ones.

Personal Observations.

I was very involved with the GNVQs in Science both from a professional view point and personal one. The college I worked at was very committed to the awards and I chaired the National Advisory Committee for the Science Awards. The membership of the advisory committee included key people from the scientific community and education and all were very committed to the success of the award. On a personal note of my sons studied for the Construction and Built Environment qualification and went on to Leeds Metropolitan University to study Architectural Technology and during his studies highlighted the distinct benefits of having taken the GNVQ s as opposed to ‘A’ levels. Again groups of academics created an industry criticising and undermining the GNVQs just as they had done with NVQs and sadly they eventually destroyed what could have become a valuable qualification. It will be interesting to see how they receive the new range of vocational diplomas.


In 1996 the DfEE announced the merger of the NCVQ and SCAA to create a new qualifications and curriculum regulatory agency which initially had the unfortunate acronym QNCA which was subsequently changed to QCA. The roles of QCA included:

  • Oversight of qualifications
  • Quality assurance
  • Responsibility for specifying the form and structure of occupational standards used as the base for NVQs
  • Reviewing the future of the NCVQ levy on Awarding Bodies for accreditation of NVQs.

Provision for 16+ Learners from School with Low Achievements.

The multitude of schemes/programmes developed by the MSC attempted to tackle the problems associated with young people who left school with few or no recognised qualifications at a time of high unemployment. Young people were still leaving school with poor literacy and numeracy skills and struggled to find meaningful employment even if it existed during the 1980/90s. Increasingly employers wanted
people who could communicate and carry out basic numerical tasks as well as having a recognised qualification that would enable them to be effective and competent employees. The MSC tried many initiatives to tackle the problem but largely failed. The 1995 World Competitiveness Report ranked the UK 40th out of 48 countries in terms of motivation and participation in learning, and 7 million employed adults, out of a total workforce of 26 million, having no qualifications. In 1997 the new government announced the Welfare to Work Programme which included the New Deal (ND). New Deal was an attempt to increase sustainable employment and reduce social exclusion. Unemployment was still very high in the 18 to 24 age cohort with some areas of the country experiencing a rate over 26% which represented 250,000 people. Of these 50% did not have an NVQ 2 level qualification or its equivalent. The New Deal was another attempt to solve the problem. The budget announced a massive investment over the first term of the government, something of the order of £3.5 billion. The ND had the following key aims:

  • Develop partnerships across local districts for the planning and delivery of training and work opportunities
  • Extend the opportunities for providing training to private sector through join ventures and private/public consortia
  • Development a new regional focus for negotiating 18-24 and adult strategies
  • Establish a competitive tendering process for contracts
  • Identify the Employment Service district offices, instead of the TECs, as the managers of the contracts
  • Embed the ND within the wider context of social policy reform.

Interestingly to see the increasing involvement of the private sector and the continued shift to central government control and heavy prescription of content and most certainly the operation of the free market. There were a multitude of ND programmes including the following options: subsidised job with an employer; full-time education or training; working in an environmental task force; and work in the voluntary sector. The ND has remained a flag ship of the present government and has undergone a succession of reforms. The ND has had many critics who voiced concerns about its high cost, its cost effectiveness and ultimately its ability to tackle the fundamental problems with these target groups. I will describe the fate of the ND in chapter 16.

What ever the merits of the ND and the earlier attempts to tackle the poor record of achievement of school leavers and young people, especially by the MSC, it is essential that effective programmes are introduced to resolve the problems with the basic skills of communication, numeracy and competence in information technology as well as improving the level of scientific and technological understanding. Unless this worthy intention is realised the country will continue to struggle to compete in the global markets and improve its international competitiveness. It is critical that these programmes for the under achievers are effective and provide outcomes that will benefit the individual, employers, society and educational and training providers. If the flow of better qualified people is available it will greatly improve the situation in general but particularly for the technical, scientific and commercial industries. This must also be coupled with programmes that improve the level of skill and knowledge of the people already in employment through further and higher education and training including programmes of continuous professional development (CPD) that need to be introduced more widely within companies or in association and partnership with colleges and other training providers.

Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs).

As the power and the role of the MSC was reduced in the late 1980s the government decided to create a new model and approach that would establish a management structure of training based on greater involvement from industry and focussed on local needs. The new arrangements would be more employer-led and take responsibility to assess the local labour markets and hence improve labour market intelligence at a local level. The government made a number of announcements along these lines during the early 1990s and eventually the Training and Enterprise Councils were created. Just as in the 1990s the NCVQ was created to reform national vocational and technical qualifications the 1990s witnessed another attempt to reform skills training by creating 82 TECs in England and Wales and 22 Local Enterprise Councils (LECs) in Scotland. In addition to identifying local training and skills needs the Councils were tasked with enterprise development. They had a very wide remit covering such areas as modern apprenticeships, adult retraining and extensive training programmes for unemployed young people. The Councils had the power to negotiate contracts and agree funding of programmes delivered in colleges and private training providers. In addition the TECs became responsible for other aspects of work- based learning including the management of Youth Training (YT) which had replaced YTS. Later the TECs and LECs became responsible for the management of Modern Apprenticeships which had been introduced to revive the now moribund traditional apprenticeship programmes. I will describe more fully the developments of apprenticeships in chapter 16.

The Councils were never really welcomed or accepted and the unions in particular were fairly hostile to their existence because they were excluded from most of the Council’s work. The Council’s funding was based on joint contributions from the private and public purses. Their precise role and relationship with local and national training priorities was unclear and confusing and caused colleges, in particular, a number of fundamental problems. For example tensions existed between the roles of the TECs and the LEAs and colleges often found themselves in the middle of these disputes. Eventually their ineffectiveness led to their replacement by the 47 Learning and Skills Councils (LSCs). The equally ineffective Industrial Training Organisations (ITOs) were replaced by the relatively short lived National Training Organisations (NTOs) and these were then replaced by Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) in 2002. But more of these developments in chapter 16.

The Further Education Funding Council (FEFC.)

Up to 1993 the further education colleges were maintained by Local Education Authorities and as such had no independent legal existence or status unlike the universities. Legally they were indistinguishable from the Local Education Authority. Staff were employees of the Local Authority and the estates and funds they used belonged to the Authority. The college and its governing body acted in all aspects on behalf of the Authority but this was to change following the ‘Further and Higher Education Act’ of 1992. The first stage was enshrined in the 1988/89 legislation which had given colleges considerable independence but still left them within local authority orbit.

The FE sector was fundamentally reformed as a result of the ‘Further and Higher Education Act’ 1992. In all, 465 colleges including sixth-form colleges were incorporated in 1993, removing them from Local Authority control. The role of the LEA was then replaced by the Further Education Funding Councils for England and Wales.(FEFC and FEFCW). This model of a national funding council mirrored the arrangements for the English Polytechnics and Colleges of Higher Education when they were removed from Local Education Authority control in 1989.

When colleges were under the control of the LEAs they were influenced, directed and shaped by their particular LEA’s strategic planning for post-compulsory education/training. The LEA largely formulated the nature and purpose of an institution and its relationship with the local community and especially with schools. As a result of this a wide set of approaches was adopted by LEAs – many colleges were given, particularly following the 1989 Education Act , relatively high degrees of freedom to develop their own purpose and mission whilst others were highly controlled and constrained. Some LEAs were supportive of their colleges whilst others treated them with a fair degree of indifference and even neglect. As a result the resources, estates and in particular funding showed significant variations across the FE sector and its constituent colleges. Some LEAs proscribed certain areas of provision for colleges e.g. adult education and GCE ‘A’ level programmes. This variation of management and treatment created a wide range of institutions across the sector and this coupled with the way colleges developed historically established a very diverse and heterogeneous sector in terms of its student populations, provision and size.

At incorporation FE colleges and Sixth Form Colleges were brought together to form a new FE sector which was funded by the FEFC, the nationally created quango supported by nine regional offices. The FEFC allocated monies to the colleges as well as operating an inspection division. It was established on 17th July 1992 and the Secretary of State for Education set the following statutory duties on the Council to:

  • secure the provision of sufficient facilities for full-time education suitable to the requirements of 16-18 year olds. (This provision had to take into account education for that age group provided by LEA maintained schools, grant-maintained schools, non-maintained schools and City Technology Colleges)
  • secure the provision of adequate facilities for part-time education suitable to the requirements of persons over compulsory school age, and full-time education suitable to the requirements of those aged 19 and over.
  • New Post-16 landscape under FEFC and TECs.

With all these reforms the post-16 education and training sector changed significantly. The diagram below attempts to show the new structure of the education and training landscape.

(FEFCE and 9 Regional Offices)
( LEAs)
(Awarding Bodies)
(Training Standards Council) (Employers) (Industry Lead Bodies)
(Private Training Providers)
(82 TECs/22LECs)
(Schools) (Universities)

The inclusion of sixth-form colleges in the new FE sector brought together institutions with very different traditions and missions. One of the main failures following incorporation was central government and FEFC lack of recognition and awareness of the massive variations across the institutions comprising the new sector e.g. large mixed economy colleges of FE/HE, general colleges of FE, sixth-form colleges, tertiary colleges and the monotechnics (specialist institutions e.g. agriculture, construction and hospitality etc). Many of the problems created by incorporation emanated from this initial and fundamental error in establishing the new sector. The wide variation in institutional mission, curriculum mix e.g. academic/vocational/adult, estates profile and staffing profiles was never fully recognised or managed during this initial and critical period at incorporation. It was the inability to recognise this diversity, heterogeneity and complexity that has caused many of the problems since 1993 particularly for technical education and training.

The Government and the Funding Council adopted an accountancy mentality to the sector wanting a more homogeneous sector and perceived this diversity and complexity as a sign of weakness. They inevitably compared the sector and its constituent colleges with the school and university sectors each of which were much more homogeneous particularly in terms of their student populations and range of awards. One of the reasons for incorporating colleges was to reduce local authority expenditure and ameliorate some of the difficulties associated with the poll tax. The real rationale for creating the new FE sector was based on political and financial grounds as opposed to educational ones. The funding methodology was never really understood by the sector providers e.g. colleges let alone the architects of the system. It was predicated on growth and was frequently referred to rather pointedly as the ‘dash for cash’ or ‘bums on seats’. The really damaging effect of the funding was on low recruiting, high cost provision in such critical areas as science, engineering, construction crafts and technician studies. The senior staff of FEFC visited colleges and advised principals to close or curtail provision in these high cost areas particularly in the technical and practical subjects. Many principals agreed and then replaced these technically orientated subjects with high recruiting low cost, non-technical programmes. As a result many technical departments providing craft, technician and technological training were closed, merged with other departments or provision was significantly reduced. Areas that were particularly affected included brick laying, carpentry and joinery, lead working and plumbing. As a result the capability and capacity for colleges to deliver these important subjects was significantly reduced and in many cases lost forever. This lack of capacity was to be highlighted in recent debates about the shortages of technicians and craftspeople e.g. plumbers, electricians etc. Sector providers were blamed and as usual none of the politicians or senior staff in the quangos and agencies responsible for the problems moved on and upwards unscathed.

The reduction of technical provision in FE was beginning to be mirrored in the university sector as they too began to close or merge departments offering subjects in such strategically important areas as construction, engineering, mathematics and the physical sciences.
In spite of these negatives a number of advantages did result from incorporation because of colleges’ greater independence which in theory did provide them with new opportunities to exploit and capitalise on their past achievements. Colleges could formulate, implement and direct their strategic plans and more precisely locate themselves in the post compulsory school landscape for education and training. Additional degrees of freedom were given to colleges in order to respond more effectively and efficiently to such factors as the changing needs and demands from employers and society in general and to various government initiatives. All these factors and others had to be accommodated within the rapidly evolving framework of rigid control and accountability developed by the DfEE and FEFC and other sponsors particularly the Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs). Overall the colleges accepted the creation of a quasi- national system funded centrally by the FEFC and the requirement to improve efficiency and the need to be more transparent and accountable. This latter point was important bearing in mind that the funding allocated by the FEFC came from public monies.

Incorporation had brought about a significant growth in student numbers but not in the technical and vocational programmes. In spite of increasingly centrally driven funding and inspection regimes the FE sector still lacked a coherent and unified national system of technical and vocational education. Provision was still characterised by insensitive funding mechanisms that created a multitude of often competing organisations and agencies attempting to influence provision. During this period competition was encouraged by the FEFC and the TECs between the various players i.e. colleges, schools and training providers and again this damaged the technical subjects. This quasi independence caused many difficulties including wide spread use of low quality franchising and malpractice in counting student numbers in order to maximise revenue. The FEFC created all sorts of lasting problems for the FE sector particularly associated with funding and when it was replaced by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) one hoped the situation would improve. However in many ways the constraints and controls increased.

Qualifications in the 1990s.

During the 1990s the qualifications were classified in terms of NVQs, general vocational and general education which led to awards such as NVQs, GNVQs and GCSE/GCE ‘A’ levels. The categories of qualifications were denoted by level and there were opportunities for students to mix and match awards according to their career, employment and FE/HE study intentions. Many colleges were very creative in configuring innovative and relevant provision that matched more effectively the needs of employers. Figure 1 attempts to illustrate the qualifications available to 16 to 19 year olds.

Figure 1. Qualifications Available to 16 to 19 Year Olds.

Level Occupational Training General Vocational Education General Education
3 NVQ 3 (Training for Advanced Craft, Technician, Supervisor Jobs#) Advanced GNVQs 2+ GCE ‘A’ levels or equivalent ‘AS’ levels
2 NVQ 2(Training for Basic Craft Jobs) Intermediate GNVQs 4 or 5 GCSEs
A* to C grades
1 NVQ 1 (Foundation Training) Foundation GNVQs 4 GCSEs D to G grades

Key: # available through Modern Apprenticeships.

In 1995 39% of 16 year olds in education and training attended school 6th forms. Also in 1995 14% of 16 year olds chose work-based training many of whom were based with employers. Staying on rates increased from 66% in 1990 to 75% in 1995. 43% of 16 year olds studied in FE college and 6th form colleges. Many of the young people preferred the greater freedom that colleges provided and the more adult culture when compared with schools. This pattern had begun earlier when many students left secondary modern schools and also when the school leaving age was raised from 15 to 16 in the early 1970s. This will no doubt become a major issue again following the recent government announcement to raise the leaving age to 18. Over the past few decades young people have become increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with the school culture and the narrow range of the provision personified by the National Curriculum. I fear that in spite of all the current reforms e.g. the introduction of vocational diplomas and more relevant provision, the sense of alienation among students who are encouraged to stay on at school will continue. The qualifications and experience of technical and vocational subjects by school staff and the facilities offered in schools cannot compare with those found in colleges and training providers. It seems that a schools agenda is increasingly being introduced on the post-16 education and training stage. By the mid-1990s the student population of all ages in FE stood at approximately 3 million.

The following tables show in more detail the overall participation in the education and training system in 1992/93, 1994/95 and 1996/97. I apologise for the amount of detail but they do illustrate a number of interesting trends and provide an over view of the state of participation rates in England for 16 to 18 year olds. Table 2 only shows participation in schools and FE colleges and excludes enrolments in private FE institutions, adult education centres, WEA programmes and residential colleges.

Table 2. Percentage Participation Rates in Schools and FE Colleges in 1992/3, 1994/5 and 19996/7.

Type of Institution 1992/3 1994/5 1996/7
Age 16:
Full-Time and Sandwich
6th Form Colleges
Other FE Colleges
Part-Time FE:
Total age at 16: 77.9 79.1 77.5
Age 17:
Full-Time and Sandwich:
6th Form Colleges:
Other FE Colleges:
Part-Time FE:
Total age at 17: 64.7 67.5 66.7
Age 18:
Full-Time and Sandwich:
6th Form Colleges:
Other FE Colleges:
Part-Time FE:
Total age at 18: 28.5 28.8 28.5

Source: DfEE Education Statistics.

Key: * 6th Form Colleges included in FE figures after 1992/93.

Table 3 shows the % participation rates in England in training and higher education with a similar format shown in figure 2.

Table 3. Percentage Participation Rates in Training and HE in 1992/93, 1994/5 and 1996/97.

Type of Institution 1992/93 1994/95 1996/7
Age 16:
F-T Education:
Government –
Supported Training (GST):
Employer-Funded Training:
Other Education and Training:
Total Education and Training:
Education and Training (GST)*:
Population (000s): 553.9 549.7 618.0
Age 17:
F-T Education GST:
Employer-Funded Training:
Other Education and Training:
Total Education and Training:
GST* 70.2 71.4 69.5
Population (000s): 576.1 536.6 601.1
Age 18:
F-T Education:
Employer-Funded Training:
Other Education and Training:
Total Education and Training:
 GST* 49.1 53.0  53.9
Population (000s): 603.9 556.7 553.6

Table 4 shows the student and staff numbers in FE Institutions in England in 1992/93.

Table 4. Student and Staff Numbers in FE in 1992.

Type of Institution 1992/93
Students (000s FTEs)
LEA-Maintained and PCFC Colleges:
6th Form Colleges:
Adult education Centres:
WEA Establishments:
Totals: 995
FEFC-Funded Courses:
Non-FEFC –Funded Courses:
Totals: 1,110
Teaching Staff (000s of FTEs):
LEA-Maintained Colleges:
PCFC Institutions:
Sector Colleges and HEI (FE courses)*:

Note the figures have been rounded up.
Key: * Figures include HE delivered in FE colleges and some recognised professional courses. HEFC assumed ultimate responsibility for funding HE courses in FE colleges.

Industry lead bodies – an update

Full employment in the 1960s and early 1970s meant that industrial training was the responsibility of the 25 or so ITBs which were based on industrial sectors. Later on in the 1970s and early 1980s growing high unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, raised questions about the effectiveness of ITBs and this contributed to the MSC becoming the major player in national training programmes. The majority of the ITBs were abolished and replaced by Industrial Training Organisations (ITOs) which were more industry specific. In addition there were a number of Lead Bodies (LBs) and Occupational Standards Councils and like ITOs all under – funded and as unemployment fell in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s their effectiveness was questioned which brought about yet another reform in 1995. The 180 ITOs, LBs and OSCs were brought together to create National Training Organisations (NTOs) and the reformed National Council of Industrial Training Organisations was replaced by the NTO Council. National Training Organisations (NTOs) were in essence mergers of Industrial Training Organisations (ITOs), Lead Bodies (LBs) and Occupational Standards Councils (OSCs) coordinated by the NTO National Council.

National Training Organisations (NTOs) were established in 1997 and 65 NTOs had been recognised by 1997. NTOs existed, like their predecessors, to provide strategic leadership and advice on education and training for the employment sector. Other responsibilities included addressing skills needs and shortages, promoting vocational technical qualifications. Scotland had a similar organisation namely SCONTO. As a result their remit was wider than previous lead bodies and their roles included:

  • To develop strategies at national level for their sectors and occupational groups to complement local TECs and LECs
  • Deliver an integrated approach to identifying the skills, competences and qualifications needed for a world class work-force
  • Identify and co-ordinate the provision of training and education used by employers
  • Establish links with educational establishments and the Careers Service to develop progression routes into employment and vocational qualifications
  • Review and update occupational standards and NVQs/SVQs, emphasising quality and user-friendliness
  • Drive forward the take-up of occupational standards and N/SVQs to meet national and sector targets
  • Promote the wider use of occupational standards
  • Develop and improve Modern Apprenticeships and provide guidance on national Traineeships
  • Act on White Paper initiatives and challenges such as sector targets, benchmarking, lifelong learning and Investors in People
  • Exert a strong influence on partners, policy makers and employers to raise the profile of training in general.

A massive remit that proved too much for the NTOs and the NTO National Council to realise particularly the requirement to work across such a large number of other organisations many with vested interests. In addition funding presented problems right from the beginning of the NTO movement as employers were reluctant to contribute bearing in mind the poor track record of industry lead bodies.

So NTOs did not readily gain the confidence, support and recognition of the employers and before they even began to have any influence were wound up and replaced by the latest employer network namely the Skill Sector Councils (SSCs) in 2002.

Other Initiatives.

The DfEE 1998 publication ‘Learning Age – a renaissance for a new Britain’ proposed two interrelated policy frameworks for adult technical training: the University for Industry (UfI) and Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs). Both of these hastily introduced initiatives failed to achieve their ambitious objectives. UfI was a misnomer because it was not a university and could never achieve that status and most certainly, as it turned out, had little to do with industry. It currently offers a range of relatively low level programmes (at level 2) in IT and key skills. ILAs were eventually wound up after accusations of fraud and malpractice. However the Labour government is wedded to the concept of ILAs and has now proposed in the 2006 White Paper ‘FE Reform: Raising Skills. Improving Life Chance’ a variation called Individual Learning Grants (ILGs)! These are but two examples of New Labour’s plethora of policy statements and initiatives that have created little improvement in any aspect of education and most certainly not in technical education and training. The list below illustrates a number of relevant initiatives during the 1990s:

Other Important Reports and Developments in the 1990s.

  • In 1990 Training Credits piloted. YTS renamed Youth Training (YT)
  • In 1990 ‘ British Baccalaureate’ published by IPPR and in spite of authors being Labour supporters never implemented even after the party came to power in 1997
  • In 1991 CPVE replaced by the Diploma of Vocational Education (DVE)
  • In 1991‘Higher Education’ published and recommended expansion of HE student numbers
  • In 1992 Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) and the Higher Education Funding Councils (HEFC) established
  • In 1992 ‘FE and HE Act’ published resulting in polytechnics designated universities; CNNA abolished; FE colleges and sixth form colleges removed from LEA control
  • In 1994 Modern Apprenticeships (MAs) piloted and introduced in 1995; also accelerated MAs announced set at NVQ level 2
  • In 1995 Youth Credits introduced. Youth Training name dropped
  • In 1995 Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) created following merger of Employment Department and Department for Education
  • In 1995 ‘Competitiveness: Forging Ahead’ published by DTI; it attempted to forge stronger links between education and employment
  • In 1996 Dearing Report – review of 16 to 19 vocational qualification; GNVQs introduced
  • In 1996 Review of 100 NVQs and SVQs
  • In 1997 Dearing Review of HE
  • In 1997 National Traineeships introduced replacing YT; aimed at NVQ level 2
  • In 1997 New Deal (ND) launched; it consisted of a number of programmes for young and older people which were aimed at increasing sustainable employment. The ND replaced YTS
  • In 1997 Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA) replaced SCAA and NCVQ
  • In 1998 University for Industry (Ufi) prospectus published
  • In 1998 Union Learning Fund established.
  • In 1998 National and Local Learning Skills Councils replace TECs, LECs and the National TEC Council
  • In 1998 ‘The Learning Age – a renaissance for a new Britain’ published; one of the many glossy publications from new Labour. This one was about lifelong learning.
  • In 1999 Modern Apprenticeships expanded to 82,000 places. Investors in Young People renamed Connexions
  • In 1999 Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) piloted to increase post-16 take-up
  • 1n 1999 ‘Improving literacy and Numeracy’ published (Moser Report)

Chapter 16 will describe the developments in the late 1990s and begin to describe the developments in the early 2000s.

A comprehensive book list is provided in a separate section of this website whilst other primary resource references have been given at the end 0f the chapter where appropriate.

In addition a comprehensive chronology and glossary are provided in separate sections of the website.

Chapter 14 – Developments in the 1980s


So far this short history has attempted to show how technical and commercial education evolved along with the associated systems and surrounding infrastructures. The picture that has emerged is one of a fragmented and uncoordinated landscape possessing unnecessary complexity and lacking any real coherence. Even when progress occurred it often depended critically on the efforts of a relatively small number of visionaries and philanthropic individuals. The history unfortunately reflects a contradictions catalogue of false dawns and raised expectations in spite of the opportunities that had been created by such individuals or by the obstacles of the prevailing political, financial or social climate e.g. at times of recession or wars. The continual reluctance of political parties to intervene and recognise the importance of technical and commercial education as a way of increasing productivity and reducing skill gaps and shortages, also contributed to the parlous state of this strategically important sector. Employers in this country, in stark contrast to our major competitors, continually failed to invest in training, preferring to take people direct from college or university or to poach employees from other companies – after all they argued it was cheaper! In addition the assumption that the country could attract skilled workers from overseas was ethically questionable as we poached workers who had been trained in their own countries and therefore had allowed this country to reduce its own training costs. The organisations that represent the employers and employees namely the CBI and the TUC continued to have little influence on government policy. In – house company training programmes were limited to a relatively small number of enlightened industries e.g. automotive (Ford/ Rover), aerospace (BAE), with most other employers arguing that they already contributed the funding for state education via the tax system.

The 1980s witnessed the development of an array of initiatives most of which failed to rectify the continuing problems and concerns about declining productivity, skills shortages at all levels in manufacturing, the public services and in key subjects such as science, manufacturing and mathematics. Research by now had shown a direct correlation between productivity and skill levels e.g. moving 1 % of the workforce from unskilled to skilled level would bring about 2% increase in productivity. International league tables continued to show that the country was failing to keep pace with technological and economic change and its inability to stem its decline in international competitiveness. For example an earlier publication by the National Economic Development Office publication ‘Competence and Competition’ (1984) had already demonstrated this country’s economic decline in comparison with our trading competitors.

It was clear by the 1980s that fundamental mismatches existed between the providers of specialised technical education and training, the labour market and technical/vocational qualifications. As a result of the absence of a national strategy for technical education and training no identifiable mechanisms existed to manage and coordinate effectively all the disparate elements in the system which still lacked unity and coherence. As a result of ad hoc growth a multitude of separate organisations had acquired varying degrees of responsibility in such aspects as funding, student support, examinations and assessment and inspection. This inevitably created massive inertia in the system especially when reforms were being advocated. Many of the organisations associated with technical education were very parochial and proud of their history and this often led to reluctance to embrace fundamental changes, which could have threatened their own integrity. Successive reforms in key areas of technical education had often floundered because of the resistance of organisational interests e.g. development of NVQs, GNVQs and A level reform (see later). Also one only has to look at the number of professional bodies that oversee such disciplines as engineering, mathematics to see the absurd situation that still exists and how this continues to impede essential reforms that are urgently required. The recent growth of quangos and agencies most of which are largely unaccountable has further exacerbated the already confused and crowned landscape resulting in an often chaotic management of technical and commercial education and training – see chapters 15 and 16 about the negative and pernicious impact of quangos and agencies. It is important to note that many of these organisations still have responsibility for accrediting and approving technical qualifications.

The following list of examining bodies illustrates how confusing and complicated the technical and commercial examinations landscape in the 1980s had become.

  • • Vocational bodies such as CGLI, BTEC, RSA, LCCI et al
  • • Six regional examining bodies (REBs)
  • • Approximately 250 professional bodies including 76 with royal charters and other non-chartered bodies which together represented such disciplines as chemistry, engineering, construction and management.
  • A number of standard setting bodies such as the joint industry councils, non-statutory industry training organisations e.g. Chemical Industries’ Association
  • 120 industry training organisations of which 8 were Industry Training Boards with statutory responsibilities. Many possessed mechanisms to train and assess and some had developed joint certification in such areas as engineering, and agriculture.
  • In spite of this bewildering array of organisations other fundamental weaknesses existed namely:
  • Lack of a clear and comprehensible framework for vocational and technical qualifications
  • Considerable overlaps and duplication of qualifications across the awarding bodies
  • Major gaps in provision particularly in the newer technologies
  • Ill-defined protocols for progression, transition and transfer both for students and subjects
  • Continued inflexible arrangements in colleges and examination boards creating barriers for entry and attendance
  • Little understanding of how to assess in the work place
  • Assessment skewed towards testing knowledge rather than skills and competence in real working environments
  • Lack of systems to assess prior learning and experience especially in the work place

Progress of the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) and Industrial Training

It was only with the creation of the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) that the first attempt to develop a national labour market and training policy occurred. However it became very clear when the state eventually became involved that the government departments e.g. Employment, Education, Trade and Industry and the Treasury possessed little empathy or understanding of industry and this weakness continues sadly even today. In 1986 the MSC reached its apogee with an annual budget of £3 billion and responsibility for a massive range of programmes spanning training, upskilling of employed and unemployed adults and young people. The extensive empire included Information Technology Centres (ITCs)- Centres for the unemployed (TUC sponsored), Adult Training Centres etc. However most of the programmes were aimed at the lower skill levels and/or youth unemployment and perpetuated the culture of the low skills equilibrium. Therefore the initiatives failed to create the comprehensive set of programmes to tackle the problems associated with skill gaps and shortages at both low and higher levels of the skills spectrum. These coupled with other factors highlighted in earlier chapters meant that technical education was never given the status it deserved and failed to achieve the critical mass that was so necessary to create a coherent national system.

The period during the reign of the MSC has often been referred to as ‘training without jobs’ meaning it was a political ploy to keep people off the unemployment registers and make the government look good in regard to youth unemployment. The participation of people on the programmes/schemes took them off the unemployment register so the statistics were massaged to look better and could be positively spun – so what changes? Eventually all this investment and apparent interest in technical education and training began to wane and the power and influence of the MSC declined. By the late 1980s unemployment was beginning to decline and the YTS was re-launched as Youth Training (YT) but the perception was that all the programmes were just political treatments, cures or palliatives for unemployment. The Youth Training Scheme was eventually renamed the New Deal (ND) in 1998. The MSC launched another initiative called the Job training Scheme (JTS) but it quickly failed through lack of numbers. The climate shifted back to the traditional academic approach and the investment in work based training declined as politicians expanded the so-called academic route of ‘A’ levels and degrees. Eventually the MSC lost favour with the government as radical members and groups from the right and its responsibilities were moved to the Department of Trade and in May 1988 when it was renamed the Training Commission and finally abolished in the following September. The MSC was replaced by the by the Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs).

During the existence of the MSC billions of pounds were spent on a wide range of schemes and initiatives many related to youth training. Overall little was achieved for most of the trainees. The reason for this somewhat harsh judgement is that so many of the initiatives were based on short term political priorities, many of the schemes/programmes never lasted long enough to be properly evaluated and the MSC had many critics who eventually weakened and undermined its influence. Many of the schemes/programmes in principle possessed real potential and if properly supported and resourced could have made a significant contribution to the shape and operation of technical and training and also could have provided viable future frameworks and models for work based and work placed curricula. Possible examples of potentially good schemes include CPVE, YTS, PICKUP and most certainly TVEI. It is a shame that some of the good practices have not been picked up by the later attempts to reform work based/placed education and training but too often policy makers and politicians suffer from amnesia and always want to launch their new initiatives.

Industrial Training also came under government review. This review led to the ‘Employment and Training Act’ (1981) which allowed the Secretary of State for Employment to completely review and reform the ITBs as he wished. Initially the ITBs were granted wider powers but this achieved very little and the number of ITBs declined. As mentioned only two remained namely the Engineering and Construction Boards and because of the nature of their respective workforces e.g. mainly peripatetic the boards continued to operate the levy/grant system. The ITBs were then replaced by 170 non-statutory Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) but because they were supported only on a voluntary basis by the employers coupled with inadequate funding the majority of these failed to develop and quickly foundered.

Non-Advanced FE (NAFE), the Technical Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) and the Growing Power of the MSC

The MSC was at the height of its powers between 1982 and 1986 with massive amounts of funding and growing involvement in education and training for the 16 to 19 age groups. Their power was further extended in 1984 when assumed responsibility for non-advanced FE (NAFE) work-related provision and allowed the Commission to assume control of 25% of the budgets held by LEAs for their FE colleges – a development not welcomed by the LEAs! The MSC as a result of this change could purchase provision operated at colleges as and when they determined. Again this caused problems with colleges and raised tensions between them and their LEAs.

The other major initiative introduced by the MSC was the Technical Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) that represented, in 1980s, by far the largest important innovation in the secondary school curriculum and related staff development. The initial refusal to benefit from the significant levels of additional funding and resources that were being made available presented LEAs and the schools with all sorts of challenges. Initially the TVEI attracted criticisms centred on the dangers of creating greater divisions and tensions between comprehensive schools and the fact that the Department of Employment and the powerful quango MSC were operating the initiative rather than the LEAs. But as the initiative continued the criticism and hostility moderated because the schools and the LEAs could see that the funding would bring about improved facilities and resources in their establishments. In addition to TVEI the MSC introduced TVEI Related In-Service Training (TRIST) which also added significant value to teacher training and most certainly improved and strengthened relationships through school and college partnerships.

The TVEI was aimed at introducing technical and vocational subjects into schools and developing effective partnerships between schools and colleges. In 1983 14 pilots were initiated and by 1986 there were 65,000 students in 600 institutions pursuing four year work-related programmes. Concerted efforts made the school curriculum more relevant to post-school and the students took recognised qualifications across a number of commercial, technical and vocational qualifications. I was very involved with the TVEI in Cornwall and was impressed by the way better working relationships were established between the college and the partner schools. New innovative courses were introduced in such subjects as biotechnology, commerce, information technology and technology and commerce. One interesting aspects of TVEI was the tension between it and the National Curriculum (NC) as TVEI possessed a fair degree of freedom to offer subjects and curriculum that were in stark contrast to the NC which was very heavily prescriptive and centrally controlled by the government. TVEI promised much but ultimately failed because of the high cost and the negativity from a growing number of people who were hostile to the MSC. The government realised that it could not fund a fully-fledged TVEI so decided to develop a few specialist institutions namely City Technology Colleges (CTCs) which were supposed to transform vocational studies at school level. The creation of the CTCs from 1987 established a new structural and funding model which has continued to this day, namely, to create and fund a few flagship institutions. Politically and financially the approach makes sense but does nothing to increase the volume of technically qualified people entering employment. Obviously fewer institutions require less funding and this allows the government of the day to micro-manage these so called centres of excellence and then crow about their attempts to improve technical and vocational education. This model was created by the Conservatives and has been fully embraced and extended by New Labour. Examples currently (2009) include specialist schools, City Academies, Beacon Schools and Centres of Excellence in Colleges and Training Organisations (COVES). Centres of Excellence in

Colleges and Training Organisations were tasked to achieve:

  • A clear understanding of current and future skills needs
  • Provision which is directly related to the current and future needs of work and fully up to date in terms of specialised content
  • Up to date knowledge and skills of teaching staff
  • Learning opportunities that meet learners’ and employers’ needs in terms of method, time and location of delivery and in terms of learning outcomes. It will be particularly important that Centres adopt strategies to provide access and participation of groups traditionally excluded from learning or disadvantaged in the labour market
  • Opportunities for new entrants or returnees to a specialist labour market to prepare for the world of work and for those already employed in that labour market to upgrade their skills
  • Volume and level of provision that meets current and future employer demand.

It all sounds very familiar and again we will have to wait to see if this initiative brings about any lasting improvement in technical education and training.

The main problem with this cherry picking approach is that it is too little and too late and cannot hope to create the critical mass that is so urgently required to address skills gaps and shortages. It also introduces a possible destructive degree of competition between providers. Also the involvement and sponsorship of private business and individuals can create some worrying issues in regard to influence over subjects taught.

The Academic Vocational Divide and Reforms to GCE ‘A’ Levels

One of the constant and contentious issues was the so-called academic vocational divide. It is important to remember that technical and commercial education has never been fully recognised and resourced and sadly still failed to achieve comparable status and recognition with that of the university and school sectors. The subjects and qualifications have as a result been seen as second class and perceived as designed for the less able. A great deal of empty rhetoric has been expounded over many decades since GCE ‘A’ levels were introduced in 1951 about the need to establish parity of esteem between technical and vocational and the so-called academic qualifications. These endless debates especially after the early 1980s also advocated the creation of equality between colleges, schools and university sectors but these hopes and intentions had little lasting impact or effect. Many reviews were initiated. A number of reviews of GCE ‘A’ levels after the 1980s e.g. Macfarlane (1980), Higginson Report (1988) took place but did not bring about any real change in the status of technical commercial and vocational qualifications. The implementation of these reviews was limited to a tinkering with the qualification system and the gold-standard of GCE ‘A’ levels remained largely unchanged. The latest review by Tomlinson although it came up with some promising proposals but was rumoured to have been summarily dismissed by the then Secretary of State over a cup of afternoon tea! The hope that technical and vocational qualifications will attain parity of esteem with academic qualifications has yet to be realised. The present government (2008) has recently announced yet another review of the curriculum including GCE ‘A’ levels.

Certificate of Pre-Vocational Education (CPVE)

This qualification merits further description as it was in essence a very forward looking and relevant award for 17 year olds particularly those who had been low achievers at school. The development can be traced from the seminal publication in 1979 by the Further Education Unit (FEU) entitled ‘A Basis for Choice’ which became known as the ABC study. The curriculum framework was taken up by the CGLI and developed the existing ‘356’ course. The curriculum framework proposed by the FEU comprised a common core configured into 12 broad areas to be assessed by ‘observable performances to be expected of students and that learning experiences which they should be offered’.  The core would occupy 60% of the curriculum time and the remaining 40% of the time would be taken up by ‘vocational studies’ and ‘job specific studies’. Some institutions developed work placements for the students. The government announced in the policy statement ‘Examinations 16-18’ that the CPVE would succeed the Certificate of Extended Education (CEE). This new qualification was jointly developed by BTEC, CGLI and Royal Society of Arts which formed a JOINT Board but with little involvement from the DES and the universities. Pilots were launched in 1983 but the qualification never really became accepted by schools and colleges. The award were further undermined by the development of first awards by BTEC which had a wider appeal to students because of their subject specific emphasis as opposed to a broad based 17+ CPVE. Also the RSA withdrew from the Joint Board because of funding problems and then continued to develop its own of pre-vocational and vocational commercial and other subject awards. Ultimately competition between the awarding bodies and financial problems killed off the CPVE. A common and I feel a false criticism was that it was aimed at low achievers so students, parents and some employers were reluctant to give the award their full support.

Quick Review of Situation in Regard to Colleges and the LEAs

The relatively small growth in the scale of technical education and training since the 1940s did not compensate for the decades of neglect. As mentioned before the FE sector had become the major provider of technical education and training by default and was often referred to as the Cinderella sector of education. Although the local authorities had responsibility for the colleges many did not exercise their duties in developing the colleges, preferring to support what they knew best namely the school sector. Discretionary powers allowed the local authorities and local education authorities to exercise widely differing approaches to FE colleges and this was to cause major problems when colleges gained independence from them following incorporation in 1992. As a result of these varying degrees of discretion the FE sector institutions had become very heterogeneous and diverse in terms of size, quality and most certainly in regard to their commitment to technical education.

The National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) and National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs)

In 1981 the MSC published a report called ‘A New Training Initiative (NTI). This report considered two key issues namely occupational standards and young people. Youth unemployment continued to cause major concerns and many of the government- funded schemes/programmes did not provide certificated training. Potential employers were uncertain about the experience and skill levels achieved by the young people. So in 1985 the White Paper ‘Education and Training for Young People’ was published which led to the creation of a working party to review vocational qualifications in England and Wales. The report entitled ‘the Review of Vocational Qualifications’ was chaired by Oscar de Ville and was the first fundamental attempt to review and reform vocational qualifications. The review created the National Council for National Qualifications (NCVQ). One of its main aims was to rationalise and modernise the vocational qualifications. This scope clearly embraced the technical and commercial subjects and was meant to bridge the often contentious divide between academic and vocational qualifications. The divide has plagued the whole area of debate concerning technical and commercial education and its qualifications. As a result of the review the NCVQ was charged with creating a comprehensive framework for vocational qualifications to meet the needs of the employment sector and individual candidates. The qualification system was to be based on occupational standards or competences which were to be defined by industry/employer-led bodies. The competence-based qualifications also required demonstration of both practical and intellectual skills with the relevant underpinning knowledge needed in the workplace. Another advantage was that the assessments were to be located in the work place and not through college based simulation. After it was established the NCVQ started kite marking existing vocational qualifications and located them at four levels namely basic (Level 1), standard (level2), advantaged (level 3) and higher (4). Later it extended to level 5 representing professional qualifications.

The Review did pick up many of the defects mentioned earlier in this chapter about the multitude of examinations bodies and the resultant problems of confusion and unnecessary duplication and competition. The Review members re-iterated that there had been no effective national system of vocational qualifications and the existing system had evolved in an ad hoc fashion rather than being carefully designed. Some professional bodies offered highly valued and regarded qualifications whilst others offered none. The qualifications landscape was confused and muddled and equally important was not responsive to the changing needs of employers and the changing nature of work. Key issues were therefore addressed by the Review Group and it identified that any future qualifications framework must be:

  • Consistent, reliable and well structured
  • Realistic and accessible with opportunities for smooth progression
  • Able to offer recognition for the skills people already had i.e. assessment of prior experience and learning (APL/APEL)
  • Created and implemented in partnership with employers and providers

All very obvious and worthy as always the devil was in the detail as time would show as the implementation of their intentions unfolded!

The structure of the NVQ framework is shown below:

  • Title – the name of the occupation area
  • Level – indicates where this qualification is located in the NVQ framework
  • Units (splits into elements) – describe the areas of activity within the occupation
  • Performance criteria – describes in detail the activities involved and establishes the specific standards against which the candidates is assessed
  • Range (or evidence requirements) – describes the circumstances in which the candidate needs to achieve the performance criteria in order to demonstrate competence
  • Knowledge – what the candidate needs to know in order to carry out the occupational task competently.

The progress and general reception of this important and worthy reform has been mixed since its introduction. New occupational qualifications were introduced where none had previously existed but it did not act as a catalyst to bring about a unified framework for all qualifications offered post-16. A number of misinformed academics questioned the value and validity of NVQs and these concerns were given high profile coverage in the media. One of the inevitable criticisms advanced by these academics was that the system was too dominated by employers and based on employment-led competence defined and set by industry lead bodies. In other words it implied that the employers did not know what they needed! Such intellectual arrogance is not unknown in this country and remember the majority of these critics had never been in industry or commerce themselves and clearly were incapable of recognising the fact that their own researches in their ivory towers was largely irrelevant to the world of work! Sadly numbers of FE staff also were resistant to the introduction of NVQs and this coupled with a growing bureaucracy and high cost associated with introducing new approaches to delivery, the awards seemed to attract criticism. This negative attitude sadly has undermined the real benefits of NVQs which did recognise the true value of work-based assessment and attempts to involve employers. In spite of some flaws in the methodology they did not deserve the level of criticism they received. The first NVQs were awarded in1988. By 2002 nearly 3.75 million certificates had been awarded and a number of key groups had fully invested in their value e.g. the Royal Engineers. As always traditional qualifications i.e. GCE ‘A’ levels still remained dominant in the minds of employers, parents and students. Another problem with the effective delivery of NVQs was the expense of creating real working environments (RWEs) within colleges and staff competent to operate them. Another reason the traditional route i.e. the academic/general qualifications remained popular was the collapse of the manufacturing base in the UK during the ‘70/80s/90s and the rapid disappearance of apprenticeships. The loss of day/evening released students to local colleges to study craft and technician programmes created major problems for local authorities and colleges who replaced this lost provision with the traditional GCE subjects.

More recently in 2002/3 the then Department of Education and Skills (DfEE) defined NVQs as follows:

‘NVQs and their Scottish equivalents SVQs are qualifications for work. They are proof of a person’s ability to do a job. NVQs can be gained by people doing normal work and provide recognition for the skills and experience they have gained. And they allow people to gain new knowledge and skills throughout their working lives’.

The debate about the value of NVQs continues even today as a result of all the current reform of the vocational qualifications e.g. apprenticeships and vocational diplomas.

The New Training Initiative (1980)

To return briefly to the  publication ‘A New Training Initiative: A Programme for Action’ published in 1980 which in many ways set an agenda for the 1980s. The publication articulated three national objectives namely:

  • Resources for a new Youth Training Scheme (YTS)
  • Creation of the Open Tech Programme – later to become the Open College
  • A target date for the completion of the modernisation and development of apprenticeships and other long-term training programmes
  • The development of more vocationally relevant provision in full-time education (TVEI), closer links between education, training services and industry in localities.

These initiatives were introduced but never really had much impact on the technical education and training scene. Current developments (2009) with apprenticeships still reflect a number of the issues raised in this seminal publication and others that were produced during the 1980s.

Personal Observations.

Academic drift continued in the 1980s and increasingly colleges recruited more and more students on non-technical programmes. Many technical departments in colleges were closed or merged to attempt to deal with the significant reductions in student numbers and the high cost of operating practically based subjects which recruited low student numbers. The main problem with this winding down is that once provision disappears it is almost impossible to restore it. The college loses qualified and experienced staff and facilities are very expensive to replace. One continuing problem in operating technical programmes in colleges, especially after the early 1980s, was the inevitable issues associated with high cost coupled with the relatively low level of student enrolments which made it very difficult to maintain quality of provision. As the provision in colleges shifted away from technical subjects, private providers moved into the field and although many were excellent but some were only interested maximising their profits and as result delivered a low quality service. Also many students leaving these private providers were not properly prepared or qualified to practisetheir profession. One way of dealing with this is to introduce an effective and compulsory licence to work regime and to require frequent checks on practitioners’ ability to keep up to date with new legislation and technologies and developments within their occupations. One classic area was in plumbing where even in the 1980s one could predict what would happen as colleges withdrew from this key discipline. A shortage of places would ensue and sure enough in the 1990s and 2000s the college sector was heavily criticised for not providing sufficient places for training plumbers. The funding regimes were insensitive and did not recognise or cover the high levels of expenditure that were required to deliver quality programmes. Other key technical areas also experienced similar problems and this continues even today. I was one of the people voicing concerns about the consequences of these developments in the 1980s and 1990s only in turn to be the butt of heavy criticism from the government and staff in the funding councils. However I did receive support from many professional bodies e.g. Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering which has recently received its charter. In time I will reprint on this website some of the articles written at the time and leave it to the reader to judge whether they were correct.

The new vocationalism that dominated the 1970s and 80s and largely driven by youth unemployment did little to address the fundamental weaknesses in technical education and training. The majority of initiatives were based on political expediency and short termism. In retrospect many MSC programmes are now seen as too narrow and simplistic as technical education involves more than just training for job specific skills but requires other wider skills and competencies. Another key factor was the continuing transition in the profiles of available employment i.e. from manufacturing to low-quality service work requiring low skill levels. These jobs were predominately part-time and as a result were seen by employers as not requiring any meaningful training. As manufacturing declined many politicians questioned whether the country actually needed more technically qualified people arguing that the country was a service- based economy. This perception has continued to this day especially as the global economy increases and the country positively encourages the out-sourcing of manufacturing to also to allow overseas companies to acquire or merge with our remaining home based manufacturing companies i.e. mergers and acquisitions. As the manufacturing base declined it also became more diverse involving products and services associated with entertainment, design, personal and financial services. Although this transition was possibly inevitable for the first industrialised nation the pendulum has swung too far to a service based economy and the essential balance between manufacturing and service has been lost.

Student Numbers in the 1980s.

Table 1 shows the destination rates during the 1980s and the impact of the MSC programmes. The table illustrates the percentage of the 16, 17 and 18 year-olds in 1981/2 and 1989/90.

Table 1. Percentage of Destinations by Young People between 1981/82 and 1989/90.

16 year olds 17 year olds 18 year olds
Destinations 81/82 89/90 81/82 89/90 81/82 89/90
Schools 31 34 19 23 2 3
FE 14 20 11 15 5.5 8
HE 0 0 0 0 8.5 10
YTS/YT 9 21 5 21 2 2
Employment 28 18 49 33 66 69
Unemployment 12 7 16 8 16 8

Sources: DFE Statistical Bulletins/DfEE.

One of the recurring themes in this history is the ability of this country to keep commissioning endless reviews and reports about the inadequacies in technical and commercial education. The published material invariably ends up on the shelf to gather dust and as a result has little or no impact. To complete this part on the 1980s and to illustrate this culture of review and reporting the following list shows some of the other relevant reports, reviews and initiatives.

Other Important Reports and Developments in the 1980s
Colleges were expected to respond to this multitude of pronouncements in spite of limited resources. Increasingly the funding from central government was being ring fenced for specific initiatives and programmes and this caused a number of problems for the institutions and their management a situation which continues at a pace today.

  • In 1980 ‘Education for 16-19 Year Olds’ (Macfarlane Report) published
  • In 1981 ‘A New Training Initiative: A Programme for Action’ published announced first plans for the Youth Training Scheme (YTS)
  • In 1981 the ‘Employment and Training Act’ published that led the ESA and TSA being abolished
  • In 1982 ‘Employment and Training Act’ published that removed trade unions from decisions about costs of training on employers and set up regulatory framework for ITBs
  • In 1982 the ‘Cockcroft Report’ published a major review and report on mathematics
  • In 1982 TVEI launched with pilots started in 1983
  • In 1983 CPVE introduced
  • In 1983 the one year YTS introduced
  • In 1983 BEC and TEC merged into Business and Technical Education Council (BTEC)
  • In 1984 ‘Training for Jobs’ was published in which the government announced its Adult Training Strategy (ATS) and new arrangements concerning vocational education in FE
  • In 1985 ‘Development of Higher Education into the 1990s’ was published; it articulated the government’s thinking on the need for HE to contribute more effectively to improve the country’s economic performance
  • In 1985 ‘Education and Training for Young People’ published
  • In 1985 ‘Employment – the Challenge to the Nation!’ was published; it emphasised that the quality of the labour market needed to be improved and made more flexible in order to respond more effectively to the rapidly changing business climate.
  • In 1985/6 ‘Review of Vocational Qualifications’
  • In 1985 the ‘Further Education Act’ published; it gave colleges and polytechnics the right to sell goods and services from their activities
  • In 1985 the ‘Education and Training for Young People’ was published and as mention earlier announced a major expansion of YTS and highlighted the ridiculous number of vocational qualifications
  • In 1985 ‘Better Schools’ published; it announced policies to improve the preparation of young people for work
  • In 1985 the Certificate for Pre-Vocational Education (CPVE) introduced
  • In 1986 YTS extended to two years
  • In 1986 “Working Together – Education and Training’ announced the extension nationally of the TVEI pilots, establishment of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ).
  • In 1987 City Technology Colleges Trust established – First CTC opened in Solihull in 1988
  • In 1987 Open College, (formally the Open Tech) created to provide open access to training and reskilling
  • In 1987 GCE Advanced Supplementary Examinations introduced (‘AS’) represented one half of an ‘A’-level course
  • In 1988 the Higginson Report published a major review of GCE ‘A’ levels
  • In 1988 MSC renamed the Training Commission (TC)
  • In 1988 ‘Employment Act’ was published. It introduced bridging allowance for young people waiting to take up YTS place
  • In 1988 ‘Education Reform Act (ERA)’ was published and included a wide range of reforms e.g. The introduction of the national curriculum and assessment. Universities Funding Council (UFC) replaced by the University Grants Committee (UGC) and polytechnics and large colleges of HE removed from LEA control. (1988)
  • In 1988 ‘Training for Employment’ was published and proposed a new Employment Training Scheme (ET) aimed at the unemployed
  • In 1988 ‘Employment for the 1990s’ was published and proposed the creation of the Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) and LECs and the remaining ITBs to be phased out
  • In 1989 TC abolished
  • In 1989 ‘Further Education a new strategy’ a speech by Kenneth Baker; itt proposed major reforms to FE and supposedly put the sector centre stage
  • In 1990 Youth Training Scheme (YTS) renamed Youth Training (YT)

As you can see the 1980s was a period of unprecedented change with the government assuming greater control of the education system. The colleges and schools were subjected to a multitude of policy changes and initiatives many of which were short-lived. Funding became increasingly ring fenced and the curriculum more and more prescribed. Chapter 15 describes the situation in the 1990s and with a new government the pace of change accelerated with a plethora of initiatives, targets, league tables and increasing central control.


A comprehensive book list is provided in a separate section of this website whilst primary resource publications area referenced at the end of each chapter.

In addition a comprehensive glossary and chronology are provided in separate sections of this website.

Chapter 13 – Developments in the 1960s and the1970s

This chapter will complete the developments in the 1960s and then describe the some of the developments in the 1970s. Numbers grew steadily in further education as a result of the developments since 1944 and in1964 there were approximately 1.7 million students in major establishments of FE in England and Wales. Of these there were over 180,000 full-time and sandwich students and approximately 1.5 million part-time and evening students. The teaching force since 1956 had grown from 11,500 to approximately 34,000 supported in 1964 by over 60,000 part-time teachers and instructors. The investment in building programmes was in excess of £200 million and this included £180 million committed since 1956. Note the continuing importance of part-time staff in the FE sector as they brought with them an up-to-date knowledge and experience of the specialist workplace. The National Plan envisaged that over 70,000 full-time and sandwich students would be studying in colleges by 1969/70, well in excess of the Robbins Committee’s estimate of 50,000.

The Robbins Report 1963

In 1963 the Robbins Report was published and would have major implications for the expansion of the university sector. It was entitled ‘Higher Education’ and comprised six volumes and was chaired by Lord Robbins. Its terms of reference were: ‘To review the pattern of full-time higher education in Britain and in the light of national needs and resources, to advise the Government on what principles its long- term development should be based. In particular, to advise, in the light of these principles whether there should be any changes in that pattern, whether any new types of institution are desirable for planning and coordinating the development of the various types of institution’.
It was a major reform of the university sector but for our purposes the recommendation to create the Colleges of Advanced Technology (CATs) are note worthy and it was recommended that these institutions were ultimately to be granted charters as technological universities. Other recommendations were made regarding regional and area colleges that were offering higher education and could now gain the same opportunity to award degrees equivalent to the universities. In order to achieve this recommendation the Council for National Academic Awards was established in 1963. Thus the CNAA was created replacing the National Council for Technological Awards (NCTA).
Following the Robbins Report numbers in higher education increased with the majority of the growth being in polytechnics and other maintained colleges offering advanced further education although it must be stressed that it was from a relatively low base. Colleges also showed a significant growth as a result to provide training to tackle the shortage of qualified teachers. Table 1 shows the student numbers in universities, colleges and colleges of education in 1971-72.

Table 1.Numbers of Students on Full-Time and Sandwich Higher Education Courses in Britain for 1971-72 (in 000’s).

HE Institution  England and Wales Scotland Britain
University 198 38 236
Advanced FE 90 9 99
College of Education 114* 14 128
Totals: 402 61 463

Source: ‘Education: A Framework for Expansion’ HMSO. 1972.
Key: * Includes approximately 3,000 students in polytechnic departments of education.

The government in 1972 had set a target of 750,000 students taking full-time and sandwich courses by 1981 in both universities and colleges.

Technician Courses and Examinations (Haslegrave Report 1967).

In 1967 the Secretary of State for Education and Science invited the National Advisory Council on Education for Industry and Commerce (NACEIC) to review technician provision including examinations. The NACEIC felt that the developments since the White Paper ‘Better Opportunities in Technical Education’ e.g. the Industrial Training Act, the work of the CNAA and the changing purpose of the higher national courses, merited such a review. A Committee was established and was chaired by H. L. Haslegrave and published its report in 1969. Its remit was: ‘to review the provision for courses suitable for technicians at all levels (including corresponding grades in non-technical occupations) and to consider what changes are desirable in the present structure of courses and examinations.’

The Committee carried out a detailed analysis of national courses leading to technician, business and comparable certificates awarded by CGLI, the six REBs, Ordinary and Higher National awards and the General courses. The Committee did not regard individual college courses or those leading to examinations of professional and similar bodies as part of their remit but did consider their possible impact and relationship on their final recommendations. The committee paid due consideration to the relationship with the work of CNAA and the emerging Dip. HE. qualification. The committee carried out a comprehensive analysis of the role of the technician and provided some fascinating statistics using the results of surveys carried out by the Scientific and Technological Manpower Division. For example in 1965 the various industrial sectors employed 622,000 technicians and other technical supporting staff, of whom approximately 400,000 were in manufacturing industries, 72,000 in the public sectors of industry, 46,000 in construction and 89,000 in central government and local government. Approximately 100,000 of the national total were employed in research and development and approximately 66% of these were in industry.

Employers had indicated that over 700,000 technicians would be required in 1970. A similar survey in 1968 showed the following analysis: there were 710,000 technicians and other supporting staff in the industrial sectors surveyed, an increase of 14% compared with 1965. Of these 454,000 were employed in the manufacturing industries, 84,000 in the public sector of industry, 61,000 in construction and 91,000 in central and local government. Approximately 106,000 of the national total were employed in research and development and roughly 75% of these were in the manufacturing industries. Employers again revised upwards the number of technicians required and indicated that between 1968 and 1971 an additional 70,000 would be required.

After a wide ranging set of consultations the Committee recommended the creation of two Education Councils namely the Technician Education Council (TEC) and the Business Education Council (BEC). TEC had the following terms of reference: ‘To plan, administer and keep under review the development of a unified pattern of courses of technical education for technicians in industry; and in pursuance of this to devise or improve suitable courses, establish and assess standards of performance, and award certificates and diplomas as appropriate’. BEC had a similar set of terms of reference. The Secretary of State accepted the Committee’s recommendations and so TEC and BEC were born. These proposals were to have a profound effect on the way colleges operated and managed technical education from then on. Scotland established similar Councils to cover their technician and commercial programmes.
Tables 2 and 3 shows the overall state of student enrolments in FE colleges between 1964 and 1968 which helped inform the Haslegrave Committee.

Table 2. Enrolment on Courses in FE Colleges between 1964 and 1968 in England and Wales.

Course 1964/65 1965/66  1966/67 1967/68
All advanced courses (AFE) 138,457 149,715 162,384 180,882
All non-advanced courses (NAFE 839,793 878,989 916,505 945,689
Sandwich courses 14,055 17,206 20,712 24,780
Block-release courses 24,493 33,392 19,098 45,853
Day (incl. block) courses 574,268 602,028 625,013 639,963
Integrated courses (estimated) 1,000 1,400 8,500 10,000
Introductory courses for Training Officers 76 329 752 1,249

Source: ‘ DES Statistics 1967’.

Note – advanced courses included CNAA first and higher degrees, preparatory courses for first and higher degrees, HND/Cs, Diplomas in Management Studies (DMS), Diplomas in Art and Design and final professional examinations or College Diplomas or Associateships if above ONC or GCE ‘A’ level.

Table 3 shows the number of candidates entering for business studies courses between 1962 and 1968.

Table 3. Number of Candidates Entering Business Courses between 1962 and 1968.

Courses  1962 Entries 1962 Passes 1965 Entries 1965 Passes 1968 Entries 1968 Passes
Business Studies:


Retail Distribution (RD):National Certificate:
RD Management:
Part A:
Part B:
Office Studies (COS) 1,406 956 2,632 2,114

The new arrangements had a profound and lasting influence on the FE sector. Colleges and the staff had to come to terms with totally different approaches in the way the curriculum was written, delivered and assessed. The creation of TEC and BEC represents possibly one of the most significant developments in the FE sector particularly in curriculum reform. It gave massive stimulation to staff development and staff had to learn totally different lexicology e.g. behavioural objectives, standard and common units etc. it took four years from the Report to the creation of TEC and BEC. However it must be remembered that a total redesign involved approximately 300 different courses and 90 CGLI committees and the Joint Committees effecting 250,000 students and 500 colleges. The new system inevitably had its critics who complained of the administrative burdens. I will describe the progress of the Councils in later chapters.

Commercial Education

As I have mentioned before commercial, business and management education took much longer to become established in the FE sector as the numbers in table 3 showed. Table 4 shows the business courses enrolments between 1964/65 and 1967/68.

Table 4. Courses and Student Enrolments in Business Studies in 1964/65 and 1967/68.

Course 1964/65 1967/68
Certificate in Office Studies 5,686 8,807
ONC in Business Studies 12,734 13,962
OND in Business Studies 5,188 6,458
Other non-advanced Business Courses 52,642 61,671
Totals: 76,250 90,898
HNC in Business Studies 2,956 5,247
HND in Business Studies 1,848 4,364
First Degrees in Business Studies 1,399 7,604
Other Advanced Business Studs 21,978 35,262
Totals: 28,181 52,262
Totals for All Courses: 104,431 143,160

A list of the recognised of what was then being referred too as non-technical subjects e.g. business studies and retailing is shown below.

Course Starting Date
ONC in Business Studies 1961
OND in Business Studies 1961
HNC in Business Studies 1961
HND in Business Studies 1962
ONC in Public Administration 1968
Certificate in Office Studies – does not
include typing and shorthand).
Higher Certificate in Office Studies 1969
National Retail Distribution Certificate 1951
Certificate in Retailing Management Principles Not known

The Royal Society of Arts, Pitman’s Examinations and other awarding boards continued to offer an extensive range of examinations in commerce, secretarial and other commercially/office related studies.

Education: A Framework for Expansion (1972)

This important White Paper stressed the need to continue the expansion of education for the next ten years to make a contribution to society and the economy. The report accepted the key role the colleges at all levels to meet the changing demands of industry and commerce. The report picked up many of the recommendations of the James Report on Teacher Training and accepted that teachers in FE should receive initial teacher training. The government were planning that the fastest expansion would be in the polytechnics and other non-university colleges and set a target of approximately 375,000 places in these institutions. The report also stressed the need for employers to increase training and support for their employees and to this effect supported the proposals by the Haslegrave Committee. The White Paper welcomed the James Report and accepted the creation of a two year programme leading to the Diploma in Higher Education (Dip. HE). Careful consideration was required to be given to the relationship between the Dip. HE. and the HNDs and to the other courses being developed by the Technician Education Council (TEC) and the Business Education Council (BEC) established following the Haslegrave Committees recommendations. For the non-university sector Scotland would prepare its own White Paper. The Scottish White Paper would be presented by the Secretary of State for Scotland as it must be remembered that the responsibility for all university education resided with the British government.

Industrial Training, the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) and the Rise of Quangos

Although the existing apprenticeship programmes continued to be the main vehicle for industrial training they urgently required reform. In a sense the apprenticeship programmes were treated as being separate from other technical and vocational curricula/qualifications frameworks and in many ways represented two distinct populations of people who would eventually enter the same employment sectors. It is only recently that any real attempt has been made to integrate apprenticeships with the national qualifications framework. In addition to the weaknesses highlighted earlier the craft unions exploited them for entry into their then highly demarcated trades. Employers sadly valued them for providing cheap labour and relieving the burden of training costs. Following the implementation of the Industrial Training Act 27 statutory Industrial Training Boards (ITBs) were established between 1964 and 1969. By 1966 13 ITBs covered 7.5 million workers but already complaints were beginning about their administrative pressures. The reality of the woeful state of technical education for skilled and unskilled workers continued to highlight the limited opportunities for further study and the low levels of appropriate work based qualifications. The ratio of skilled to unskilled workers actually decreased and the number in absolute terms of skilled workers remained such the same in the period between 1911 and 1951.

Table 5 shows the numbers of workers gaining qualifications between 1929 and 1964.

Table 5. Number of Workers Gaining Technical Qualifications between 1929 and 1964 (in 000s).

Craft Certificate
Technician Certificate
1929 1.2 0.5
1938 3.3 1.1
1951 18.6 9.0 11.0 5.6
1964 47.7 37.9 23.0 12.8
1973 183.2 131.0 21.6 15.1

Source: ‘British Economic Growth. 1856-1973’. OUP. 1982.

The figures in table 5 again reflect that in spite of some progress the situation of the workforce and their qualifications was still very poor both in absolute and relative terms.

In spite of some real progress following the Industrial Training Act, pressure for reforms was growing especially from small companies. These concerns were of such a magnitude that they attracted attention in the 1970 General Election with the Conservatives arguing for a major review of the 1964 Act. The Conservative Party subsequently published a Green Paper ‘Training for the Future – A Plan for Discussion’ in 1974, which carried a foreword by Robert Carr the then Secretary of State for Employment. The Paper acknowledged the achievements of the ITBs the volume of training having increased by 15 % between 1964 and 1968 but argued strongly that weaknesses in the system must be addressed and actioned. The original paper was significantly altered following wide consultation with amongst others the CBI and the TUC – interesting to note their involvement and influence on the government on this occasion – a rare occurrence! In 1973 the ‘Employment and Training Act’ was published and led in 1974, to the creation of the Manpower Services Commission (MSC). The Act gave the Secretary of State for Employment unprecedented powers to intervene directly in the education system. For example the MSC and its staff could make the arrangements to ‘assist people to appoint, train in order to obtain and retain employment and to help and advise employers to recruit qualified employees’. The MSC was answerable to the Secretary of State for Employment who had powers to ‘direct’ and ‘modify’ the Commissions functions. However the MSC had considerable freedom over its budget and assumed a wide range of responsibilities over institutions and services including the ITBs, job and skill centres.Initially the MSC was responsible for funding programmes for adult retraining but as unemployment increased in the mid-1970s it became very involved in training schemes for the unemployed especially for young people.

In a sense the creation of the MSC was to strengthen the existing governmental structures in managing the training of young people and non-advanced work based education and training. The DES had up to this point been slow and manifested a great deal of inertia in responding to the challenges that needed to be addressed by these issues especially with increasing youth unemployment. The DES had not been particularly committed to developing the youth service, and adult and further education. One interesting facet of the MSC was it had the freedom and power to operate outside the traditional structures of local and central government and was able to receive specific grants and as such was not dependent on the Rate Support Grant (RSG) regimes.

In 1974 the unemployment level was approximately 2.5% but the rate for people under the age of 20 stood at approximately 5%. By 1977 the unemployment rate had risen to 5.5% with the under 20s representing 30% of this total. The number of registered school leavers in 1974 was 20,000 and by 1977 had risen to approximately 240,000. The MSC was clearly mandated to try and cope with this growing crisis.

The MSC included two executive bodies namely the Training Services Agency (TSA) and the Employment Services Agency (ESA). The Act introduced limits on the ITBs to raise levies, imposed exemptions from levies for companies whose training programmes met specific criteria and transferred operating costs from industry to the public purse. The MSC was a tripartite quango funded by the Department of Employment. The MSC had a major impact on technical education having as it did a central overall responsibility for the co-ordination of public employment and training services including a significant funding role for the ITBs. The early 1970s witnessed the first oil crisis and during the following prolonged recession the government reined back public expenditure. The MSC’s budget increased from £ 125 million in 1974/77, stood at £641 million in 1978/79 and became over £1 billion by1981/82. The MSC concentrated on temporary employment schemes, largely ineffective work experience programmes and short duration training schemes all of which were poorly evaluated and overall did not improve skills levels. This was a classic example of political expediency and the operation of short termism – the quick fix mentality ruled ok! The MSC schemes spawned a plethora of acronyms – the alphabet soup as it was later referred to. The first programme was the Training Opportunities Scheme (TOPS) followed later by the Youth Opportunities Programme (YOP) – notice the title scheme – behind every scheme there are schemers? Figure 6 shows some of the schemes and their associated acronyms.

Figure 6. Acronyms/Alphabet Soup describing Various MSC Programmes/Schemes.

Scheme Acronym
Training Opportunities Scheme TOPs
Work Experience Programme WEP
Job Creation Programme JCP
Short Temporary Employment Programme STEP
Community Industry Scheme CIS
Youth Employment Subsidy YES
Youth Opportunities Programme YOP
Youth Training Scheme (started 1983) YTS

In 1976 the MSC and the DES joined forces to create the Unified Vocational Preparation (UVP) scheme targeted at school leavers entering work, for which training had not previously been provided. This programme focused on the fact that of the 750,000 young people leaving school each year 50% of them were aged 16 i.e. the minimum school leaving age. Of these 600,000 entered the labour market and approximately 50% of these received little or no further training. A high proportion of these were females who still were less likely to enter occupations offering any long-term training or were unlikely to gain day release or opportunities for further part-time study, again reflecting the sorry state of education and training for females. The continuing low participation rate in further education and training still plagued the post-16 education system. The paucity of relevant provision for about 40% of school leavers was derisory when compared with the resources committed to the remaining 60%. This worthy initiative attempted to tackle this problem but sadly had little impact and did not even progress beyond its pilot stage although it did provide a basis for later developments.

However history judges the achievements of the MSC it did have a major impact on education and training during the time of its existence especially on colleges and the way they managed work-related training and non-advanced education (later to be referred to as NAFE). The unemployment situation continued to get worse and the MSC was under great pressure to be seen to deal with this issue and the training of young people and there wren increasing criticisms of their schemes. As a result in 1977 the Commission established a working party chaired by Geoffrey Holland to carry out a comprehensive review. The working party was mandated to examine the problem of ‘young people and work’. The report became known as the Holland Report and it proposed a new training programme – the Youth Opportunities Programme (YOPs). This was started in 1978 with an annual budget of £170 million. It was designed to provide opportunities for disadvantaged young people and comprised six months work experience. Over the 5 years of existence the programme attracted a lot of criticism and sadly recruited low numbers. Eventually in 1983 it was replaced by the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) which was initially 12 month programme of basic vocational training with a 13 weeks off-job training or further education. The Scheme recruited 300,000 trainees in the first year and initially the training was seen as better than its predecessor and in 1986 it was extended to 2 years but weaknesses still existed. One of the major defects was that many of the trainees were trained in occupations that were not experiencing skill shortages. I will describe the progress of MSC programmes/schemes in chapters 14 and 15.

These initiatives had placed the state centre stage for the Thatcher government to bring in some major reforms in education and training. The first half of her administration (1979-81) witnessed a multitude of changes including the dismantling of the ITBs and by the late 1980s their number had declined to eight although a number survived including the Boards representing Engineering (EITB) and Construction (CITB) and these continued to operate the levy/grant scheme.

Other Agencies.

In 1978 the Department for Education and Science (DES) established the Further Education Curriculum and Development Unit –later to be referred to as the Further Education Unit (FEU) which as the title suggest produced a series of excellent research/discussion/guidance publications to support colleges to improve their curricula with a greater emphasis on vocationalism. The FEU had a number of aims – review the FE curricula by identifying duplication, overlap and gaps in provision, set priorities to improve provision, carry out research with other bodies to develop the FE curricula and to disseminate information on curriculum development. The FEU initially focused on the need to improve the transition from school to work for the majority of school leavers who still did not receive any further training via college attendance. Therefore much of the Unit’s efforts centred on ‘vocational preparation’ emphasising the need for student-centred approaches for this new student population. One FEU publication was particularly regarded namely ‘A Basis for Choice’ (ABC). The FEU contributed a great deal to the FE sector in the early days and became a well respected organisation.

The Further Education Staff College (FESC) had been opened in 1963 to improve the efficiency of colleges and to provide facilities for training and research in FE. Its main focus was on senior staff in colleges and provided a forum for FE staff to meet and network with employers and other key partners in FE. The Staff College published some very useful publications and research papers e.g. the Mendip Papers on such issues as the efficient use of college resources and many other topics relevant to college management. It also developed links with overseas technical and commercial institutions. However its funding was always insecure from the LEAs but it did establish a useful focus for colleges and provide resources and information to the college sector.


As a result of these reforms the pattern of destinations for school leavers changed dramatically. This was a period of high youth employment and when the majority of companies offered no formal training. However from the late 70s as a result of the significant decline in the youth labour market and the emergence of MSC programmes/schemes shown in figure 1, the post-school destinations changed. Table 7 illustrates the percentage for the 16, 17 and 18 year-olds in 1973 and 1980.

Table 7. Destination Data as a Percentage in 1973/74 and 1980/81.

16 year olds 17 year olds 18 year olds
Destinations 73/74 80/81 73/74 80/81 73/74 80/81
Schools 27 28 18 18 2 2
FE 9 14 8 10 7 5
HE 0 0 0 0 6 8
YTS 0 9 0 4 0 1
Employment 61 38 70 55 82 71
Unemployment 3 12 4 13 3 13

Source: DFE Statistical Bulletins 1995

The figures indicate some interesting trends e.g. the growth in FE for 16 year-olds, the decline of employment at 16 and the continuing and depressingly low participation rates in education. There were continuing concerns during this period that the majority of young people enrolled on academic subject full-time courses in schools and colleges with a marked reluctance to undertake practical and technical studies. I will continue to describe these trends in later chapters.

Teachers in Further Education.

In 1934 there were 3,854 full-time teaching staff divided between those teaching such subjects as mathematics, modern languages and science and those with industrial training and experience who taught the technical subjects. These were ably supported by about 10,000 part-time teachers mostly drawn from industry and commerce. Technical education from the earliest times benefited greatly from part-time instructors/teachers bringing with them relevant and up to date awareness and knowledge of industrial techniques. One recurring criticism of colleges from successive inspection reports is that many full-time staff have little or no real experience or up to date experience of relevant industries. The majority of these staff entered technical education straight from their own full-time education or those who had left industry many years before. By 1977 the numbers of full-time staff in Polytechnics, FE Colleges and Adult Institutes had risen to approximately 77,000 (15,400 being employed in the Polytechnics) and these were supported by 130,000 part-timers. All of these staff were employed and paid by the LEAs.

Statistical comparisons are difficult during this time because of the increasing numbers and changing pattern of institutions e.g. Polytechnics/Colleges of Education/Colleges of Higher Education but the figures at least indicate the massive growth in staff numbers over this period.

Prospective FE teachers could receive training in five specialist colleges, four in England at Bolton, Garnett (now part of the University of Greenwich), Huddersfield and Wolverhampton. Wales and Scotland also had their own colleges of Education (Technical). Others entered the FE sector directly after taking degrees some with Post Graduate Certificates although it must be remembered that teachers were still not required to have Qualified Teaching Status (QS) as in the schools. Others entered colleges after working in industry bringing initially a valuable insight into industrial practices. Some full-time and part-time teachers studied the CGLI Further Education Teachers Certificates e.g. 730 which conferred qualified teacher status. This was sometimes taught in the colleges. During this time a number of key reports were published which considered FE teacher training including Russell (1966) and the three reports by Haycocks (1977). Although not all the recommendations of these reports and the subsequent circulars were implemented it was a start in improving the quality of teaching in FE which numerous inspection reports had said was adequate but often uninspiring.

The pattern of FE and HE is shown below in Figure 8. Important to note that Polytechnics were only given autonomy from LEAs in 1988 and ultimately became universities.

Table 8 shows the pattern of HE and FE institutions in 1970 and 1980.

Figure 8. The HE and FE Institutional Landscape in 1970 and 1980.

Key – shaded sections denote the FE- LEA funded sector

1970 1980
Colleges of Education
(Approx. 155)
Colleges and Institutes of Higher Education
(Approx. 70)
Further Education Colleges
(Approx. 700)
Further Education Colleges
(Approx. 500)
Evening Institutes
(Approx. 6,500)
Evening Institutes
(Approx. 5,300)

Source: Cantor. L. M. and Roberts. I. F. ‘FE A Critical Review’ RKP. 1979.

Other Important Reports and Relevant see chapter 12 for more detail on the Industrial training Act) Developments in the 1970s.

  • 1970 Report of an ‘Inquiry into the Pattern and Organisation of the College Year’ published. Chaired by Joseph Hunt.
  • In 1970 ‘Structure of Art and Design Education’ published. Chaired by William Coldstream.
  • In 1971 Dainton Report published.
  • In 1972 the school leaving age raised to 16.
  • In 1972 Report on ‘Training Teachers.’ (James) published – recommended professional training for FE staff and the introduction of a new qualification Diploma in Higher Education (Dip HE).
  • In 1972 Report on ‘Teacher Education and Training.’ (James) published – recommended professional training for FE staff and the introduction of a new qualification Diploma in Higher Education (Dip HE).
  • In 1972 a White Paper ‘Education: Framework for Expansion.’ published – responded to the James Report.
  • In 1972 Advisory Board for the Research Councils established to advise DES.
  • In 1973 Employment and Training Act – MSC created.
  • In 1974 Report on ‘Flow into Employment of Scientists, Engineers and Technologists.’ (Swann) published.
  • In 1974 Vocational Courses in Art and Design published. Chaired by A. S. Gann.
  • In 1975 ‘Training Teachers in FE’ Haycocks Report published.
  • In 1976 Callaghan’s Ruskin Speech – initiated the so-called ‘Great Debate’ but only focussed on schools and universities with no consideration of FE.
  • In 1976 Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development established.
  • In 1978 YOP introduced.
  • In 1978 ‘A Basis for Choice’ (FEU) published – recommended provision of non-specific vocational courses in schools.
  • In 1978 Report on the Working Group on the Management of HE in the Maintained Sector published.

Chapter 14 will continue to describe developments in the 1980s including the rise of the MSC, the development of the CPVE and the creation of NVQs.


A comprehensive book list is provided in a separate section of this website whilst other primary references are given at the end of each chapter.

In addition a comprehensive chronology and glossary are provided in separate sections of this website.


Chapter 6 – Developments in the 21st Century

The last chapter will be less concerned with the history of examinations but will focus on the latest government proposals to reform the examination system including technical and commercial examinations and the emerging agenda on skills.

A Review on Skills

Skills still seem to be on the government’s agenda if only by counting the number of times the word appears on publications and press conferences. Whether or not they truly understand what skills are and what is needed now and it the future remains to be seen but if history is any thing to go by I am not optimistic (see skills article on this website).
In spite of some recent progress in improving skill, levels in Britain still lag behind our major competitors. Table 1 shows the qualifications of adults in Britain in 2007 and the projections –sorry ambitions – cited in the Leitch Review. It’s now all about ambitious targets and being world class! A new expression has recently appeared in the lexicology from the financial world namely upticking so I presume if these ambitions fail we will have to be involved in downcrossing!

Table 1. The Qualifications of Adults in Britain.

Year 2007 2020 Ambition to achieve:
Low (% qualified to at least level 2) 71 77 90+
Intermediate (% qualified to at least level 3) 51 58 68
High (% qualified to at least level 4) 31 41 40

The OECD published a survey of skills in 2008 that again highlighted the poor standing of Britain in terms of international rankings of skill level as table 2 shows. The 2020 column shows the predictions if the country continues to operate its present approach to skills development.

Table 2. International Rankings in the OECD 30 Countries.


Skill Level 2006 (actual) 2020 Ambition- to be in top:
Low 17 23 8
Intermediate 18 21 8
High 12 10 8

If one accepts and extrapolates these ambitions to get into the top quartile by 2020 we can see from tables 1 and 2 the country has to achieve a remarkable step function/quantum leap.

In order to achieve the skills agenda the government has yet again created a ridiculously complicated and divisive set of structures at local/regional/national levels with a multitude of national organisations/quangos/agencies many of them irrelevant as they manifestly duplicate effort.

>Sustainable growth
>Science and innovation
>Business success
>Economic performance
-incl. training and benefits
HEFCE Ofqual
>Funding and managing SSCs
>Reducing skills gaps/shortages
>Productivity and performance
>Learning supply
>HE funding Regulator:
>Advice on 14-19 qualifications Monitoring and advising on:
>Curriculum and qualifications development
>Assessment development
>Performance measures
>Skills provision
>Inspection >HE inspection >Excellence in FE
Connexions AACS RDAs RSPs ESBs
>Advice and guidance for 13-19 year olds >Advice and guidance for adults >Economic development and regeneration
>Aligning skills planning with economic planning >(Proposed) to bring local employment and skill activity under local employer leadership
Local Authorities/LEA
>Funding for 16-19 year olds
>Wide range of learning and skills services

A bit like a Jackson Pollack picture full of chaotic and confused detail with layers of bureaucracy, (an example of chaos theory), that will inevitably create a great deal of inertia and a great deal of expenditure of money and time. The structures are far too complex and divisive. The skills agenda needs urgent action not another array of organisations convening committees/focus groups etc. to again rehearse all of the same issues again. This country thrives on building up structures for meetings, discussions and delaying tactics before taking any real decisions. When one visits other countries especially in East Asia one is struck about how quickly decisions are made and actions taken and they often refer to our disposition to have innumerable meetings stretching over long periods of time. The classic mistake was to arbitrarily create two government departments namely DCSF and DIUS to represent schools, colleges, universities innovation etc. This split of responsibilies has and will continue to cause confusion particularly in terms of the skills agenda. Just as the government was developing vocational qualifications in schools with the intention of strengthening partnerships between colleges and schools they created two separate departments of government. The split seems to be predicated on a Ministers preference. The split has created a paradoxical situation with some of the aspects of the skills agenda spanning the schools and post-16 education and training sectors in a rather arbitrary fashion. Also with two Ministers responsible for the Departments and the multitude of quangos it surely is a recipe for disaster.

A great deal of faith is being placed in the SSCs which up to now have achieved very little just like their predecessors. The current 25 SSCs represent just over 90% of the occupational standards sectors. Unlike their predecessors they will need once and for all to work with employers and employer organisations based on equal and open partnerships to achieve greater consensus on what is required. The SSCs must also work closely with Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) as well as the larger companies. The occupational standards must precisely detail the achievements that individuals require to have demonstrated in order for them to gain a qualification. The SSCs must determine what is required if we are to make any real progress on the skills agenda and equally important to more clearly define the role and purpose of technical and commercial education and training.


This new landscape has added yet more acronyms to the alphabet soup as figure 3 attempts to show:

Table 3. Acronyms and Definitions

Acronym Definition
BERR Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory
DCSF Department for Children, Schools and Families
DIUS Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills
DWP Department for Work and Pensions
HEFCE HE Funding Council for England
JACQA Joint Advisory Committee for Qualifications Approval
LSC Learning and Skills Council
LSIS Learning and Skills Improvement Service
Ofqual Office of the qualifications and examinations regulator
Ofsted Office for standards in education, children’s services and skills
QAA Quality Assurance Agency
QCDA Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency
SFA Skills Funding Council (to replace LSC)
SSC Sector Skills Council
YPLA Young People’s Learning Agency (to replace LSC)
AACS Adult Advancement and Careers Service
Connexions Information and advice for young people
ESB Employer Skills Boards
LA Local Authority
LEA Local Education Authority
RDA Regional Development Agency
RSP Regional Skills Partnership

Diplomas and Apprenticeships.

In 2004 the government published plans for diplomas and apprenticeship programmes. The diploma proposals were for 14-19 olds and organised around the first four levels of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) namely:

  • Entry
  • Foundation
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced

Diplomas at each level will interlock and allow smooth progress from one level to another or between subject diplomas at the same level.
This framework will eventually integrate with Modern Apprenticeships (MAs) as illustrated below:

Diplomas Modern Apprenticeships (MAs)
Advanced Open Specialised Advanced MAs
Intermediate Open Specialised Foundation MAs
Foundation Open Specialised Entry to Employment Programmes
Entry Personalised Personalised Entry to Employment Programmes

Modern apprenticeships will be linked to the new diploma system by clear progression routes and the ultimate intention is to fully integrate them into the reformed 14 to 19 national qualifications framework (NQF).
All the diplomas possess the same basic structure namely core, main learning and common skills that will be developed across the curriculum.

Components of the main learning will consist of:

  • Specialisation
  • Complementary learning
  • Learner choice.

The ‘core’ will consist of:

  • Mathematical skills (known previously as application of number and more recently as functional mathematics)
  • Communication
  • ICT
  • Extended project
  • Wider activities
  • Personal planning, review and guidance.

Diplomas at all levels have a common core to allow the students to:

  • Achieve at least level 2 in mathematical skills, communication and ICT
  • Undertake an extended project or personal challenge in order to develop and demonstrate analytical, planning, research and presentational skills
  • Develop a range knowledge, skills and attributes, such as self-awareness, self-management and interpersonal skills
  • Engage in wider activities based on personal interest, contribution to the community and experience of employment
  • Access personal training, review and guidance to underpin their study programme, consolidate their learning and inform their choices.

The ‘main learning’ forms the majority of the diploma programme and will:

  • Ensure achievement and progression within specific subjects and lines of learning
  • Develop the skills, knowledge and understanding needed for specific occupations, HE and further learning
  • Support specialisation by providing any required or optional complementary learning
  • Select programmes to pursue their own interests and/or provide subject breadth and contrast with any specialist areas of study.

Many of the components of the new diplomas will grow out of current GCSEs, ‘AS’ and ‘A’ levels practices and some of the elements of vocational qualifications e.g. CGLI and BTEC. Note the continuing and pernicious influence of academic/general qualifications – so inevitably these diplomas will be doomed to succeed!
Pre-16 students will continue to study the statutory curriculum, gaining recognition towards the award of a diploma where appropriate. The students will be able to opt for vocational elements but will not be able to specialise in specific occupational areas.

Post-16 students will have greater choice to select between:

  • A range of specialised diploma lines, designed to provide a basis for progression within lines of leaning covering the range of vocational and academic
  • Open diplomas which enable the student to select a mixed pattern of subjects or lines of learning.

The structure and other specifications for assessment and subsequent grading are complicated and bureaucratic and I fear will again fail to address the need to create a curriculum and set of experiences that are fit for purpose for all students especially those who wish to progress into further study and/or work in technical and practical occupations. The need to prepare young people for the demands of employment i.e. for them to be work ready is essential and I fear these new diplomas will not achieve this essential aim. The opportunities for work experience are very limited on the diplomas and are not of sufficient duration to provide the student with a real understanding of the employment and job specific skills required for their chosen occupational area. A fundamental review of work experience is urgently required to design a more effective model and careful consideration given to its purpose especially at the pre-16 stage. Employers need to be convinced of the purpose of such work placements both in terms of their value to them and the students. A major issue is how work experience and work placements are prioritised for different student populations e.g. those pursuing occupationally specific programmes and school students on pre-vocational or general foundation programmes. Employers are often under a great deal of pressure and find it difficult to effectively manage students on work experience programmes particularly for pre-16 year olds because of Health and Safety Regulations. Also greater priority should be given to post-16 students on work experience programmes as they will in all probability have been placed in a company that reflects their future chosen occupation.

The responsibility for the delivery of apprenticeships will reside with the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) which will be launched in April 2009. The Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) will set the requirements with which each recognised Apprenticeship framework in England must comply. The primary role of the SASE is to provide the funding for the apprenticeship programmes and will work in partnership with the Sector Skills Councils (SSCs), Standard Setting Bodies (SSCBs), employers, trade unions, training providers in order to provide support for the apprenticeships. Initially the NAS will be part of the LSC and will eventually move to the organisation that will replace the LSC movement namely the Skills Funding Agency (SFA). The NAS will also work closely with the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) to ensure links with the pre-16 apprenticeships and to ensure sufficient places for modern apprenticeships. In addition the NAS will work closely with Employers, Employer organisations, Trade Union learning representatives, Connexions, Jobcentre Plus and other advice and guidance organisations to maximise information about the value of apprenticeships. The NAS will award the certificates for apprenticeship programmes and oversee the statistical returns for all the apprenticeship programmes.

Federation of Awarding Bodies

The Federation was established in 2000 by the largest vocational awarding bodies namely:

  • City and Guilds of London Institute (CGLI)
  • Edexcel
  • Oxford, Cambridge and the RSA Examinations Board (OCR)
  • The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry Examinations Board (LCCIE)

Its objectives were:

  • Provide a forum for awarding bodies to collectively consider developments in vocational qualifications
  • Formulate coordinated action in response to developments
  • Encourage positive relationships and communication between awarding bodies and other key organisations
  • Establish an ongoing dialogue with the UK Government and its agencies to represent the common interests of the Federation and to lobby on key issues.

Since 2001 FAB has extended its membership network to over 80 organisations. The Federation works closely with the Joint Council for Qualifications (JQC) and the Vocational Qualification Review Programme (VQRP).

Personal observation

In spite of its remit can FAB be confident that the awarding bodies which are surely competitive will collaborate in an open and transparent fashion? After all some of the awarding bodies are for profit organisations whilst others are charities so it is an interesting question to pose. What is the balance between competition operating within a free market and the requirement to collaborate?

Qualifications Framework.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has recently set out the qualifications framework beyond 2013 namely:

  • GCSE and ‘A’ levels 
  • Diplomas
  • Apprenticeships
  • Foundation Learning Tier (FLT) Progression Pathways.

The last major reform of the examination system was in 1997, leading to the merger of NCVQ with its schools equivalent, the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA), to create a single Qualifications and Curriculum Authority(QCA). The creation of QCA resulted in even more regulation, reinforcing the view that the government wanted a nationalised system in order to exercise greater central control. Currently all qualifications, however small, are subjected to complex and rigorous QCA requirements. In general the QCA procedures have caused delays and frustration in the approval process for qualifications and their related examinations across all sectors of education, particularly the post-16 sector. Clearly there is nothing wrong with high quality standards but the current situation is far too demanding and politicised. The QCA is to be replaced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) and the new chief executive is an accountant; no comment!

The new proposed qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) is credit based. It is currently (2008) being piloted in order to make qualifications particularly vocational ones are ‘more flexible and easier to understand’. Every unit and qualification in the new framework will be expressed in terms of a credit value –one credit representing 10 hours’ of learning as well as a level ranging from entry level to level 8. Such a structure it is hoped will allow learners to gain qualifications at their own pace along flexible routes. Qualifications will be defined in terms of size namely Awards (1 to 12 credits), Certificates (13 to 36 credits) and Diplomas (37 credits +).

The current national qualifications framework is shown in figure 1 for positioning qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It comprises a basic entry level and 8 main levels of qualifications.

Figure 1. The New National Qualifications Framework (NQF).


Level Examples
Entry Level (1,2 and 3) Entry Level Certificates and Awards
Level 1 NVQ level 1, GCSE grade D – G,
BTEC Introductory Certificate.
Level 2 NVQ Level 2, GCSE A* – C,
BTEC First.
Level 3 NVQ Level 3, GCE ‘A’ Level,
BTEC National.
Level 4 University Certificate.
Level 5 HNC/HND, Foundation Degree.
Level 6 Honours Degree.
Level 7 Masters Degree.
Level 8 Doctorate.

The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) will be replaced by the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) in 2010 after the evaluation of all the trials of the vocational diplomas etc.

Personal observation

The qualification and examination landscape is still one that possesses increasing entropy (i.e. a measure of the disorder of a system) and as a result one that is confusing to employers, learners and parents. The current situation has not been helped by recent contradictory and paradoxical government policies and their clumsy attempts to exercise greater central control and yet at the same time encourage the so-called free market to rip. The situation is also not helped by the plethora of quangos, working parties and other government sponsored agencies all attempting to influence educational policy. One of the most recent perplexing government policies is the wish to grant awarding powers to private companies – the first ones announced being: McDonalds, Flybe and Network Rail. The QCA gave the three companies official “awarding body status”, allowing them to confer nationally accredited qualifications.

Vocational Qualifications

Approximately 3,250,000 vocational qualifications were awarded in the UK in 2006-07. Table 1 shows the growth of qualifications awarded between 2002/03 and 2006/07 for all ages of candidates.

Table 1. Number of Qualifications Awarded between 2002/03 and 2006/07.

Year 2002/03 2003/04 2004/05  2005/06 2006/07
No. of awards in millions 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0 3.5

Vocational qualifications include 673,000 NVQS/SVQS spanning levels 1 to 5 this representing an 67% increase over the 5 years and 2.3 million vocational related qualifications (VRQs) representing over a threefold increase over the 5 years. Approximately 250,000 vocational qualifications (NVQS/SVQs) at levels 2 and 3 were achieved through Apprenticeship programmes. The majority of NVQs were achieved in FE colleges (270,000 representing 40%) and private providers (260,000 representing 39%). Approximately 10% were delivered by employers. Approximately 50% of VRQs were achieved in FE and tertiary colleges, with private providers contributing about 268,000 qualifications representing 19% of the total.

Approximately 11,000 Foundation degrees were achieved (level 5) in 2006/07. Around 30,000 HNDs and Diplomas of HE were achieved in 2006/07. Approximately 100,000 vocationally related honours, higher degrees and professional qualifications were achieved in 2006/07. Looks promising but what needs to understand what vocational means across these awards.

It might be helpful to describe some of the most common vocational qualifications awarded by occupational sectors. Table 2 shows the most common vocational qualifications in 2006and 2007.

Table 2. Vocational Qualifications by Occupational Sector for 2006 and 2007.

NVQ/SVQs Awarded 2007 2006 VRQs Awarded 2006 2007
Health, Public Services and care 23% 23% ICT 19% 22%
Retail and Commercial Enterprise 20% 20% Health, Public Services and Care 18% 14%
Business Administration 16% 17% Leisure, Travel and Tourism 12% 12%
Construction 12% 11% Business, Administration 11% 11%
Engineering 9% 9% Engineering and Manufacturing 10% 11%
Manufacturing 4% 5% Arts, Media and Publishing 7% 6%

Source: DCSF (2008), DfES (2007).

Table 3 shows the higher education qualifications awarded by subject discipline in 2007.

Table 3. H.E. Qualifications awarded by Subject Discipline in 2007.

HE Discipline Number of Qualifications Awarded in 2007
Business and Administrative Studies 97,680
Subjects Allied to Medicine 84,360
Education 72,255
Social Studies 60,415
Creative Arts and Design 46,595
Biological Sciences 43,005
Engineering and Technology 38,620
Languages 31,440
Computer Sciences 31,270
Law 30,340

Source: HESA. 2007.

A brief explanation of Vocationally Related Qualifications (VRQs). These are a wide range of recognised work-related qualifications, including BTEC, CGLI and OCR Nationals. VRQs are knowledge – based qualifications some of which include practical work. The awards are available at various levels and vary considerably in size.

The government intends to introduce Skills Accounts from 2010 to replace the discredited Individual Learning accounts (ILAs) and will provide ‘Vouchers’ to help fund learning programmes and improve access to a range of learning services. Foundation Degrees are projected to grow from 72,000 places in 2007 to 100,000 places in 2010. The introduction of the new applied/vocational diplomas from 2008 is intended to produce a pool of students more attuned to work-related learning. In Wales vocational qualifications are offered within the Welsh Baccalaureate (WB) through additional specialist learning component of every diploma.

Some final comments

Whilst researching and writing this history of the development of a national system of technical and commercial examinations a number of fundamental and perplexing questions and issues have emerged. Paradoxically from the 18th to the mid-20th century successive governments were reluctant to get involved with technical education but then adopted a more interventionist approach. This centralist control has accelerated particularly over the past twenty years and is now characterised by heavy prescription of the curriculum and the related examination system. The current situation is out of balance with too much government influence and control. This major shift in emphasis from a hands off approach to one of tight regulation and control raises, for me, some fundamental and inter-related questions that need to be addressed in order to restore a more sensible balance namely:
Awarding body impartiality and independence.
Can awarding bodies be truly impartial and independent agents within a rigid national statutory framework?

Challenge of a centralist driven policy.
How in the current political climate with its increasingly centralistic philosophy towards education policy can local needs be recognised and managed by the awarding bodies within a heavily prescribed and regulated curriculum and examination system?

Issues associated with freedom and the awarding bodies.
With the current heavily prescribed curriculum, examination system, inspection regimes and regulation how much freedom can the awarding bodies exercise in managing and influencing the examination system?

Awarding bodies as businesses especially those that are for profit organisations.
How can the awarding bodies operate in a heavily prescriptive climate and yet continue to be impartial agents able to respond to employer needs and maintain a competitive edge over the other awarding bodies?

Definition of Terms.
Many of the terms associated with skills and technical/vocational examinations have developed over many years and as such have become somewhat ambiguous and confusing to many end users. Clear distinctions must be made about the differences between work based and work placed learning and assessment. There needs to be a better understanding about what is meant by pre-vocational, general and vocational programmes and qualifications. The term skills needs to be fundamentally redefined in order to match more precisely the future nature and needs of employment with a much consideration given to the meaning of generic, employability, and specific work skills and resultant understanding of this ‘slippery’ term. Finally the definition of training needs to be clarified as it is still perceived as providing a narrow range of skills that are learnt by rote.
Number of awarding bodies.
How many awarding bodies should there be? Perhaps the government is gradually moving to a situation where there might just be very few say, one for technical/vocational and another for academic qualifications! However this does not accord with the government’s intention to allow colleges and private companies to act as awarding bodies.
Assessment of work based learning.
I still feel that this critical element has still not been given the consideration that it deserves. Traditional methods of defining and assessing skills and skill acquisition persist. There is an urgent need for a more meaningful approach to the whole area of work based teaching and learning and most certainly its assessment.
The current value placed on qualifications.
A number of commentators have voiced concern about the over emphasis that is currently placed on examinations and the resultant qualifications. Has the examination system just become a business/industry that has lost sight of the real purpose and justification of examinations and assessments? Is the qualification just a means of assessing/measuring the supposed effectiveness of educational institutions?

The current obsession with testing/grade inflation.

Currently schools are required to carry out innumerable tests on pupils/students which deflect teachers from their primary role. Teaching for tests also weakens subject knowledge. A recent survey (2009) showed that mathematics standards had changed very little over the past thirty years in spite of all the statements about better examination grades in GCSE and GCE ‘A’ level examinations. Continued concerns about grade inflation with GCSE and GCE ‘A’ levels raises a number of serious questions about standards and the content of the syllabuses. These concerns mirror similar issues about grade inflation with degree classifications.

Some recent publications and reports in the late 2000s.

  • In 2004 ‘14-19 Curriculum and Qualifications Reform’ published.
  • In 2007 Quality Improvement of National Occupational Standards published. Mackinnon Partnership.
  • In 2008 Consultation on National Occupational Standards published. UKCES.
  • In 2008 The VQ Landscape. A Review of vocational Qualifications in the UK. Edge Foundation.

I hope this short history of technical and commercial examinations has proved of value to readers. I will continue to correct and extend the history in the future and track the progress of the latest developments in vocational programmes and qualifications.

A comprehensive chronology and glossary of terms on examinations accompanies this history and can be found on this website.

Chapter 5 – Developments in the 20th Century – Continued

The 1944 Education Act

The 1944 Education Act has been more fully described in the history of technical education but it obviously had implications for not only technical education sector but its associated examinations. The Act was preceded by a number of key reports namely the Spens Report of 1938, the Norwood Report on the Secondary Schools Examination Council on ‘Curriculum and Examinations’ published in 1943 and the White Paper on ‘Educational Reconstruction’ published in 1943 that laid the foundations for this major Education Act. These various reports and others began to define the tripartite system of secondary schools and their examinations and as a result triggered the more precise location of the technical education sector within the overall system. The Act created the tripartite system namely grammar, technical high and secondary modern schools. It raised the school leaving age to 15 and advocated the leaving age to be raised to 16 as soon as was practicable. However it was light on detail for technical education which was increasingly referred to as further education. Sections 41- 47 of the Act deal with Further Education.

Section 41 is divided into two sections and laid down the duty of the LEA to secure the provision of adequate facilities for –

  • ‘Full-time and part-time education for persons over compulsory school age
  • Leisure-time occupation, in such organised cultural training and recreative activities as are suited to their requirements, for any persons over compulsory school age who are able and willing to profit by the facilities provided for that purpose’.

LEAs were required to survey their areas and submit schemes to the Minister for developing further education provision in their areas.
The Act reintroduced the idea of County Colleges first mentioned in the 1918 Education Act. In fact only one college was ever established, because of hostility from parents and employers and that was in Rugby. The guide lines stated that it was the duty of each LEA to serve every young person in their locality, who was not exempt from compulsory attendance, with a ‘college attendance order’ directing him or her to attend at a specified college’.

The following exemptions were given as:

  • ‘Anyone in full-time attendance at a school or other educational institution
  • Anyone who is shown to the satisfaction of the LEA to be receiving suitable and efficient instruction, full-time or part-time, equivalent to 330 hours per year
  • Anyone who does not cease to be exempt under the first point above or until the age of 17 years and 8 months
  • Anyone undertaking an approved course of training for the mercantile marine or the sea-fishing industry, or having completed such course is engaged in either of these occupations
  • Any person employed by or under the Crown in any service or capacity with respect to which the Minister certifies that, because of the arrangements made for the education of young persons therein, it would be unnecessary
  • Any person certified as a mental defective or lunatic
  • Any person who was 15 before the coming into operation of this section, unless required by previous legislation to attend a continuation school’.

The language is that used at the time!

The wording was ambiguous and gave LEAs a great deal of leeway and freedom to interpret the so-called duties in a number of ways and this inevitably gave rise to a wide range of interpretations by LEAs. Many LEAs developed large, vibrant and successful colleges whilst others were not so progressive and this lead to all sorts of problems later in the century especially when the Further Education Funding Council was established in 1991. However at least it began to define and locate technical education and its constituent institutions and established a pattern of provision that is recognisable today. Subsequent Acts rationalised and clarified many of the ambiguities. The use of language in many Education Acts often leads to misinterpretation which can take decades to sort out. The Act and subsequent legislation created a wide range of technical institutions and Further Education became more consolidated and gradually expanded. Various titles described their respective purposes and priorities e.g. Art Schools, Evening Institutes, Colleges of Further Education, Colleges of Technology. The clearer definition of the Further Education Sector allowed greater choice of progression after leaving school and increasing numbers went on further study whether onto full-time, part-time, evening, day or block release courses.

The examinations offered by City and Guilds, Royal Society of Arts, REBs, London Chamber of Commerce etc continued to develop as more students elected to attend colleges. In addition many other awarding bodies offered qualifications to college students in new areas that were becoming popular e.g. hairdressing, nursery nursing, nursing and secretarial studies The traditional areas of commerce and technical subjects likewise expanded in range and level as the numbers of students increased and new occupational areas were identified and which were largely satisfied by the well established examining boards. Many of the bigger colleges offered a mixed economy of provision spanning technical, commercial, professional, academic programmes i.e. GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels and at higher education level. In addition there were specialist colleges focussing on programmes in particular industry sectors e.g. agriculture, construction, horticulture, hospitality, marine studies and non-vocational subjects etc.

A good example of a mixed economy college was Portsmouth College of Technology. I left secondary modern school and went to Portsmouth to take GCE ‘O’ levels, stayed on to take GCE ‘A’ levels and finally studied for an external special honours degree accredited by the University of London. The further education college was and still is the place where second chances are truly provided especially when the 11+ was still in operation! Portsmouth eventually became a Polytechnic and then a University. Its’ roots were in the earlier technical and Mechanics’ Institutions established in the Gosport and Portsea areas.

As the Further Education Sector expanded and became more consolidated, national, regional and local structures had to be established to oversee the sector. One such regional structure was the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs). They had a major influence on examinations particularly the distribution of provision in terms of levels allowed in particular colleges in order to reduce duplication. Very often the discussions for course approval could be heated between a college wanting to introduce a course that was already available in another college in their locality. Issues around supply and demand were carefully considered. One pleasing feature of these approval procedures was that a specialist subject HMI would be involved along with the colleges’ general inspector. It was a very open and civilised process.

The Regional Advisory Councils (RACs)

The Councils played an important role in technical examinations within their respective regions.

There were nine such Councils covering the following regions, namely:

  • East Anglia
  • East Midlands
  • London and Home Counties
  • Northern Counties
  • North West *
  • South West
  • Wales *
  • West Midlands *
  • Yorkshire and Humberside *

*These Councils had a formal relationship with the Regional Examining Bodies (REBs) see chapter 4.

The main function of the Councils was to provide a joint forum for FE and HE institutions and representatives from commerce and industry to plan and monitor the provision within a particular geographical area. They were particularly active in considering and making recommendations on the location of advanced programmes i.e. programmes above GCE ‘A’ level standard e.g. HNC/HNDs and professional awards. In addition some RACs had responsibility for the location of non-advanced programmes. During the 1970s the RACs became responsible for the approval of proposals for the Diploma in HE and other initial teacher training programmes as well as part-time non-degree programmes leading to post-graduate awards. The Haslegrave Report (see later) held that the pattern for technician and business programmes was too complex and confused because of the overlaps in provision and management by CGLI and the Joint Committee and action on their recommendation significantly altered the qualifications landscape by introducing new national administrative and co-ordinating arrangements. Their recommendations led to the creation of TEC and BEC (again see later).

The main examining bodies in technical and commercial subjects in the 1960s continued to be City and Guilds of London Institute, London Chamber of Commerce, National Awards (Joint Committee), Royal Society of Arts, Regional Examining Unions and the Professional Bodies. A large number of smaller more niche market examining boards existed e.g. College of Preceptors, Institute of Linguists, Nursery Nurses Board and Pitman’s et al. In addition there were the GCE boards offering ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels and some were beginning to offer technical and commercial subjects. Numerous governments throughout the years had attempted to reform the courses/programmes and the related examinations in vocational and technical education. One good example was the 1961 White Paper ‘Better Opportunities in Technical Education’ proposing a series of recommendations many of which were implemented.

The chief proposals included:

  • Courses available to students leaving school would include: National Certificates and Diplomas for students aiming to become at least high grade technicians; technician courses devised specifically for particular industries; craft courses and courses for operatives
  • ONCs should last two years instead of three and entry requirements raised.
  • There should be new courses of four or five years specially for technicians which became known as T courses
  • New general courses should be introduced leading to either technician or ONC/D courses which became known as G courses
  • Craft courses should be modified in a number of ways i.e. updating and making the theory more relevant to the practical/ vocational skill required by the occupation
  • Courses for operatives should be vigorously developed to reflect the needs of industry more.

The recommendations were an attempt to reduce the non-completion in technician and commercial subjects and other programmes especially among the younger students. The reasons for drop out were the familiar ones of poor teaching, difficulty of access to study and the problems associated with weak basic literacy and numeracy skills and an inadequate appreciation or knowledge of scientific concepts. The introduction of the diagnostic G courses lasting one or two years were referred to as G1 and G2 respectively and were taken at the beginning of FE studies unless the student possessed four GCE passes. The Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes also introduced G courses from1953/4. The more specialised technician courses were staged by the City and Guilds of London Institute.
A number of people argued that the National Certificate and Diplomas were complex and expensive to operate and service and the numbers declined as the university sector expanded and the polytechnics became established and offered a wider range of vocational subjects. Also as already mentioned successive governments preferred to encourage ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels as the country’s primary qualifications at age 16 and 18. In 1973 the government again pushed for reform and appointed the Haslegrave Committee to advise. In retrospect the government had driven a system that was founded on college-based assessment, (e.g. the National Awards), rather than external assessment to national standards. This approach was against the majority view held by employers and reinforced the belief that the Department of Education and Science (DES) was biased towards the academic route and qualifications.

The Haslegrave Report (1969) on technician courses and examinations significantly changed the examinations landscape. The Report recommended that the CGLI and the REBs should consider ‘– – drawing closer together to form a unified administrative organisation for the examinations, testing and general assessment of performance’. Following the recommendation the Technician Education Council (TEC) and its counterpart the Business Education Council (BEC) were created which resulted in the REBs having no specific role in examinations or validating technician courses. Consequently after 1974 the majority of the REBs reconstructed themselves and merged with Regional Advisory Councils for FE.

Further major reforms followed and in 1985 the Review of Vocational Qualifications in England and Wales, (the De Ville Report), was published driven by the ongoing concerns about the lack of a coherent qualifications structure and the confusing multitude of awarding bodies. Following its recommendations the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) was established. The report recommended that a national framework for qualifications should be created and that the awarding bodies should become more integrated. So National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) were born and Scotland had a similar set of arrangements in SCOTEC and SCOTBEC. Once implemented the national framework actually increased the number of qualifications and the number of awarding bodies remained at approximately 150. However, this was in the view of many people the first major move to nationalise and create a more centralised system for qualifications and the associated examinations system.

The De Ville Report was followed by the White Paper ‘Working Together-Education and Training’ and established Lead Bodies to set the national standards for occupational/industry sectors which meant for example that City and Guilds role of standard setting was curtailed. So for the CGLI this transition meant the focus shifted from the wide representations (e.g. teachers, professional bodies and other subject specialists and T.U. representatives) of their National Advisory Committees to one where the employers’ needs would predominate. In many ways this was a regressive development. The advisory committees of CGLI had played an important part and were on the whole excellent forums to monitor and improve technical examinations. The advisory committee structure for the REBs had also provided valuable opportunities to work with people and organisations who were key partners with the colleges.

NVQs and Employers

On past evidence the role and consequent influence of employers on examinations and qualifications has been changeable and questionable. Too often successive governments have been inconsistent in their views about the involvement and role of employers. Employers have a pivotal role to play but there has to be a balanced and representative group of knowledgeable people to develop effective programmes and assessment regimes which meet up to date needs of their workforce. Throughout their existence NVQs have been heavily criticised as expensive and bureaucratic and the majority of employers have voiced concern about the costly assessment regimes with their numerous assessors, internal and external verifiers. The NVQ system was also attacked by a few ill-informed academics who had little understanding of technical education and training. Sadly as so often happens government ministers and civil servants were unduly influenced by these questionable research publications. All these negative factors undermined and eroded the true potential that competence based assessments in the work place could achieve for many occupations. The initial hope (dream?) that NVQs would become universal across all occupational sectors and thus eventually replace all other work-based qualifications was in hindsight greatly misjudged which in many ways was unfortunate. NVQs continue today and are constantly under review particularly as the new vocational diplomas and apprenticeship schemes are introduced.

Personal Observation.

The introduction of NVQs represented a marked departure and I would argue a welcome improvement from previous approaches to reform work based education and training particularly to assessment methods. NVQs had a key set of values that made them distinctive i.e. competence based; reflecting fully knowledge, understanding and practical application for /in the workplace. I will further consider the various advantages and disadvantages of the reforms in technical and work based education and training in the last chapter of this history.

Professional Institutions

As already mentioned a number of professional bodies have conducted examinations for entry into their professions and they have had a major influence on the development of technical education and the examination system [see biography on the professional bodies]. However a few examples of their influence will assist this presentation. The Institution of Civil Engineering began examinations in 1897 whilst the Institution of Mechanical Engineers started examinations in 1913. Since then the Professional bodies have set their own standards which candidates achieved partly through examinations and awards of various grades e.g. student, graduate, associate and member. A wide range of professions offered examinations include Chemistry, Construction, Engineering and Physics. Recognition for the various grades within the profession was gained through experience and successful completion of the examinations. As the examinations developed throughout the 20th century a system of exceptions for some of the grades was recognised for students gaining qualifications from public examinations e.g. School and Higher Certificates, GCE O and A levels, HNC/Ds, Diplomas in Technology and degrees in science and engineering etc. Similar arrangements exist today with the equivalent qualifications.

Professional bodies represent a wide range of professions including agriculture, business, commerce, construction, engineering, financial services, medical and paramedical sciences, science and technology. Millerson (1) identified about 160 qualifying bodies about 80 in science and technology, 50 in commerce, law and the social sciences and about 12 in agriculture. Approximately 120 conduct their own examinations and around 75 award qualifications that are recognised as HE. Their primary purpose is to maintain standards and regulate entry to the particular profession. The professional bodies work closely with colleges and higher education institutions which they recognise to run their programmes. They worked in joint partnerships such as through the National schemes. In agriculture and agricultural engineering the certificates and diplomas awarded were referred to as ‘nationals’.

The Council of Engineering Institutions (CEI) founded in 1965 by the major engineering bodies to promote the interests of the profession had responsibility for engineering examinations until it was succeeded by the Engineering Council following the Finnistan report in 1980 and this was later reformed to create the Engineering Council (UK). Currently the Engineering Council (UK) still continues to offer the long established Engineering Council Examinations which are now administered by the City and Guilds of London Institute. The examinations comprise three parts, the final part being for chartered engineers and the examinations are particularly popular internationally.

The review of vocational qualifications (DeVille Report) in 1986 identified 250 professional bodies involved in examining and accrediting qualifications.

College Awards

A number of colleges and Polytechnics offered their own awards to satisfy local needs in topics that were not met by other established or recognised qualifications. Obviously relatively few colleges were able to establish national recognition or currency for their own awards but before the various reforms a number did create some awards that satisfied local employment needs and were greatly valued by local employers. Such awards were set at both non-advanced and advanced level and were ultimately linked and accredited by professional bodies, local universities or the CNAA.

It might help to provide some information in table 1 about the size and the names of institutions in 1955 that formed the further education sector at that time.

Table 1. Titles of Technical Institutions in 1955.

Title/Name Number of Institutions
Polytechnics 12
Technical Colleges 150
Technical Institutes 90
Colleges of Technology, Art and Commerce 20
Colleges of Further Education 39
Colleges and Schools of Commerce 24
Colleges of Art 32
Schools of Art and Crafts 135
Others* 90
Total 592

*Includes the eight National Colleges three of which were based in London Polytechnics

Source: Venables. P.F.R. ‘Technical Education’.

A number of colleges within the further education sector were monotechnics i.e. specialising in a single discipline such as art, building, catering/food and commerce. These monotechnics offered examinations from the most of the main awarding bodies e.g. CGLI, LCCI, ONC/OND/HNC/HNDs, RSA, etc. as well as offering their own specialised certificates/diplomas.

Personal observation

The recent announcement by this current Labour government in 2007 resurrected the prospect of colleges creating and awarding their own qualifications! This coupled with the encouragement of private companies to similarly become awarding bodies surely will cause all sorts of problems and difficulties not least in terms of the issues about quality assurance and validity, reliability and probity of the awards. Other issues associated with the qualifications would be about their national credibility and currency and how colleges could resource their development and maintenance. In addition it will further complicate the qualifications and examinations landscape for students, parents, employers and other end users – it’s a strange old world!

National Colleges

One interesting development in the 1940/50s was the creation of specialised colleges and monotechnics. In all, eight national colleges were established between 1946 and 1951 and maintained by central government with significant support from the appropriate industry. A Ministry of Education Annual Report of 1947 identified a number of strategically important industries or sectors that employed relatively few workers but required advanced training in specialised colleges. The national colleges were:

National College Location Date of designation
as a national college
College of Aeronautics Cranfield. (Now Cranfield University) 1946
Royal College of Art Founded 1837 as school of industrial design 1949
National College of Food Technology Formerly the Smithfield College of Food Technology 1951
National Foundry College Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Technical College 1947
National College of Heating, Ventilation, Refrigeration and Fan Engineering Borough Polytechnic, London 1948
National College of Horology and Instrument Technology Northern Polytechnic, London 1947
National Leathersellers’ College Formerly Leathersellers’Technical College (established in 1909) 1951
National College of Rubber Technology Northern Polytechnic, London 1948

Source: G. L. Payne. ‘Britain’s Scientific and Technological Manpower’.

Interesting to note the specialism’s chosen in the 1940/50s and the London centricity although to be fair the polytechnics established by Quintin Hogg [see biography] were based in the capital.

The national colleges provided a wide range of courses including higher degrees and although the numbers of students were small the colleges produced highly specialised and competent technologists for the relevant industries. It was hoped they would provide the apex of technical education building on the achievements of the Further Education Sector. A number of the colleges conducted research activities supported and funded by government and/or their parent industries. Courses and the related examinations were designed for their particular industry and were dependent on entry requirements and included college diplomas, higher nationals, degrees and postgraduate awards. The national colleges progressively underwent a number of title changes including Colleges of Advanced Technology (CATs) and eventually became universities or were absorbed into the university sector. Cranwell is now a world-class university with outstanding business and manufacturing programmes.


Much has been written about the history and development of the university sector and individual institutions so I will provide only a very brief account of their involvement with technical education and examinations. The role the ancient universities played in scientific and technical education was minimal as they were preoccupied with classical and religious studies. The exception was mathematics at Cambridge. The methods of teaching and high cost of provision at the ancient universities further added to their exclusive nature. In spite of this reluctance by Oxford and Cambridge Universities to teach science and technical subjects a number of attempts were made to extend their activities into these areas and engage with the Mechanics Institute movement. One example from Cambridge was Arthur Hervey who proposed the creation of ‘four circuit professors’ who would travel to such cities as Birmingham, Brighton and Manchester to teach such subjects as astronomy, geology and natural philosophy (science). These ideas and suggestions made by Hervey and Sewell from Oxford University were instrumental in getting their universities to agree to administer local examinations for the Society of Arts. The Universities of Cambridge and Oxford introduced the ‘local examinations’ that subsequently influenced the development of the examination systems for schools and for entry into universities.

Table 2 illustrates the initial growth of the Cambridge and Oxford local examinations.

Table 2. Cambridge Local Examinations.

Date Number of centres  Number of candidates
1860 10 355
1870 31 2,482
1880 118 6,429
1890 190 8,476
1901 460 14,473

Oxford Local Examinations

Date Number of centres Number of candidates
1860 13 864
1870 23 1,605
1880 33 2,119
1890 62 2,890
1901 241 9,992

Source:Balfour. G ‘The Educational Systems of Great Britain and Ireland’.

These boards offered commercial subjects e.g. shorthand. They evolved into ‘A’ and ‘O’ level examining boards and throughout the 20th and into the 21st century offered both technical and commercial subjects and are now involved in developing vocational diplomas.

Science and Technical Teaching in HE.

The teaching of science and technical subjects and their associated examinations came very late to English universities compared with the dissenting academies, universities in Scotland and on the continent. Until the mid 19th century few opportunities existed for students who wished to pursue scientific and technical subjects at higher levels at Oxford and Cambridge. Between 1850 and 1900 new institutions in London and the larger cities were created and began to specialise in applied and pure science and technological subjects. London University, Kings College, Royal College of Mining and University College set the pattern in the capital. In Birmingham (Mason College) Leeds (Yorkshire College of Science), Manchester (Owens College), Royal Technical Institute Salford (1896) and Sheffield (Firth College) schools of pure and applied science were established. Similar institutions were founded in Liverpool and other major cities in England. With the expansion of the Universities throughout the 20th century and the absorption of the polytechnics into the university sector in 1992 many began to specialise and some became centres of excellence in the sciences and technologies. One interesting aspect of the degrees offered by some universities was the development of thin and thick sandwich programmes. As I mentioned in the introduction one of the ongoing concerns in technical and vocational education is how to achieve the balance between theory and practice and prepare students more effectively for employment. This also reflects on what and how students are assessed. Sandwich degree programmes are very effective in achieving these essential aspirations. For example CGLI accredit a number of universities who offer thick sandwich programmes by recognising the students’ work experience and awarding the successful students the Licentiateship Grade. The Institute also accredits some professional bodies, the armed forces and some companies undertaking programmes of Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The Senior Award recognises experience and achievement in the work place for the student on a work placement and represents an added value element for the students’ HE studies. The Senior Awards are also used by a number of professional bodies, the armed forces and employers to recognise experiential learning and skill acquisition in the work place.

Special mention must be made about the unique feature of the University of London degrees namely the external degree. This degree at general and honours level was offered in a number of the larger technical colleges or colleges of technology throughout Britain and the majority were in science and technology. Many of the colleges offering these higher awards ultimately became polytechnics and then universities. The external degree made a significant contribution to the number of scientists and technologists during the 1950/60s. In 1952 there were 1,102 students pursuing external degrees in colleges. As mentioned earlier I was fortunate to take an external degree at Portsmouth College of Technology.

Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA)

As the college sector became more established many institutions were offering higher education programmes e.g. HNC/HNDs, professional awards, teaching qualifications as well London University external degrees. Some colleges also had special arrangements with local universities to run HE courses. It was inevitable that special arrangements would be introduced to approve and inspect this provision and in1964 the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) was created following a recommendation of the Robbins Report on HE. The Council validated HE programmes including degrees and diplomas for students in maintained institutions outside the university sector. It replaced the National Council for Technological Awards (NCTA). It later assumed responsibility for teacher education and in 1974 in conjunction with the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design became responsible for degrees in art and design. It was also responsible for the Diploma and Certificate in Management Studies. From 1974-75 the Council along with a number of universities validated the Diploma in Higher Education. The Council achieved a great deal and its work was valued by many colleges which offered higher education programmes. It was dissolved in 1993 following the enactment of the Higher and Further Education Act and the establishment of the Higher and Further Education Funding Councils.

National Examining Board for Supervisory and Management Studies (National Examining Board for Supervisory Studies Management (NEBSS/M)

NEBSS was established in 1964 under the umbrella of CGLI and from 1966 offered examinations for managers and supervisors. It had a national responsibility and contained representatives from CGLI, commerce, industry, professional bodies and relevant government departments. It raised the profile of management and supervisory education and before the merger had 50.000 registrations. NEBSS was an excellent example of a relatively small awarding body that identified and satisfied an important niche market. In 2002 the National Examining Board was merged with the Institute for Supervision and Management (ISM) to establish the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM). ILM is still a part of the CGLI group of companies.

TEC and BEC/BTEC/Edexcel

The Technician Education Council and the Business Education Council were created in 1973 and 1974 respectively following the recommendations of the Haslegrave Committee. Scottish equivalents were created namely SCOTEC and SCOTBEC. Wales and Northern Ireland had same structures as England. TEC was established to unify and validate technical educational programmes in FE and HE Institutions. These programmes led to ONC/ONDs and HNC/HNDs, which were previously the responsibility of a number of professional bodies and other organisations. BEC was required to rationalise and improve the relevance of sub-degree vocational business programmes in FE, HE and Polytechnics. BEC assumed responsibility for ONC/ONDs and HNC/HNDs in 1976.
The TEC’s Art and Design Committee established the Design and Art Technician Education Council (DATEC) in 1980. Similar arrangements were established for Scotland.

BEC and TEC were merged in 1984 to become BTEC and offer a wide range of awards at First, National and Higher Certificate and Diploma levels. During the 1990s BTEC became involved with the General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs). GNVQs, after a relatively short life were phased out between 2005 and 2007 being replaced by vocational GCSEs and Diplomas. BTEC checked and moderated programmes but did not directly assess the centre staff. That responsibility resided with employers and employer groups. In 1996 BTEC merged with the London Examinations Board to become Edexcel. As a result Edexcel offers a wide range of qualifications including ‘A’ levels, GCSEs and BTEC vocational subjects. Edexcel is currently involved with the development of Foundation degrees.

Edexcel currently operates internationally and awards over 1.5 million certificates every year. Edexcel and CGLI are by far the largest awarding bodies for vocational and technical subjects and are largely complementary.

The next chapter will complete the history of technical and commercial examinations up to the present time and will include the developments of Foundation Degrees, Vocational Diplomas and other government reforms.


  1. Millerson. G. ‘The Qualifying Associations’. RKP. 1964.

Other Useful References:

  • Payne. G. L. ‘Britain’s Scientific and Technological Manpower’. Stanford University Press. 1960.
  • Sanderson. M. ‘The Universities and British Industry 1850 – 1970’. RKP. ISBN 0 7100 7378 X. 1972.
  • A more comprehensive book list is at the end of Chapter 6.
  • A comprehensive chronology and glossary on examinations accompany this history and can be found on this website.

Chapter 4 – Developments in the 20th Century

Board of Education Examinations

Following the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Secondary Education (1895) a series of reforms were introduced over the next few years that had implications for technical education and commercial education and their associated examinations. The 1904 Secondary School Regulations defined secondary education more clearly as a general, academic provision, essentially liberal in its nature. Technical education was a separate activity and received grants for student attendance to encourage a greater uptake by students but with exceptions for higher awards. As a result an increased number of applied/vocational subjects received grants. The old Science and Art Department was split into two with one part responsible for schools especially grammar schools and the other part assuming responsibility for the growth of technical colleges, and day and evening classes. In 1902 the Department of Science and Art was merged with the Education Department and the Board of Education was created which assumed responsibility for the examinations previously offered by the Department of Science and Art. Following the 1902 Education Act greater responsibility was given to local education authorities and this heralded the changes to the examination system after 1911. As a result of a number of reforms by the Board the examination system was greatly improved with the abuses of the grant system by schools removed. There was evidence that a number of schools and teachers made false claims. Teachers were given greater guidance on syllabuses that particularly helped part-time lecturers involved in evening classes. In 1903 there were 1,488 examination centres in science (with 75,956 papers marked) and 1,166 for art (with 89,992 papers marked). However the numbers of candidates declined because of competition from other examination boards and critics of the examination system argued for major reforms. Following the merger the Board of Education ceased offering lower level examinations (stage 1) in 1911 and made a number of reforms to the other stages namely stage 2 and the higher levels represented by stage 3 and honours. The higher examinations were continued even after the lower general examinations had been were abolished but were finally abandoned in 1918. The numbers taking the higher examinations were extremely low in 1911/12 only 2,558 candidates sat the examinations and only 985 passed a pass rate of just 38.5%. Also examinations in science were discontinued in 1918 as the numbers remained small and continued to show a decline. The payment by results was finally discontinued. So why did the Board’s examinations fail? Firstly a number of technical institutions introduced their own internal examinations operating either on their own or in association with other institutes. This development was particularly popular for the lower level examinations. However as one would expect these awards had only limited validity and local value. Following the demise of the Board examinations a major gap was identified and after 1918 the Board involved a number of professional associations to develop the National Certificate scheme that would award certificates to students pursuing part-time courses.

National Certificate Scheme

This development represents one of the most fascinating and important developments in the examination system of technical subjects involving as it did an innovative collaborative scheme between the Board of Education and a Professional Institution namely the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and became known as the ‘National Certificate Scheme’. This co-operation began in 1921 and certification was available to successful students in technical schools and colleges. The qualification provided an examination system that allowed teachers a fair degree of freedom and flexibility in their teaching methods. The National Certificate awards proved a success and subsequently other Professional Institutions joined the scheme including the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Institute of Building, Institute of Chemistry, Institution of Gas Engineers, Institution of Naval Architects, Worshipful Company of Shipwrights and the Textile Institute. Analogous arrangements were developed for Commerce but much later. The main reason commercial examinations took longer to be involved in the National Certificate Scheme stemmed from the fact that no large established professional body existed to represent commercial subjects. Also the number of candidates for commercial subjects was very low. Eventually the Board itself elected to become the representative body in 1935/36 and the scheme began. Finally the British Chamber of Commerce was recognised as being a mature representative body and assumed responsibility for commercial subjects in 1939. In 1951 fifteen interested professional organisations and other relevant educational groups assumed responsibility for a revised scheme for commerce.

The Board of Education and the Professional Institutions would determine the standard and range of the subject content which would attract the award of the certificate. The Board and the Professional bodies would nominate three persons each to form a Joint Committee or Examination Board to oversee a particular scheme. However they would attempt to allow the greatest degree of freedom to the school/college in terms of the organisation of the work and its assessment. Participating institutions were inspected by the Board to assess their suitability to offer the awards. The quality of resources e.g. staffing and facilities needed to be approved by the appropriate Joint Committee. The success of the scheme soon brought the development of national certificates and diplomas across a wide range of technical subjects. Each provider would draft its own syllabus, very often focused on the needs of local employers and reflecting local industries. Subject teachers would often draft syllabuses involving local employers. The syllabus would then be submitted to the Board of Education and the relevant Professional Institution for their approval. Once the course was approved and offered successful candidates would receive a certificate or diploma after passing the examinations reflecting the level of the course and/or the mode of attendance i.e. part or full –time. Students had to be at least 16 years of age and present acceptable entry qualifications. If the students had achieved reasonable school qualifications .g. GCE ‘O’ levels they could gain partial exemption for the ordinary programme but the final year was compulsory. Attendance criteria were rigorously enforced so that students had to demonstrate at least 60%. Intermediate examinations were held at the end of each year to assess the progress of the students and these became known as S1/S2/S3 for the ONC and A1/A2 for the HNC reflecting the years of attendance. External examiners were appointed to assess the draft papers and after the examinations, samples of the marked papers. Some of the questions were compulsory, in some cases up to 40%, and the assessors could redraft questions prior to the examinations being offered. Minimum pass mark was set at 40% and all records of on-course practical work were retained for possible assessment by the assessors. Distinctions were awarded to candidates achieving 85% and more. The range of programmes for certificates and diplomas is shown in table 2 below.

The first ONC in 1922 in Mechanical Engineering attracted 1,017 candidates from 46 colleges and schools of whom 521 passed (51.2% pass rate). Certificate programmes were mainly based on three key and relevant subjects and also an endorsement arrangement allowed for additional subjects to be studied in order for the student to gain professional recognition and qualifications. Ordinary Certificates (ONCs) were awarded after a three- year part –time course at a technical college whilst Higher Certificates HNCs) were awarded after a further two years. Ordinary and Higher Diplomas (O/HNDs) required two and three years of full-time study respectively. The total number of O/HNCs awarded in 1931 was 2,792 rising to 5,330 in 1939. In 1939 the number of candidates for mechanical / electrical engineering and building was 1,833, 1,133 and 533 respectively.

The scheme was later extended to cover full-time Diploma programmes but these sadly like the ordinary diplomas never really gained wide spread popularity having to compete with the so-called gold standard of ‘A’ levels and reflected the ongoing debates about parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications. The numbers of candidates taking the full time programmes i.e. OND and HND were always relatively small. The majority of candidates gaining certificates were from the engineering disciplines.

Table 1 shows the take up of and participation in the national diploma awards between 1923 and 1944.

Table 1. Number of OND and HND Candidates in 1923, 1931 and 1944.

Dates: 1923 1931 1944
Ordinary Awards (OND) 663 2,043 4,070
Higher Awards (HND) 168 749 1,405

The number of awards of the National Certificates increased significantly in the immediate period after 1945. To convey the development of the scheme in terms of numbers of candidates and subjects table 2 shows the entry detail for the years 1952 and 53.

Table 2. Entries for ONC for 1952 and 1953.

Subject Date
Entries 1952 Entries
Civil Eng. 1943
Mech. Eng. 1921 11,803 11,777 5,872 (49.8%) 5,457 (46.3%)
Elect. Eng. 1923 5,698 5,429 3,087 (54.2%) 2,791 (51.4%)
Prod. Eng. 1 941
Building 1929 1,661 1,726 1,087 (63.0%) 1,137(65.9%)
Chemistry 1921 1,285 1,494 729 (56.8%) 917 (61.4%)
Applied Chemistry 1947 51 30 34 (66.7%) 19 (63.3%)
Metallurgy 1945 334 390 186 (55.7%) 184 (47.2%)
Applied Physics 1945 131 151 64 (48.9%) 64 (42.4%)
Commerce 1939 321 412 183 (57.0%) 255 (61.9%)
Naval Architecture 1926 89 89 53 (59.6%) 49 (55.1%)
Textiles 1934 252 235 189 (75.0%) 188 (80.0%)
Mining 1952 352 510 190 (54.0%) 280 (54.9%)

Source: Venables. Technical Education.

The total number of candidates for the ONC in 1952 was 21,977 with an average pass rate of 53.1%. For 1953 the total number of candidates was 22,243 with an average pass rate of 53.0%.

Table 3 shows similar data for the HNCs.

Table 3. Entries for the HNC for 1952 and 1953.

Subject Entries 1952 Entries 1953 Passes 1952 Passes 1953
Civil Eng. 119 188 96 (80.7%) 162 (86.2%)
Mech. Eng. 4,018 4,119 2,712 (67.5%) 2,773 (67.3%)
Elect. Eng. 2,529  2,679 1,810 (71.6%) 1,848 (69.0%)
Prod. Eng. 413 402 354 (85.7%) 321 (79.9%)
Building 795 848 667 (83.9%) 689 (81.3%)
Chemistry 593 687 364 (61.4%) 448 (65.2%)
Applied Chemistry 37 40 31 (83.8%) 26 (65.0%)
Metallurgy 132 140 120 (90.9%) 116 (82.9%)
30 55 20 (67.7%) 27 49.0%)
Commerce 11 6 8 (72.7%) 5 (88.3%)
Naval Architecture 49 45 44 (89.8%) 42 (93.3%)
Textiles 105 121 85 (81.0%) 107 (88.4%)

The total number of candidates for HNC in 1952 was 8,831with an average pass rate of 71.3%.For 1953the total number of candidates was 6,659 with an average pass rate of 71.4%.

Table 4 shows entries for the OND for 1952 and 1953.

Table 4. OND entries for 1952 and 1953.

Subject Entries 1952 Entries 1953 Passes 1952 Passes 1953
Mech. Eng. 159 144 88 (55.3%) 72 (50.0%)
Building 193 140 125 (64.8%) 108 (77.1%)
Elect. Eng. 58 73 40 (69.0%) 34 (46.6%)

The total number of candidates for OND in 1952 was 410 with an average pass rate of 61.7%. For 1953 the total number of candidates was 357 with an average pass rate of 60.0%.

Table 5 shows similar detail for HNDs.

Table 5. Entries for HND in 1952 and 1953.

Subject Entries 1952 Entries 1953  Passes 1952 Passes 1953
Mech. Eng. 124 147 83 (66.9%) 114 (77.6%)
Building 113 120 94 (83.2%) 100 (83.3%)
Elect. Eng. 82 118 73 (89.0%) 98 (83.0%)

The total number of candidates for HND in 1952 was 319 with an average pass rate of 78.3%. For 1953 the total number of candidates was 385 with an average pass rate of 81.0%.

These tables provide a fascinating insight into the profiles of subjects being studied and the modes of attendance. Part –time students were in the majority and that inevitably produced relatively high failure rates but still not atypical for part-time study e.g. a failure rate of 60% existed for the Board of Education’s Higher Examinations in Science in 1912.A report in 1959 highlighted the failure rate and recommended a policy to move to full-time or sandwich provision. The report identified a much lower failure rates for ONDs (typically 44%) and HNDs (typically 19%). There were a number of reasons for the low pass rates many of which are still valid today and include; poor teaching and teacher support, ineffective course/careers advice, guidance and information, weak literacy and numeracy skills. In addition many part-time students often work long hours during the day and are then expected to attend evening classes as well as having family commitments or indifferent support from the employer.

The National Scheme continued to thrive until major reforms were carried out in the 1980s. Having taught students on all but the HND programmes I was always impressed with the basic structure of the scheme. It gave teachers a greater degree of freedom to plan and operate the programmes working closely with employers to produce a relevant course of study for both the employer and student. The membership of the various subject advisory committees/teams were representative of the subject and it role in the workplace. The students were overall motivated and relatively enthusiastic bearing in mind many were working and required to attend in the evenings or on day release programmes. The standards were high and were recognised by many professional bodies for recognition and subsequent progression to their membership grades and entry to universities. More enlightened universities granted exemptions for their degree programmes. I worked closely in the Greater Manchester area with universities where either one or in some special subject areas, two years exemptions were gained for HND graduates. These arrangements were often referred too as 2+1 or 2+2 schemes. This arrangement was an excellent example of college/university partnership, sadly somewhat of a rarity during most of the period covered by this history. This partnership was most certainly helped by strong support from employers. HNC students were particularly impressive with their high degree of motivation but this was to be expected as they were invariably mature and well experienced in their occupations. A number of outstanding HNC students even gained direct entry into post graduate awards when strongly supported by their employers.

Professional Bodies

As already mentioned during the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Professional Institutions introduced their own examinations e.g. Institution of Civil Engineering in 1897 and the Institution of Mechanical Engineering in 1913 respectively. In addition the universities and university colleges awarded qualifications in technical subjects although the latter could not award degrees. In spite of the increasing numbers of students pursuing technical subjects there was already a mismatch between supply and demand. Industry wanted qualified people but even during this period complained that the universities and other providers of HE were biased against vocational and technical subjects. Surprisingly there was also evidence in the 1920s/30s that there was also an imbalance in graduate science numbers e.g. a surplus of chemists and deficit of biologists – a problem that continues to this day in e.g. engineering, physics and mathematics. Finally interesting to note that of the 4,439 students in full-time technology courses in 1934 the vast majority of them went into technical i.e. research, testing and design as opposed to the production side of industry – another example of academic drift?

Gradually fewer science examinations were held in schools and the emphasis shifted to the emerging network of technical colleges. Student numbers declined for science in schools as greater choice in the curriculum developed and students preferred to opt for non-scientific subjects. Higher technical education was still an exception in the education system in spite of the perception of Britain as the workshop of the world (as the short history of technical education testifies.) Science and technology courses were slow to develop in universities at the time. Until the reforms in the 1980s the National Awards at Ordinary and Higher levels for students studying part and full-time in colleges/polytechnics provided a greatly valued set of awards for employers across a number of occupational areas. The system of technical and commercial examinations grew throughout the 20th century as the further and higher education sectors became more established.

Very little reform to the examination system occurred after 1920 until the major reforms following the Haslegrave and De Ville Reports (see later). During this period the major awarding bodies consolidated their positions and responded to the changing nature and growth of the technical education sector. As the number of institutions grew during this period and the participation rates increased the awarding bodies extended their programmes across different areas.

City and Guilds of London Institute

The Institute continued to grow throughout the 20th century and introduced changes in its awards and the subject range as the profile of employment in the economy underwent major transformations. The Institute worked closely with employers through a wide range of advisory committees. They also established strong links with the emerging Regional Examining Boards.

The range, levels and titles have undergone many changes over the decades, as indeed have many of the examining bodies considered in this history. For example it might be illuminating to show how in the 1950s CGLI offered examinations at three levels and how these related to the apprenticeship:

  • Intermediate. Represented an adequate level of achievement in a craft or trade that was deemed appropriate e.g. a level expected of the higher grade of industrial workers but who had not been required to undertake an apprenticeship.
  • Final. Represented complete competence for all normal purposes in the selected craft or trade i.e. the level required of skilled craftspeople, mechanics and artisans who had served a fully recognised apprenticeship.
  • Full Technological Certificate. Represented a wide field of achievement and competence that indicated that the holder had a comprehensive knowledge of the subject.

It is interesting that one still sees these certificates particularly the full technological certificates proudly displayed in some workplaces e.g. garages, hairdressing salons and other workshops.

Table 6 shows how the total entries grow for CGLI during the 20th century.

Table 6. Entries for CGLI 1900 to 1992.

Year Number of Candidates
1900 14,551
1910 24,508
1920 9,825
1930 14,721
1940 15,163
1950 66,679
1960 143,661
1970 376,443
1980 473,214
1990 1,429,056
1992 2,335,005

Source: CGLI – A short history 1878 – 1992.

N.B. Some of these figures do not include overseas entries, those for teacher’s certificates and special examinations candidates.
CGLI is currently active in 100 countries through 8,500 centres and registering 1.8 million candidates annually. Throughout the years the Institute has undergone numerous changes many driven by changes instigated by successive governments e.g. The Haslegrave and DeVille Reports, the Ferryside agreements.
A persistent misperception exists that CGLI is only involved in lower level awards. This is most certainly not true. Through its royal charter awarded in 1900 it can confer Senior Awards at four levels namely Licentiateship, Graduateship, Membership and Fellowship. Universities, professional bodies, other organisations and companies both in the UK and abroad can gain delegated authority status following a rigorous accreditation process and the requirement to satisfy the CGLIs quality assurance systems. These Senior Awards recognise experience, competence and skill in the work place and are becoming increasingly popular. More recently the CGLI has developed a suite of Higher Level Qualifications that are very vocationally focused in a range of traditional and emerging subjects. CGLI are currently working with the one of the unitary awarding bodies AQA to develop vocational diplomas.

Regional Examination Unions/Bodies (REU/Bs)

It might help at this stage to describe the progress of the Regional Examining Unions and their collaboration with the City and Guilds of London Institute that most certainly made a significant contribution to the development of technical education and the examination system. One real advantage was the effective partnerships that existed between the various advisory and subject committees and equally importantly the representative membership of these and other relevant groups e.g. employers, college staff, Her Majesty’s Inspectors. The unions had two aims, namely:

  • Providing standard examinations for the benefit of students studying technical and other subjects approved by the Union within the Institutions of its area
  • Promoting the objects of such Institutions and FE colleges.

Following the Industrial Training Act in 1967 the REBs in conjunction with CGLI created the Council of Technical Examining Bodies which prepared new and revised schemes for the training requirements issued by the Industrial Training Boards.

Six Regional Examination Bodies existed namely:

  • East Midland Educational Union (EMEU)
  • Northern Counties Technical Examinations Council (NCTEC)
  • Union of Educational Institutions (UEI)
  • Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes (ULCI)
  • Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC)
  • Yorkshire and Humberside Council for Further Education (YHCFE)

With the exception of the WJEC the other bodies focussed on the post-school sector.
The REBs offered examinations for operatives, craftspeople and technicians following an agreement with CGLI in 1966. The REBs also offered examinations in commercial and other subjects as well as some ordinary and higher national certificates. They worked closely with CGLI through advisory committees and the Institute’s Committee for Technical Education.

Throughout the history of the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) – [see later in chapter 5] and REBs there were debates about their effectiveness and ability to influence local and national examinations. I served on a number of RACs and two REBs and must admit found them useful forums to network with other colleges’ staff, HMI and employers. The advice and guidance was often helpful in planning provision in colleges. This benefit was largely lost as the FE system became more centrally driven and subject to constant interference by governments from the 1980s.

It would be useful to compare the parallel situation that occurred with the examinations staged by the REBs and the CGLI between the years 1952 and 1955 and this is shown in table 7.

Table 7. Entries for Examinations Staged by CGLI and the REBs between 1952 and 1955.

Examining Body 1952 1953 1954 1955
Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes 46,300 entered 50,674 52,852 56,926
Northern Counties Technical Examinations Council 21,059 entered 23,052 24,459 24,403
East Midland Educational Union 20,525 entered 23,502 26,121 30,122
Union of Educational Institutions 24,165
28,002 34,811 38,944
City and Guilds of London Institute 70,856
Ordinary National Certificates 21,977
Higher National Certificates 8,831
Totals of entries 213,713 232,169 254,677 276,223
Total of passes for REBS and CGLI 62,375 65,418 69,306 76,402

(Source: Argles. M. ‘South Kensington to Robbins’.

Clearly the pass rates were not particularly good but again it is important to remember that most of the provision was by evening study and often the students did not receive support from their employers. The students were very much self motivated and often had to support themselves financially and to attend classes after a full day’s work.

Programmes offered at ONC and HND level included such subjects as: applied chemistry, applied physics, building, chemistry, civil engineering, commerce, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, metallurgy, mining, naval architecture, production engineering and textiles.

Commercial Education

During the early 20th century commercial education became more established with about fifty junior commercial schools created but these were eventually closed following the 1944 Education Act and the work absorbed into the tripartite system of secondary schools. Commercial education was greatly assisted by the development of the National Certificate Scheme. Degree programmes in commerce were developed from the early 20th century in a number of universities and polytechnics. As demand grew for commercial subjects and the national awards scheme got more involved in these subjects new syllabuses and subject areas were introduced after 1961 for part-time ONC/HNCs in Business Studies along with HNC/HNDs for full-time and sandwich students. Increasingly these were offered in colleges of FE as opposed to colleges of commerce as the FE sector and its constituent colleges expanded and offered an extended range of subjects. Another factor was that in general monotechnic colleges, (i.e. separate discipline specialist institutions), were more expensive when compared with mixed economy FE colleges because of economies of scale factors.

Management education was practically non-existent until after 1945. This arose from the Urwick Report (1947) which recommended that the relevant professional institutions should develop common management themes and that management studies should lead to Intermediate and Final examinations and overseen by a Central Council of Management. The British Institute of Management (B.I.M.) was established in 1947 and eventually merged with the Institute of Industrial Studies (I.I.S.) which had been struggling to develop management studies since 1919. The I.I.A. assumed responsibility for the examinations element from the B.I.M. The qualifications offered were the Intermediate Certificate and Diploma in Management Studies. After 1960 a new Diploma of Management was established and awarded after three years of part-time-study. Management studies have greatly expanded and a whole series of awards currently exist across a number of levels including the Certificate and Diploma in Management Studies i.e. the CMS and DMS respectively as well as MBAs at post-graduate level.
In addition many examinations for commercial and related specialism’s were set by a number of professional bodies that regulated the various occupational categories including accountancy, banking and financial services.

Personal observation

The current development and introduction of Foundation Degrees is now threatening the future of the highly respected higher certificates and diplomas – such is academic drift! This government seems obsessed with qualifications and most certainly with degrees and give little attention or credibility to other equally valuable qualifications. This obsession in some ways reflects a perception of ‘A’ levels as the gold standard for level 3 qualifications and they have distorted the examination and qualification landscape since the early 1950s. This government has set another target regarding higher education namely that 40% of the workforce should have graduate or higher skills by 2020 and 50% of young people should go to university. This obsession with arbitrary and questionable targets deflects and masks any meaningful discussion about the purpose of higher vocational qualifications and in fact the rationale of Higher Education. The real aspiration should be to create programmes at all levels that ‘satisfy the needs of employers’ and ‘are fit for purpose’ and allow all types of students to benefit from the appropriate experience of education. All too often today university education seems to be a rite of passage for a number of students almost like some sort of accessory. It will be interesting to see how the current recession/depression impacts on the large number of graduates now seeking employment in the rapidly changing and contracting labour market. The increasing number of graduates will create all sorts of problems in terms of supply and demand and highlight mismatches in the labour market.

Chapter 5 will continue to describe the developments in the 20th century including the impact of the 1944 Education Act of and other important legislative initiatives by governments, the role of the Regional Advisory Bodies, reforms to technical and vocational qualifications and developments in higher technical education.

Cot grove. S. F. ‘Technical Education and Social Change’. George Allen and Unwin. 1958.
Richardson.W. A. ‘Technical Education’. OUP. 1939.
Venables. P. F. R. ‘Technical Education Its Aims, Organisation and Future Development’. Bell. 1955.

A more comprehensive book list is provided on this website along with a comprehensive chronology and glossary for technical and commercial examinations on separate sections of this site which I hope will be helpful to readers.


Chapter 3 – Developments in the 19th Century

The chapter continues to describe the developments to the end of the 19th century.

Science and Art Department.

As described fully in the history of technical education the Great Exhibition stimulated in its aftermath a series of reforms and developments in education. In 1852 a Department of Practical Art was established and in 1853 a Science Department was added to create the Science and Art Department and this signalled that the State at last was going to get more directly involved in education. The Department was located in South Kensington and this usually described many of its initiatives e.g. the grants awarded to schools namely the South Kensington Grants. Examinations were developed and introduced soon after and were based on the model developed and operated by the Society of Arts. The Department gave grants to schools to encourage the development of science and the more practical basic subjects but with little effect. The Department eventually realised that there were no science teachers so they introduced an examination for teacher’s in1859 to help address the problem but again with no effective impact. Even when teachers became qualified to teach the subject there was little demand from the schools! The salaries for teachers depended on the student success rate in passing the examinations and with so few students the financial rewards were miniscule. One really negative outcome of the grants was a culture of cramming which concerned many students and parents. Teachers taught the students to just the pass the examinations and in doing so often reduced the richness of the subject. This teaching for the tests continued for the later 11+ examinations and most certainly today with the Standard Assessment Tests (SATs). This concern continued to be a contentious issue until the grant regime operated by the Department was abolished in the early 20th century. Many teachers resorted to offering evening classes to enhance their salaries. In spite of the ongoing concerns about the Science and Art Departments grants they eventually began to have a positive impact and ultimately greatly assisted the growth of classes in science and technical subjects for both evening and finally in day schools and institutes. Any school receiving grants, (they became known as the South Kensington Grants), became known as ‘Science Schools’. A number of Mechanics’ Institutions also availed themselves of the grants and by 1867 there were 212 ‘Science Schools’ enrolling 10,230 students. Eventually enough teachers and instructors became available and as a result the Department’s examinations to qualify teachers of science were abolished around 1867.

The Science and Art Directory for 1870 provides an interesting insight into government thinking particularly in regard to technical instruction and who should be eligible. Part of the directory details the categories of persons who were to be regarded as industrial students. The list included:

  • Artisans or operatives in receipt of a weekly wage
  • Coast-guards, policemen , and others, who, though in receipt of weekly wages, do not support themselves by manual labour
  • Teachers in elementary schools in connection with the Education Department
  • Persons in receipt of salaries not large enough to render liable to income tax, as some descriptions of clerks, shopmen etc.
  • Small shopkeepers employing no one but members of their own family, and not assessed to income tax
  • Tradesmen and manufacturers on their own account , supporting themselves by their own manual labour, not employing apprentices, journeymen.etc and not assessed to income tax
  • Children (not receiving their own livelihood) of all such persons above mentioned.

This list might look slightly bizarre now and somewhat exclusive in barring taxpayers from the grants. The assumption behind the categories of eligible persons presumably was to apply a kind of means testing in order to give advantage to people who had only received a minimal elementary education at this time. As mentioned before very few opportunities existed for the vast majority of young people. However there was a downside to this approach which resulted from the state of industry at the time. Most companies at the time urgently needed not only workers from the groups the grants were assisting BUT also people who could enter industry equipped to assume roles as supervisors, managers and entrepreneurs i.e. people who had already benefited from previous education , usually from advantaged family circumstances. This is where the paradox lies as it was only from the tax paying families that the flow of people could be drawn into these higher echelons of industry at this time. This situation was inevitable as these individuals had experienced a privileged education that ironically had itself largely excluded science and technology in the curriculum. The social class structure had created this situation and the long standing hostility of the upper and middle classes to industry and commerce had come to haunt the examination system and the flow of properly qualified people into industry! So there lies the paradox, in order to get better educated people into industry the more wealthy individuals whose parents would pay tax should be eligible for the grants but even then they were not scientifically or technologically qualified. The sad reality was that British industry was still lacking qualified people at all levels within companies needed to improve their competitiveness and international performance. The examinations needed to be more socially inclusive and reflect the total employment requirements and needs of industries.

Aspects of the application of science to industrial occupations were covered in examinations in order to encourage the study of science amongst a wide range of workers. Topics included building, chemistry, geology, geometry, mechanics and physics. Other subjects added later included mathematics, nautical astronomy and navigation.

Table 4 illustrates the growth in numbers of schools receiving the grants after 1861 when grants were awarded based on examinations results i.e. the payments by results regime.

Table 4. Number of Science Schools and other Institutions Receiving Grants from the State.

Date Number of institutions Number of students Number of classes
1862 70 2,543 140
1867 212 10,230
1872 948 36,783 2,803
1882 1,403 68,581 4,881

In 1895 it was decided to replace the payments by results regime with a system that partly paid grants on student attendance/retention and partly on examination results.

Eventually in 1911 the Board of Education discontinued the elementary examinations for science and in 1915 abolished the advanced examinations and just continued those for awarding certain scholarships. Overall the Department of Science and Art did have a positive impact on the early developments of examinations in spite of having many critics throughout their existence. In addition to the grants issues and the cramming syndrome there were other negatives such as the funding was a relatively selective and narrow range of subjects. For example there were no classes in subjects like dyeing, plumbing and textiles so overall the support to these industries was limited. In addition some of the emerging newer technologies were seldom examined e.g. electrical and chemical subjects. Therefore not only were the needs of industries that were well established and successful not being satisfied but little or no attention was being given to plan for the future needs of the developing sciences and technologies. The problems associated with skill levels and their maintenance as well as the challenges of the supply and demand equation were around even in the 19th century. This challenge is equally important today namely the need to consider carefully the qualifications and skill levels of the workers already in employment as well as the qualifications and skills level of new entrants into particular occupations .
However in spite of these fundamental weaknesses the examinations introduced by the Science and Art Department were partly successful but at least contributed to raising the awareness of examinations and equally important highlighted deficiencies that would be addressed later.

City and Guilds of London Institute (CGLI).

The next important and possibly the most significant development in technical examinations was the creation of the City and Guilds of London Institute. CGLI was established in 1878 following a meeting of 17 of the City of London’s livery companies who were still the traditional guardians of apprenticeships and work-based training.

A report by the Livery Companies in 1878 articulated the basic aims of the CGLI and some of the main elements, principles and objectives included:

  • “The Central Institution would supply competent Teachers for the Local Trade Schools, and ….. there would also go forth from it a supply of superior Workmen, Managers and Principals of Manufactories”
  • “Local Trade Schools should teach the application of Science and Art to particular trades”
  • “the improvement of the technical knowledge of those engaged in the manufactures of this country, whether employed as workmen, managers or foremen or as principals”
  • “Knowledge of the Scientific or Artistic principles upon which the particular manufacture may depend; not by teaching the workman to be more expert in his handicraft – the latter improvement must be derived from greater assiduity in the workshop, and from longer practice therein, and therefore except in special cases, it would be unwise to establish any place for teaching the actual carrying out of the different trades”
  • “Establish a Central Institution and Local Trade Schools; the former in London, for more advanced instruction”
  • “Examinations would be periodically held in the Central Institution as well as in Trade Schools, Prizes would be awarded, and Certificates of merit would be issued in connection therein”

Fascinating to read the fourth objective. It raises some interesting issues about the teaching of technical and commercial subjects, either in realistic working environments (RWE) or by simulation.

Following the creation of the Institute twelve of the Livery Companies promised to provide £11,582 10s. which enabled it to start its planning and fulfilling the objectives cited above. The Institute provided funding for a trade extension to the Cowper Street Class Schools in London and eventually after a few problems granted £5,000 to establish laboratories and workshops as well as appointing two exceptional individuals namely Henry Armstrong and William Ayron to teach chemistry and physics. These two individuals went on to contribute greatly to the teaching of the two subjects as well as playing a significant role amongst others in the developments at Finsbury Technical College and the Royal Schools of Mines. In addition the Institute provided funding to the Lambeth School of Art in Kennington Park Road (see history of technical education).

After the technological examinations were transferred to the City and Guilds in 1879 from the Society of Arts, the Institute advertised for an Organising Secretary and Director at a salary of £ 400 per annum. The successful candidate was Philip Magnus (see biography). He quickly established a reputation for innovation and began to place the Institute on a very firm base in regard to technical and vocational education. The Cowper Street Institute was becoming very overcrowded and eventually this led to the creation of the Finsbury Technical College (see biography) – this opened in 1883.
Information has already been given in the earlier chapters as well as in the history of technical education but it will be helpful to provide more figures for the developing examination entries in figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Entry for Technological Subjects between 1879 to 1899.

Year No. of centres No of subjects No. of candidates
1879 23 7 202
1880 85 24 816
1881 115 28 1563
1882 147 37 1972
1885 167 42 3968
1890 219 49 6781
1895 353 58 10,293
1899 397 63 14,004

In 1901 technological examinations were held in 380 centres across country with an attendance of 34,246 students and there were 904 candidates in manual, (practical), training examinations for teachers.

Table 2 shows the entries from industrial groupings.

Table 2. Entries in Industrial Groupings in1882.

Industrial group 1882
Mining  90 (1.5%)
Process Industries 358 (4%)
Production and Maintenance Engineering 1,221 (14%)
Electrical, Electronic Engineering 689 (8%)
Vehicle and Plant Maintenance 212 (3%)
Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Leather 3,650 (43%)
Construction and Construction Services 1,929 (23%)
Media and Communications Industries 256 (3%)
Creative Arts, Crafts and Leisure Pursuits 29 (0.5%)

(Source: CGLI- A short history 1878 – 1992.)

It is interesting to see the participation percentages within each group and see the relative importance of the trades at that these times and then compare with the current figures.

The examinations were inevitably offered in single subjects as table 3 illustrates for specific subjects offered in 1879.

Table 3. Some of the Technological Subjects Offered in 1879.

Cotton manufacture Gas manufacture  Porcelain and pottery
Steel manufacture Silk manufacture Photography
Paper manufacture  Carriage building Silk dyeing
Glass manufacture Telegraphy Calico bleaching

(Source: Reflections – Past and Future (CGLI, 2000)

As can be seen these reflect the major industries of the time particularly cotton which was for many years our greatest export but even so the take up of these examinations was at a low level. The cotton industry like many others placed little reliance on technical education in order to develop and sustain a skilled workforce. The CGLI and the Society of Arts continued to be the major players in technical and commercial examinations throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st century and I will continue to describe their progress and the transformations that have occurred since the end of the end of the 19th century to the present day.

The Union of Institutions.

The significant role played by the Union of Institutions and their close collaboration with the Society of Arts in creating the first public examinations in the country has already been described. They grew out of the Mechanics’ Institution movement. However it will be helpful to provide a short history, partly repetitious, of them into the 20th as they continued to play an important role in examinations in colleges. The Regions in many cases were ahead of their counterparts in London reflecting that the majority of industries were located outside the capital. Obviously their roles and remits changed as new legislation was enacted throughout the 20th century. The Regional title indicates outside London.

A list of the Regional Examining Unions (REUs) up to the early 1960s:

Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes (UCLI) founded in 1839 – covering Caernarvonshire, Cheshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Isle of Man and Lancashire. Started offering examinations in1847.
Union of Educational Institutions (UEI) founded in 1895 – covering Cornwall, Devon, Hampshire, Huntington and Staffordshire. Started offering examinations in1896.
East Midland Educational Union (EMEU) founded in 1911 – covering Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland and the Soke of Peterborough.
Northern Counties Technical Examinations Council (NCTEC) founded in 1920 reconstituted in 1924. – covering Cumberland, Durham, Northumberland, Westmorland and Redcar in Yorkshire. This Union was originally founded in 1848 as the Northern Union of Mechanics’ Institutions.
Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) covering the rest of Wales and from 1952 started offering examinations to its wider role of activities.
Yorkshire Council for Further Education (YCFE) – covering Yorkshire except the Redcar area and also added examinations to their remit.

These unions provided a complementary and valuable service to examinations offered by the CGLI, Society of Arts and the Board of Education and drafted, with the assistance of specialist advisory committees, curricula and syllabuses, and examined and certified candidates in their respective geographical areas. They examined candidates at evening continuation schools and at Senior and Advanced level study in technical schools and colleges. The Unions did not cover all parts of the country and students outside their orbit took CGLI examinations in technical subjects whilst commercial examinations were offered by the Royal Society of Arts and the London Chamber of Commerce. There seems to be an interesting correlation between the establishment and subsequent strength of the Unions and the colleges in the industrial areas of England such as Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire. Courses reflected the particular industries in the immediate area and many argued that colleges should be given more autonomy in determining curricula and assessment. In fact the issue of local and central control became politicised during the first two decades of the 20th century, which reflects the wider debates of who manages and controls the colleges and schools. Obviously it is essential that employers are involved as equal partners and not as a tokenistic gesture. Local employers know what the needs are and can work with education and training providers to develop and configure the relevant provision that satisfies local demands. At present a number of quangos and agencies proclaim the participation of employers, employer organisations and trade unions but too often their views and ideas are marginalized by the academics, politicians and other non-employers. I will continue to describe the contribution of the Examining Unions in later chapters.

Commercial Education and Examinations

Commercial education and examinations in many ways mirror the development of technical education and examinations. Just as the Industrial Revolution brought about the need to instruct workers in the scientific principles and their application a similar need to create qualified staff to undertake clerical, accountancy and administrative work also arose. In 1887 the Associated Chamber of Commerce published a report on ‘Commercial Education’ that stated ‘that technical education in the sciences which underlie all arts and industries is being provided in the chief centres, no attempt has been made to supply a technical mercantile education’.  ‘It is a most serious defect in our educational system and one that calls loudly for amendment and reform’. Similar sentiments were expressed in a report from the London County Council sub – Committee on Commerce in 1899 which again stated ‘in conducting our investigations upon the subject of commerce education, we have been greatly impressed with the feeling that the matter is one of supreme national importance’. In spite of these and other reports little occurred in developing commercial education until later in the 20th century. A similar situation existed in management education. I will describe the developments in later chapters.

From the mid 19th century the examinations were conducted by the Society of Arts, the Local Examinations, the Regional Examining Unions and the Department of Science and Art. Commercial examinations developed in parallel with technical examinations and were in many ways wider in scope rather than being focused on technical specialism’s although specific subjects like shorthand and typing did exist. Examinations in shorthand were introduced in 1864 by the Society of Arts and by the Oxford Local Examining Board in 1888. The Society started examining in typing in 1891 as the demand for this skill increased. The Society was very responsive to the needs of the institutions and students and offered commercial subjects under the title of ‘Commercial Certificates’ as well as in single subjects from 1876 .The mode of study was mainly by way of evening courses and examined initially by the Society of Arts and the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes. The Union of Institutions was disbanded in1882 and as a result examinations were then opened to all institutions offering instruction in commercial subjects. The ‘Commercial Certificates’ were abandoned whilst single subjects were encouraged. As mentioned earlier the numbers of candidates steadily increased.

Table 4 shows the overall enrolments for Society examinations between 1858 and 1900 and remember the Society had transferred technological examinations to CGLI so the subjects were focussed on commercial topics.

Table 4. Entries for Society of Arts Subjects between 1858 and 1900.

Year No. of Candidates
1858 288
1880 2,325
1882 695 (interesting decline!)
1890 2,474
1900 9,808

London Chamber of Commerce and Pitman’s Examinations

The London Chamber of Commerce was created in 1881 and was committed to improving the condition of commercial education in schools and colleges. The Chamber recognised the importance of modern language teaching in order to improve export markets and as a result introduced the teaching and assessment of modern languages. The Chamber established a Commercial Education Committee in 1887 and offered examinations later in the same year. Overseas operations began in Bombay in 1898 reflecting the importance of the trading activities in the colonies. The Chamber is one of the oldest awarding bodies in the country and is a major partner in the recently formed Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) [see later chapter. The Board offered a wide range of examinations leading to qualifications in business, commercial and office studies at elementary, intermediate and higher levels.
Isaac Pitman opened the Pitman’s Metropolitan College in 1870 probably the first business education institution in the world. Commercial examinations were later developed by other Regional Examining Boards, London Chamber of Commerce, Pitman Examinations and a number of professional bodies representing commercial and managerial education. In addition a number of specialist colleges of commerce were opened following the 1902 Education Act and from 1935 ONC/HNDs were established in commercial subjects – more of that later.

Other Developments.

In 1852 the year of the Great Exhibition the Amalgamated Society of Engineers was founded by William Allan and this was followed by the creation and restructuring of the trade unions representing craft workers in such areas as builders, carpenters, iron founders, potters and other self-improving artisan groups. These groupings established a much stronger voice and focus for their crafts within the trade union movement which were still viewed with suspicion and hostility among most employers. The trade union movement became far more influential for the workers and were able to argue with a unified voice for better working conditions and wages.

Professional bodies representing science and technology were beginning to be established after the 17th and 18th centuries and some of these went on to develop their own examinations. The Society of Civil Engineers was founded in 1771 becoming the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1818 and began to establish an examination system for its members in 1897. The examination created membership grades e.g. ‘associates’ and ‘members’.

Other professional bodies established examinations in the 20th century and these will be described in later chapters [also see article on professional bodies on this website].
The Institute of Bankers was established in 1879.
The Chartered Institute of Secretaries was established in 1891.
The Chartered Insurance Institute was established in 1897.

Personal observations.

Since their creation, examinations have always been viewed with varying degrees of distaste and suspicion but a necessary evil. Initially the creation of a national system for examinations was an attempt to introduce some sort of national standard in the country that otherwise possessed a fragmented and often independent set of institutions operating their own assessment and examining regimes. Throughout the history of examination a number of central arguments have been proffered namely:

  • that they provide evidence to: employers on the ability and achievement of the student and hence a prospective employee
  • validation of students on their ability and overall performance on the course they have attended
  • national agencies responsible for funding and managing technical education. Over the years the examination results have been increasingly used by government to compare performance between schools and colleges –hence the growth of the culture of league tables with all the problems they cause! (Clearly over the years these agencies have changed significantly as the responsibility for the funding, planning and control of technical education moved from local to national control. I will describe how these changes influenced the development of technical and commercial education and the associated examination system more fully later in this history as well as in the other history).

In addition the examination system also provided the teachers with syllabuses and curricula frameworks to work with.

Some Special Features of Technical Examinations

Even accepting the slow and at times haphazard development of the technical and commercial examination system it eventually possessed some positive features. It offered real opportunities to motivated students for entry and subsequent promotion in their chosen occupations. The examinations were more flexible than their school and university counterparts mainly arising from the complexity of industry and the subsequent wide range of crafts, trades, vocations and occupational sectors involved. In addition to written examinations assessments of practical activity were undertaken e.g. in special workshops or science laboratories. As mentioned already there was greater involvement of teachers, employers and other key players in technical and commercial education. A number of examinations were set by the teachers themselves and then externally moderated/verified/validated. Inevitably the system had its critics and there were weaknesses in the system that was identified by the various reforms that occurred from the 1950s up to today.

One recurring concern over many decades is the complexity and plethora of vocational and technical education qualifications and examination systems. Various reviews initiated by successive governments and resultant reforms have attempted to rationalise the system and reduce the confusion. The arguments have mainly centred on how to achieve the difficult balance between central government control and regulation and the need to allow freedom at local and institutional level. More detail is provided later of some the examining bodies that have existed although it must be noted many have been reformed, merged and/or undergone changes in their names and terminology. It is by no means complete but attempts to briefly reflect on how they contributed to the history of technical and commercial education and training and the development of an examination system. These descriptions will not detail how the examinations were structured or managed but just provide an insight into how they were created and how they related to other similar bodies.


Inevitably the early period resulted in patchy provision of technical instruction and technical examinations that were heavily influenced by the secondary school regulations but gradually as the technical education system developed separate arrangements were established. During the 19th century the main providers of technical qualifications and examinations to students in Mechanics’ Institutions and technical colleges were the Society of Arts, City and Guilds of London Institute, the Science and Art Department and the Unions of Institutions. The professional bodies’ examination systems were at that time not fully developed or wide enough in scope to meet the needs for entry or progression to the occupations. The methods of instruction and examining operated by the professional bodies were very variable and depended critically on how the bodies had evolved historically. In addition to these players a number of colleges awarded diplomas in their own right but these were only recognised at a local level. The gradual development of technical examinations was greatly assisted by many of the recommendations of a number of Royal Commissions throughout the 19th century in particular the Devonshire (1872-75), Samuelson (1882-84) Reports and a few visionaries such as Charles Babbage [see biography], James Booth [see biography], Henry Brougham [see biography], Henry Chester, James Hole, Thomas Huxley [see biography], Philip Magnus [see biography].

Abbott. A. ‘Education for Industry and Commerce in England’. OUP. 1933.
Cotgrove. S. F. ‘Technical education and Social Change’. George Allen and Unwin. 1958.
Hudson. D and Luckhurst. K. W. ‘The Royal Society of Arts 1754 – 1954’. John Murray. 1954.
Peters. A. J. ‘British Further Education’. Pergamon. 1967.

A more comprehensive book list is provided on this website along with a comprehensive chronology and glossary for technical and commercial examinations.

  • The biographies and pen portraits are presented in Appendix 4.

Chapter 2 – The Beginnings of Examinations in the 19th Century


Chapters 2 and 3 will describe the beginnings of technical and commercial examinations in England up to the end of the 19th century.
The history of the development of examinations especially in technical and commercial subjects inevitably mirrors that of the development of the technical education and commercial education itself. Many similarities will be identified in the following chapters e.g. a slow evolution often in a very ad hoc fashion; resistance from employers and members of the general public, and the reluctance of government to support and initially fund the development of a national system. Also the history will highlight some amazing individuals and visionaries involved in establishing an examinations system for these important disciplines. Once the development of a national system began to be established there were a number of very innovative and farsighted organisations involved in the awarding of qualifications. Interesting to note Scotland and Ireland made major contributions both to technical education and to public and technical examination systems that were emulated later in England and the other home countries. Like the history of technical and commercial education it is a complex and fascinating subject and inevitably I will not be able to do full justice to the topic though I provide some useful references at the end of this chapter and the more comprehensive book list on this website  that hopefully readers will find helpful.

The importance of the various forms of assessment and formal systems of examinations was gradually recognised once education institutions, particularly as a result of Mechanics’ Institutions, were established and this was most certainly true for the technical and commercial subjects. Obviously the first Industrial Revolution acted as a catalyst in establishing a need for more formal instruction in technical matters and then the need to assess and examine the individuals who had attended a set of classes. However it was some time after the beginning of the industrial revolution and the creation of the Mechanics’ Institutions that any identifiable system of examinations was established and even then it evolved relatively slowly after 1850. As with the development of technical education the related examination system began in a fragmented and disjointed fashion. This gradual development continued throughout the 19th century albeit in a series of fits and starts driven by private enterprise and a few farsighted individuals such as George Birkbeck, James Booth, Henry Brougham, Henry Chester, James Hole, and Thomas Huxley [biographies of some of these individuals are given in Appendix 4].

It is important to remember that England still did not possess a national system of education at any level, elementary or otherwise, prior to 1870 so it was little wonder that an examination system was absent. This deficit also contributed to problems that the Mechanics’ Institutions experienced through the lack of basic education of their students. However evidence was already appearing that countries on the continent and beyond had already established national education system at a number of levels including for higher level technological subjects and with the State willingly being involved and prepared to funding these developments. This became clear from evidence gathered on visits by a number of individuals to continental countries where they had more quickly recognised the importance of establishing a national education system including for technical subjects and their assessment. I have provided far more detail of the factors that contributed to the slow development of technical education in this country in the other history that can be found on this website. Many of the factors that retarded the development of technical and commercial examinations are replicated in the wider development of technical education. However once the implications of the need to improve the effectiveness and the overall performance of the workforce was recognised and this coupled with capitalising on the growing interest in the principles of science and technology among workers it brought about developments in technical education.

The Beginnings.

Scotland as usual led the way with formal accreditation methods at the Edinburgh School of Arts where awarding certificates were awarded from 1835 to successful candidates after three years of attendance, that included classes in chemistry, mathematics, and natural philosophy (they read physics during the first year). In addition to these certificates which entitled students to life membership of the School, ‘attestations of proficiency’ were awarded at the end of each annual course of lectures to successful candidates but only after what was referred to as a ‘strict examination’. The awarding of these attestations of proficiency was discontinued in 1850. Only 46 students gained the Diploma of Life Membership by 1850. However the model developed by the Edinburgh School of Arts significantly influenced a number of key individuals such as James Hole and James Booth both of whom greatly contributed to the pioneering of public examinations in England. The School was one of the first institutions to be created after the ground breaking work of John Anderson and George Birkbeck [see biographies] in Glasgow.

The Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (later known as the Royal Society of Arts).

Founded 1754 by William Shipley as the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce has been a major force in the development of technical and commercial education and associated examinations. Equally important has been its role in supporting the development of technical and commercial education throughout its entire existence. The Society played a significant role in supporting the Mechanics’ Institutions movement and was the major force in organising the Great Exhibition which has already been acknowledged in the history of technical education. I intend in this chapter to describe and focus on its significant role in creating examinations. However the Society has also made many important and valuable contributions to the world of education and in many other fields it is a truly multi-disciplinary institution. The Society vision of the Society’s founders was about ‘embolding enterprise, enlarging science, extending our commerce, improving our manufactures and refining our arts’ and this was most certainly realised throughout its existence.

The Society has been at the centre of many significant developments in education and the cultural life of the country and in its long and illustrious history founded:

  • The Royal Academy of Arts in 1768 after the first contemporary art exhibition
  • The National Training School for Music in 1876 that became the Royal School of Music.
  • The first public examination system in the country.

The Society was granted a Royal Charter in 1847 and in 1908 given the right to use the term Royal in its title.

However I will focus on the third achievement namely its role creating the first public examinations in the country. As mentioned above it began awarding, following its foundation in 1754, prizes and ‘premiums’ (money) for meritorious discoveries and inventions. For example premiums were awarded for the invention of new forms of agricultural machinery. It is important at this point to explain the contributions made the Mechanics’ Institutions in association with the Society which increasingly highlighted the need for some form of assessment and examination system.

The Role of the Mechanics’ Institutions.

A small number of the Mechanics’ Institutions had introduced similar awards to those of the Society of Arts, namely premiums and prizes at an earlier stage of their existence for example in Glasgow and Newcastle, but these were not particularly successful. It showed though, that the institutions understood the importance of recognising achievement. The influence that the Mechanics’ Institutions had between 1824 and the 1850s of the development of examinations cannot be underestimated as they helped to lay the foundations to the examination systems developed later by the Society of Arts and the local examinations created by Cambridge and Oxford Universities and the Department of Science and Art. As always key individuals appeared on the scene and triggered debate that ultimately, in spite of some opposition, lead to positive development. One such individual was James Hole who in 1853 proposed amongst other ideas a really original and imaginative scheme that could have greatly advanced the cause of technical education and the related examination system .The proposal was that the Mechanics’ Institutions and other technical institutions in existence at the time should become constituent colleges of a new proposed industrial university obviously building on the work of the Union of Institutions. This radical proposal sadly did not materialise although some of his ideas did come to fruition as we shall see later. (Comment – one can only imagine the positive consequences of such an ambitious suggestion if it had been implemented at that time!)

James Hole was also a major advocate along with James Booth [see biography] and Henry Chester for the general system of examinations. Hole had been greatly influenced by the Edinburgh School of Art scheme and in 1853 wrote a seminal essay on Mechanics’ Institutions (1) that won a Society of Arts prize. In his essay James Hole argued strongly for examinations in the Mechanics Institutions and wrote  ‘to put the educational machinery of our institutes on a proper footing, a system of examinations and certificates must be established.’
Little is known of James Hole but he is now seen as an important figure in the development of examinations and influential in raising the profile of the Mechanics’ Institutions even though he was critical of some of the aspects of their management. The Society of Arts had organised a series of conferences and it was following one in 1852 involving the Mechanics’ Institutions which were under the umbrella of the Union of Institutions, that Hole wrote his essay. The Union of Institutions movement had been developing since the 1830s and most certainly contributed to strengthening the profile of the Mechanics’ Institution movement and subsequently became a force in supporting people like Hole and Booth to introduce an examination system. Initially the Unions had provided itinerant specialist teachers who had attempted to compensate for shortages of specialist instructors and tutors. They were set up on a regional basis. The Unions were more successful in the north than the south of the country and the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes, created in 1839, was an example of a union that developed an examination scheme. Hole was the secretary of the Yorkshire Union and he had proposed in his essay a nationwide Union of Institutions which finally came to fruition in 1856 when the Society of Arts and the London Union of Institutions established a system of examinations. Other Unions served the Midlands, Northern Counties whilst others represented the larger single authorities such as the West Riding and Kent. I will refer to the achievements of these Unions and other organisations that evolved from them later in this history. It was the association and collaboration between these early Unions and the Society of Arts that eventually brought about the wider introduction of examinations and their ultimate national adoption.

The subject titles and the success of the examinations following their introduction by the Union of Institutes and the Society of Arts, (see later under Society of Arts), reflected the social changes that were occurring during the period when the Mechanics’ Institutions were at their peak. Increasingly successful students entered clerical professions e.g. clerkships, and in 1861 the dockyards voiced concern that they wanted more technically qualified people. Analysis of the subject results highlights the very high proportion of clerks obtaining book-keeping qualifications with fewer taking technical subjects and the students were not from the working classes. This middle class disinclination highlights how little impact scientific and technology knowledge had made on the population as a whole in spite of the fact that science and technical examinations were the first ones to be introduced.

The following few figures demonstrate the decline in the sciences. For example at Leeds Mechanics’ Institution, although it increased its membership by nearly tenfold, the average class size in mathematics fell from 36 to 24 and in chemistry from 19 to 13 between 1839 and 1852. At the Manchester Institution classes in the physical sciences fell from 235 in 1835-9 to 127 in 1840-4. This indifference to science was also reflected in enrolments for the technical subjects and this continued to impact on subsequent enrolments in these subjects as the examination systems developed after 1850s. However the numbers did fluctuate and in some years before 1870 the proportion taking book-keeping decreased and science subjects increased.
(Comment – This trend reflects that social class issues are in play again namely middle classes associated business/clerical occupations as evidence to rising social class status plus they had basic education. Manual working classes have in interest but did not possess the foundations of literacy and numeracy).

This recurring recruitment difficulty experienced by the Mechanics’ Institutions was largely caused by the lack of a universal system of elementary and secondary education and therefore the manual workers who attended the Institutions lacked the very basic literacy and numeracy skills and most certainly any background knowledge of science and technology that they needed. Typical subjects taught included: applied mechanics, building, chemistry, electricity, heat, optics, magnetism, mathematics (applied and pure) and metallurgy. Knowledge of these subjects was clearly important for a more effective workforce in the emerging chemical, electrical, foundry, shipbuilding industries. As one can imagine the lack of adequate basic education had a negative impact on the choices individuals made and on what classes were offered by Mechanics’ Institutes and other institutions largely aimed at manual working class men.

College of Preceptors

Although not directly involved in technical and commercial examination the College of Preceptors merits a mention. The College initially called the Society of Teachers was created by an association of private school teachers in 1846. In 1849 it was incorporated by Royal Charter as the College of Preceptors. The College had the following rather long winded and manifestly elitist set of aims that were enshrined in its 1849 Royal Charter:
‘Promoting sound learning and of advancing the interests of education, more especially among the middle classes, by affording faculties to the teacher for acquiring of a sound knowledge of his profession, and by providing for the periodical session of a competent body of examiners to ascertain and grant certificates of the acquirements and fitness for their office of persons engaged or desiring to be engaged in the education of youth, particularly in the private schools of England and Wales.’

The College had set itself the very ambitious objective of creating a professional standard of qualification that would be administrated by the teachers themselves. It pioneered formal examinations and qualifications for teachers, awarding grades at Associateship (corresponding to matriculation), Licentiateship (pass degree) and Fellowship (honours degree) levels. The College attempted to raise interest among schoolteachers in more effective ways of teaching in grammar and other middle-class schools. This purpose was mainly achieved through their examinations which started in 1853, initially for teachers and later around 1854 for pupils. These examinations attempted to provide parents and teachers with a means of comparing standards. Very few teachers took the examinations but from around the early 1850s the College expanded into examinations for pupils. Its activities were focussed on private schooling and remained relative small when compared with other examination bodies resulting from its rather narrow and niche market. One of the initial problems that the College experienced was that it became clear that parents were unhappy with the policy of teachers assessing themselves as the policy was in 1853. However once the Preliminary Local Examinations of Oxford and Cambridge became established numbers of candidates declined as they opted to take these examinations instead. The college then suffered another set back when the Board of Education refused to recognise the value of its qualifications as it had for the existing universities. Later the same fate occurred in1910 when the Secondary School Examinations Council deprived the College of official recognition for its examinations. The reason for this refusal was that the College was predominately involved with private rather than the state-aided secondary school pupils.

However the College played a pioneering role in getting the study of education as a subject adopted in the universities. Later in 1873 the College began courses of lectures for teachers that led to the awarding of diplomas. Table 1 illustrates how the College developed during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Table 1. Number of Candidates Entering the College of Preceptors between 1860 and 1903.

Date Number of candidates entered
1860 821
1863 1,000
1870 1571
1880 11,208
1890 16,269
1893 17,000
1902 9,612

The College continues today and provides in-service qualifications for teachers and changed its name to College of Teachers in 1998.

Society of Arts/Royal Society of Arts (SA/RSA).

I shall now return to the crucial role played by the Society of Arts in developing public examinations. As interest developed in the early 1850s in technical education the Society began to work closely with the Mechanics Institutions and to improve communication and coordination with the emerging network of technical institutions created by the Union of Institutions. As mentioned already the Unions grew out of the ideas of three farseeing individuals namely Harry Chester (Chairman of the Society of Arts), James Booth [see biography] and James Hole (Secretary of the Yorkshire Union). Henry Chester advocated a national union of Mechanics Institutions to administrate examinations staged and examined by the Society of Arts. Following a conference staged in 1851 when 220 institutions became affiliated to a total of 90,000 individuals signed up. As a result of recommendations from various conferences staged in 1851 and 1853 and proposals made by such individuals as Booth, Chester and Hole the Society of Arts began to plan and organise a comprehensive examination system for science with approximately 400 institutes. It was Henry (Harry) Chester who took the initiative in 1853, just two years after the creation of the Union to propose to the Council of the Society that they consider the creation of ‘class examinations’ which the Council agreed and in the following year outlined the scheme for the Society to offer examinations. The creation and the affiliation of the Unions acted as a catalyst for that development. The Society as I have mentioned was greatly influenced and supported by the Unions and this eventually brought about the development of the Society’s examination system in 1854. The examinations were primarily for the benefit of the working classes.

The first examination was held in 1855 and proved a disaster with only one candidate namely a chimney sweep! As a result the examinations were cancelled and the Society appointed James Booth [see biography] to assume responsibility for the management of subsequent examinations. James Booth was an active writer on educational and mathematical topics with a particular interest in adult education. Interestingly Booth voiced concern that the poorer social classes could be at an advantage in their education over the middle-classes as a result of the growing influence and impact of the Mechanic Institutes movement! A classic example of social class intervening in developments namely the fear by the middle classes that the workers might gain superior knowledge and skills in technical subjects! However he was a very strong advocate for a formal system of examinations as a way of improving elementary, secondary and adult education. He wrote the first authoritative pamphlet ever published in England on examinations. Through his writings James Booth was already known as a supporter of examination. He had been greatly influenced by the system of examinations established at Trinity College, Dublin as a mathematics graduate himself from Trinity and recognised the innovative work at the Edinburgh School of Arts and as a result was an ideal candidate for the post with the Society. Following his appointment Booth completely rewrote the schemes for the examinations, part of which, interestingly, in their early stage of development included an interview –see table below. The 1856 examinations attracted 52 candidates and a wide range of papers were prepared on such subjects as: agriculture, book-keeping, chemistry, English, free-hand drawing, mechanics and a number of foreign languages. The candidates had to take at least two subjects as well as preliminary and qualifying examinations in handwriting, spelling and free-hand drawing. In spite of small numbers and the cost to the candidates having to attend the interview the 1856 examinations were deemed a success and the Society then considered extending the examinations to other parts of the country.
Table (2) shows the timetable for the 1856 examination papers.

Table 2. The Examination Timetable for 1856.

Time Tuesday 10th (June) Wednesday 11th Thursday12th Friday 13th
10am to 1pm Registration of candidates* Mathematics
English History Viva voce exam (interview) Mathematics
Viva Voce
2pm to 5 pm Preliminary examinations for all candidates** Geography
English Literature
Viva voce in history
Viva voce
7 pm to 10 pm Mathematics
Mechanics Roman History Latin French

Attendance at the registration* was compulsory where all the candidates received their card of Admission. Otherwise students could not sit the examination. The preliminary paper** was compulsory. Obviously Friday was not an ideal day for any superstitious students!

Following another conference of the Union of Institutions the Council agreed to establish four centres from 1857 but eventually only two were created one in London and the other in Huddersfield (see Walker for a fascinating account of the examinations at the Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institution (2)). After the 1857 examinations it was decided to establish a permanent system and gradually the examinations gained greater popularity and the number of candidates increased. This growth brought about greater credibility and confidence in examinations and created the solid foundations for a national system that developed later with other awarding bodies being established to extend the range and level of subjects examined.

The Union of Institutions disappeared in 1882 when the examinations were extended to cover all other providers of technical and commercial education/instruction and not just limited to a number of affiliated institutes. The technological examinations developed by the Society were eventually transferred to the newly created City and Guilds of London Institute in 1879 [see chapter 3]. The establishment of the first public examinations, (the locals), staged by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge were also strongly influenced by the examination system created by the Society of Arts. The Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations started examinations in 1857 and the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate in 1858. The history of the Local Examination can be found in an excellent article by Watts (3). The Society of Arts therefore played a pivotal role in the development of a national system for examinations including significant contributions to commercial and secretarial subjects and for adult learners. In the early part of the 20th century the Society introduced three stages to their awards namely elementary, intermediate and advanced. In addition to these three stages or grades the Society introduced grouped certificates (see later and the history of technical and commercial education). These changes brought very positive results with the number of candidate increasing rapidly i.e. from 8,797 in 1901 to 100,000 in 1929.

Over most of its history the Society has been concerned mainly with commercial subjects and office skills at craft level but like the CGLI now examines over a wide range of subjects and levels. These now include such vocational areas as administration, clerical, distribution and information handling, reception and road transport. The RSA also offered single-subject awards in business, commercial and modern languages at Stages 1, 2 and 3. The examinations board of the RSA was merged with the Oxford and Cambridge Examinations to form Oxford, Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts (OCR) in 1997. OCR became one of the main three unitary awarding bodies namely AQA, Edexcel and of course the OCR.

Royal College of Chemistry

Britain lagged behind a number of continental countries in science and technology and practically no centres for fundamental research existed but the Royal College of Chemistry was an isolated exception. Founded in 1845 by a group headed by the Prince Consort the first Director was A Hofmann one of the most eminent chemists in Germany. Its aim was to apply chemistry to the arts and manufactures. The College provided programmes in applied science and although the number of entries was small graduates, published a number of important research papers and entered such occupations shown in table 3:

Table 3. Subsequent Occupations of Graduates of Royal College of Chemistry.


Brewing Chemical
Government India
Civil Service)
Iron/Mining Pharmacy Teachers
27 106 18 29 25 38 38

Initially the majority of examinations were set externally by awarding bodies and were invariably in an unseen written format. In spite of Hofmann’s reputation and brilliance the College experienced financial difficulties and eventually in 1853 in was amalgamated with the School of Mines. In fact it became the chemistry department of the School of Mines. Hofmann assumed the chair formerly held by Lyon Playfair and whilst in England (1845-1863) Hofmann laid the foundations of chemistry/chemical education in England. The College eventually became part of Imperial College but represents an important element in the development of science, science education and a number of aspects in the creation of the chemical industry in the country.

Chapter 3 will continue to describe the developments of the examination system up to the end of the 19th century. Topics covered will include the role played by the Science and Art Department, the founding of the City and Guild Institute of London, the developing provision for women and a range of other relevant initiatives throughout the century.


  1. Hole. J. ‘An Essay on the History and Management of Literary, Scientific and Mechanics’ Institutions.’ Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. 1853.
  2. Walker. M. A. ‘Examinations for the ‘underprivileged’ in Victoria times; the Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institution and the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.’ William Shipley Group. 2008.
  3. Watts. A. ‘Independent examination boards and the start of a national assessment system.’ Cambridge Assessment Network. Research Matters. Issue 5. January 2008.

Other Useful References:
Foden. F. ‘The Examiner. James Booth and the origins of common examinations. ’ Leeds Studies in Adult and Continuing Education. ISBN 0 907644 06 6. 1989.
Hudson. J. W. ‘The History of Adult Education.’ Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans. 1851.

A more comprehensive book list is provided on this website along with a comprehensive chronology and glossary for technical and commercial examinations which hopefully will be helpful to readers.

  • The biographies and pen portraits are presented in Appendix 4.