The Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) 1983- 1997.

The Technical and Vocational Initiative (TVEI) represented a dramatic departure from the education policy conducted by successive governments in Britain since the Second World War. It tried to address the deficiency in the school curriculum namely the absence of any meaningful vocational content. This particularly was a major concern with the high level of youth unemployment in the 1880s which has heightened the debate about the growing irrelevance school education for many young people who felt the curriculum did not prepare them for work. Employers too had over many years argued that the school curriculum should be more about employability and preparing young people for work. The debate included the need to introduce vocational subjects into the curriculum. The initiative aimed to influence and encourage schools to adopt a more vocationally orientated curriculum through a system of financial and other incentives operated through ‘categorical funding’ (i.e. a funding regime conducted under well-defined guidelines).

Interesting to note that the extra funding was not sought by the government from the two main spending departments namely the DES and DoE and this was at a time when the education and training budgets were experiencing massive cuts! (No doubt the government resorted to their usual creative accounting methods conjuring money from unspecified sources!) The target age range for the initiative was 14 to 18 year olds and so embraced the then emerging national curriculum and GCE ‘A’ levels. The TVEI was very much a broad based curriculum-led development in contrast to the development of GNVQs which was assessment-led.

The guide lines issued in the spring of 1983 provide an insight into how the government wanted the initiative to development namely:

TVEI Policy:
Sponsors: HM Government
Agency: Manpower Services Commission (MSC)
Managers/designers: Local Education Authorities (LEAs)
Users: Teachers/students
Purpose: To explore and test methods of organising, delivering, managing and resourcing replicable programmes of technical/vocational education.

Stated aims:

  • To widen and enrich the curriculum.
  • To prepare students for the world of work.
  • To help students lead a fuller life.
  • To enable students to contribute to the life of the community
  • To enable students to adapt to a changing occupational environment
  • To help students to ‘learn how to learn’.

Agency operational principles:

  • LEAs should be direct line managers, designers and responsible parties of schemes, following centrally devised general criteria with specific design features developed locally.
  • Funding of all extra costs incurred in educating the cohort within a scheme will be met by the agency under strict financial account procedures.
  • Participants and all the involved parties should be consulted during the development of project proposals.
  • The agency will accept a variety of approaches in order to meet the purposes and aims above.

Features of the ‘designated ‘programme: agency guidelines:

Target population:

  • A scheme should include 1,000 students during its life time.
  • Two cohorts of students should complete the course in the 14-18 age range.
  • Participation by students in the scheme should be voluntary.
  • Students should be attracted from the full ability range.
  • Both sexes should be represented.
  • Mixed sex classes should be the norm.
  • Some provision for students with special educational needs should be provided.

Curricular features:

  • Curricular designs should be for four years in the 14-18 age range.
  • Designs should state specific objectives, including attitudinal objectives.
  • Designs should link to subsequent training or vocational opportunities.
  • Designs should include a ‘work experience’ component.
  • Designs should be responsive to local and national shifts in ‘employment opportunities’.
  • Designs should consist of both general and technical/vocational education (i.e. the provision of
  • Courses which lead to students’ acquisition of generic or specific skills with a view to employment).


  • Courses should lead to nationally recognised qualifications.
  • Negotiation of assessment of Performance should take place continuously and on completion, with records of achievement or ‘profiles’ which should express student achievements not readily deducible from formal qualifications.

Management and Staffing:

  • Each LEA scheme should appoint a coordinator.
  • Each participating institution should appoint a coordinator.
  • Local management should be by a ‘support arrangement’, i.e. committee of interested persons.

(Interesting to note the use of the non-mandatory word should!)

At this stage many questions remained unanswered e.g. the precise role of the Local Education Authorities (LEAs), its relationship with the DES, its relationship to the then emerging national curriculum and how schools who did not wish to participate would be dealt with. Many commentators have since argued that the initiative was non-consultative, non-participative and presidential. In many ways it was deliberately provocatively confrontational in by passing so many key groups including the Department of Education and Science (DES). The initiative was seen by many to be driven by ideology and increased the already existing significant tensions between Ministries and their Ministers and the whole landscape at this time was dominated by the tensions between the role and power struggles between the MSC and the DES which were at times articulating contradictory messages about the purpose of education and training. Add to this personality clashes between senior politicians and their advisers and we had an initiative that was sadly doomed.

The then Secretary of State of Education stated the TVEI was just a case of narrow vocationalism and was highly critical of the initiative and its supporters. The initiative most certainly exposed the deep divisions that existed at the time between differing political and indeed ideological beliefs in regard to education and training particularly introducing technical and vocational elements into the school curriculum. These fundamental divisions have plagued British education and training policies for over a century as explained in the history of technical education on this website. A later initiative GNVQ also experienced criticism and ultimately was wound up mainly because of political dogma. Even today debates rage about introducing vocational subjects into the school curriculum e.g. the so-called vocational diplomas.

Personal aside:
I worked on the TVEI in Cornwall and actively supported the LEA and the support committees representing the FE college element within the consortium. It was a very rewarding experience and the initiative developed strong partnerships between the college and the consortium schools and the LEA. Extra courses and resources both in the schools and the college added value to the learning experience of the students and teachers. Specialised accommodation and facilities were created in the participating institutions in such subjects as biotechnology, office/business studies and computer suites and facilities. Staff from participating institutions attended joint in-service sessions that helped to improve their knowledge of teaching technical and vocational subjects. Meetings with other consortia from around the country highlighted good practice and a real commitment to the aims and objectives of the initiative. The initiative promised much both for the county and across the country but because of its politicisation especially at the launch and the uncertainties about long term funding it ultimately failed and represented yet another false dawn dogged by short- termism, inadequate resources and political divisions. In many ways much of the success and examples of good practice remain localised but I would argue that these elements still merit further analysis and evaluation.

Final comments:
TVEI was at its peak between 1983 and 1987 when it most certainly drove the 14-18/19 agenda but from around 1988 its influence waned as the DES reasserted itself and the National Curriculum gained increased momentum. The initiative was increasingly marginalised and eventually ended in 1997. TVEI was ultimately the biggest curriculum development programme ever in British -estimated around £900 million! It most certainly had both strengths and weaknesses which were never really evaluated. Throughout its existence the majority of LEAs were fundamentally against it and the continuing concerns about the role of the MSC and DoE all contributed to its ultimate demise. Also the emerging National Curriculum helped to kill off the initiative. I believe that the lessons learnt from the TVEI development could provide a rich harvest for future projects in 14 to 19 education and training and merit further exploitation.

Dale. R. ‘The TVEI.’ Esland. G. (Ed) ‘Education, Training and Employment.’ Volume 2.The Educational Response. ISBN 0-201-54430-X. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company/OU. 1991.

4 Responses to “The Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) 1983- 1997.”

  1. xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    See also the evaluation carried out by the then Scottish Office in 1997of TVEI

  2. Jason Simmons

    I was one of the students on the TVEI program. Now in my 40’s I look at the technical education that my kids are having regarding technology and it makes me weep. I run a small IT consultancy and had a student for work experience and he did not know the concepts of a bit, or Byte and no concept of Binary.

    But he know powerpoint !

    I’m grateful for this program, and it does seem to be a forgotten initiative and should be revisited. However the schools themselves are struggling to keep their own computing environment alive and stable let alone teach the kids basic concepts.

    It’s a large problem which needs decisive action and approach which was taken in the early 80’s. Most of the announcements and initiatives of late are window dressing to be seen to be doing the right things.

    • Richard Evans

      Hi Jason

      Many thanks for comment. Yes TVEI promised so much and was destroyed by the government and certain so called educationalists. I completely agree with you and the present situation is particularly depressing. I observe it now from outside and get very angry. I still keep fighting by writing and the enhancing the websites and doing voluntary work in other nations.

      Again with many thanks

      Kindest regards

      Dick Evans


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