Chapter 17 – Concluding Remarks

This entry is part [part not set] of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education

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.

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