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

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

Henry Brougham

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

Charles Knight

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Future Of Physics

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

The History of Technical and Commercial Examinations –Glossary

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series The History of commercial & Technical Examinations

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

Update July 2017


A Advanced level (GCE).

AA Advanced Apprenticeship

AACE Army Certificate in Education

AACS Adult Advancement and Careers Service

AAD Advanced Apprenticeship Diploma

AAI Association of Art Institutions

AAP Assessment of Achievement Programme

A1 First Year of Advanced Level Study 2000+

A2 Second Year of Advanced Level Study 2000+

AB Awarding Body

ABC Awarding Body Consortium

ABCM Association of British Chemical Manufacturers’ founded in 1916.

ACC Association Chambers of Commerce

ACCA Qualifications Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales 1997+.

ACE Association of Consulting Engineers.

AEA Advanced Extension Awards first examinations in 2002

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

AD Advanced Diploma

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

aMA Accelerated Modern Apprenticeship

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

ALL Advanced Learning Loans

AMA Advanced Modern Apprenticeship

AoN Application of Number

AOs Awarding Organisations

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

APU Assessment of Performance Unit established in 1965

AQA Assessment and Qualifications Alliance

AQAC Accreditation and Quality Assurance Committee

ARC Agriculture Research Council

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

ASC Agricultural Secretaries Certificate (Scotland).

ASDAN Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network

ASE Amalagmated Society of Engineers

ASET Association for Sandwich Education and Training

ASET Accreditation Syndicate for Education and Training

AST Advanced Skills Teacher

ATI Association of Technical Institutions

ATC/D Art Teacher’s Certificate/Diploma

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


BA Bachelor of Arts

BB British Baccalaureate

BEC Business Education Council – 1974-1983

BEC British Employers Federation

BEng Bachelor of Engineering

BERA British Educational Research Association

BERR Department of Business, Education and Regulation/Regulatory

BESE Board of Education Science Examination

BIM British Institute of Management

BIS Business Innovation and Skills

B-IT Business-Implementation Techniques

BJET British Journal of Education Technology

BoE Board of Education (1899-1944)

BS Basic Skills

BSc Bachelor of Science

BSc (Econ) Bachelor of Science (Economics)

BTC British Training and Enterprise Council

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

BVQR Board for Vocational Qualifications Reform


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

CA Credit Accumulation

CAC Central Advisory Council

CACE Central Council For Education

CAC (W) Central Advisory Council (Wales)

CAEL Council for Adult and Experiential Learning

CAI Computer Aided Instruction

CBA Certificate in Business Administration (Scotland).

CC’s Commercial Certificates

CCA Credit Common Accord

CCEA Northern Ireland Council for Curriculum Examinations and Assessment

CCW Curriculum Council for Wales

cea curriculum, examinations and assessment

CEE Certificate of Extended Studies

CEBR Centre for Economics and Business Research

CEF European Common Framework

CEI Council of Engineering Institutions

CELP College Employer Links Project

Cert Ed Certificate of Education

CERI Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

CEng Chartered Engineer

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

CFEs Colleges of Further Education

CFE/T Certificate of FE/Teaching

CfL Campaign for Learning

CGLI City and Guilds of London Institute

CI Central Institutions

CIE University of Cambridge International Examinations

CIF Common Inspection Framework

CIS Chartered Institute of Secretaries

CITB Construction Industry Training Board

CMS Certificate of Management Studies

CNAA Council for National Academic Awards 1964/5 – 1992

COAD Centre for Optimal Adult Development

CoID Council of Industrial Design

CoP/CP College of Preceptors

COS Certificate of Office Studies

CoT College of Technology

CPhy Chartered Physicist

CPD Continuous Professional Development

CPF City Parochial Foundation

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

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

CREDIS Credit Framework (Wales)

CRMP Certificate in Retail Management Principles

CS Core Skills

C Sci T Chartered Science Teacher

CSA Council for the RSA

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

CSYS Certificate of Sixth Year Studies

CT Credit Transfer

CTC Central Training Council

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

C2k Curriculum 2000.

CUC Coal Utilisation Council.

CULE Cambridge University Local Examinations.

CVU Council of Validating Universities.


DA Diploma in Art

DAB Diploma Awarding Body

DAB Diploma Development Board

DAE Diploma in Advanced Engineering

DAS Diploma Aggregation Service

DAuE Diploma in Automobile Engineering

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

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

DCE Diploma of Continuing Education

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

DENI Department of Education for Northern Ireland

DES Department of Education and Science (1964-1992)

DDPs Diploma Development Partnerships

DfE Department of Education (1992-1995)

DfEE Department of Education and Employment (1995-2001)

DfES Department for Education and Skills (2001-2007)

DFE Department for Education (2010+)

Dip AD Diploma in Art and Design

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

Dip Tech Diploma in Technology

Dip Tech (Eng) Diploma in Technology (Engineering)

DIUS Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

DMS Diploma in Management Studies

DoE Department of Employment

DoE Department of Education

DoPA Department of Practical Art

DoSA Department of Science and Art

DoT Department of Technology

DPSE Diploma in Professional Studies in Education

DSA Department of Science and Art

DTI Department of Trade and Industry

DUB Durham University Board

DVE Diploma of Vocational Education replaced CPVE in 1991

DWP Department of Work and Pensions


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

EA Education Act

EAB Examinations Appeals Board

EAEB East Anglian Examinations Board (CSE)

EAL English as an Additional Language

EARACFE East Anglian Regional Advisory Council for FE

EAV Examining and Validating

EB English Baccalaureate

EB European Baccalaureate

EBC E Bacc Certificate

EBCs English Baccalaureate Certificates

ECDL European Computer Driving Licence

ECITB Engineering Construction Industry Training Board

ECTS European Credit Transfer System

ED Employment Department

ED Education Department

Ed Dep/ED Education Department (1856-1899)

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

EfG Engineering for Growth

EDSU Examination Delivery Support Unit

EIGA Engineering Industry Group Apprenticeships (1953+)

EIS Educational Institute of Scotland

EITB Engineering Industry Training Board

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

EL Entry Level

ELD Entry Level Diploma

ELWa Education and Learning Wales

EMEU East Midlands Educational Union

EMFEC East Midlands FE Council

EMREB East Midlands Region Examinations Board (CSE)

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

EMTA Engineering Marine Training Authority

Eng Tech Engineering Technician

EQF European Qualifications Framework

EQCF European Qualifications and Credit Framework

ERDF European Regional Development Fund

ESB Employer Skills Board

ESIW Essential Skills in the Workplace

E2E Entry to Employment

ET Education Training

ET Education and Training

ETC Elementary Technical Course

ETDU Examinations Techniques Development Unit

EV External Verification/Verifier

EVB Examining and Validating Bodies


FAB Federation of Awarding Bodies from 2001

FBI Federation of British Industries (Now the CBI).

FCEC Federation of Civil Engineers Contractors founded in 1919.

FD Foundation Diploma.

FD Foundation Degree from 2001.

FDA Foundation Degree in Arts.

FDF Foundation Degree Forward.

FDG Foundation Degree Group.

FDS Foundation Degree in Science

FDs Foundation Diplomas

FDTF Foundation Degree Task Force

FE Further Education

FECs FEColleges

FES FE Sector

FES24 FE and Skills 24

FFORWM National Organisation for FE Colleges in Wales

FL Foundation Learning

FLT Foundation Learning Tier

FM Functional Mathematics

FMA Foundation Modern Apprenticeship

FSs Functional Skills

FSMQ Free Standing Mathematics Qualifications

FSMUs Free Standing Mathematics Units

FT Foundation Tier

FTC Full Technological Certificate awarded by CGLI


G General Course

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

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

GA Graduate Apprenticeship

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

GCs Group Certificates

G-CC Grouped-Course Certificate

GCSE General Certificate of Secondary Education

GEC General Education Course

GNVQ General National Vocational Qualification 1991

GRIC Graduateship/Graduate of the Royal Institute of Chemistry

GSVQ General Scottish Vocational Qualification


H Higher grade of the Scottish leaving certificate

HCOS Higher Certificate in Office Studies

HNC/HND Higher National Diploma/Certificate 1921+

HD Higher Diploma

HFE Higher and Further Education

HMIs Her Majesty Inspectors

HSLC Higher School Leaving Certificate

HT Higher Tier

HTB Hairdressing Training Board

HTC Higher technical Certificate

HTD Higher Technical Diploma


IBacc/Int Bacc International Baccalaureate

IBD International Baccalaureate Diploma

IC Intermediate Certificate (CGLI)

ICAAE International Curriculum and Assessment Agency for Examinations

ICAC Intermediate Certificate in Art and Crafts

ICWA Institute of Cost and Works Accountants

ID Intermediate Diploma

IEE Intermediate Engineering Examination

IEng Incorporated Engineer

IEQs International English Qualifications

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

IIS Institute of Industrial Studies

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

ILAs Individual Learning Accounts

ILP Individual Learning Plan

IOM Institute of Office Management

ISM Institute of Supervision and Management

ITB Industrial Training Board

ITC Industrial Training Council

ITOs Industrial Training Organisations

ITQ Information Technology Qualification

IVQs International Vocational Qualifications


JACQA Joint Advisory Committee for Qualifications Approval

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

JBPVE Joint Board for Pre-Vocational Qualifications

JC Joint Committee

JCC Junior Commercial Certificate

JCS Junior Commercial School

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

JCQ Joint Council for Qualifications

JMB Joint Matriculation Board

JTS Joint Technical Scheme

JTS Junior Technical School


KS Key Skills

KSA Key Skills Assessment

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

KSSP Key Skills Support Programme


LA Local Authority

LBs Lead Bodies

LCC London Chamber of Commerce started examinations in 1890

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

LEA Local Education Authority

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

LHCRACTE London and Home Counties Regional Advisory Council for Technological Education

LIBs Lead Industry bodies

LME London Matriculation Examinations

LNE Literacy,Numeracy and ESOL

LPC London Polytechnic Council

LREB London Region Examination Board

LSIS Learning and Improvement Service

LUEs London University Examinations

LUIs London Union of Institutions


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

MAAC Modern Apprenticeship Advisory Committee – 2001+

MaST Mathematics Specialist Teacher

MC Matriculation Certificate

MCT Membership of the College of Technologists taken over by CNAA

MEnt Master of Enterprise

ME/MEng Master of Engineering

MEG Midlands Examining Group (GCSE + CSE examinations)

MLE Main Learning Element

MoE Ministry of Education (1944-1964)

MoL Ministry of Labour

MoT Ministry of Technology

MSc (Eng) Master of Science (Engineering)

MTL Masters in Teaching and Learning

MTech Master of Technology


NAA National Assessment Board

NABCE Non award Bearing Continuing Education

NABTEB National Business and Technical Examination Board

NAC National Apprenticeship Council

NACAE National Advisory Council on Art Education

NACEIC National Advisory Council on Education for Industry and Commerce

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

NAS National Apprentice Scheme

NAW National Assembly of Wales

NBD National Bakery Diploma

NC National Certificate from 1921 Joint Committees replaced by BTEC awards

NC National Curriculum

NC/DA National Certificate/Diploma in Agriculture

NCBS National Certificate in Business Studies

NCC National Curriculum Council 1988-93

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

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

NCF National Curriculum Framework

NCFE Northern Council for FE

NC/DH National Certificate/Diploma in Horticulture

NCITO National Council of Industry Training Organisations

NCS National Certificate Scheme

NCs National Certificates

NCTA National Council for Technological Awards

NCTEC Northern Counties Technical Examinations Council

NCVQ National Council for Vocational Qualifications 1987-97

NCWE National Council for Work Experience

ND New Deal

NDA National Diploma in Agriculture

ND National Diploma from 1921 Joint Committees replaced by BTEC awards

NDD National Diploma in Design

NDS National Diploma Scheme

NEA Northern Examining Association (GCSE + CSE examinations)

NEB National Examination Board (Shorter title for NEBAHAI)

NEBAHAI National Examination Board for Agriculture, Horticulture and Allied Industries

NEBOSH National Examinations Board in Occupational Safety and Health

NEBSM National Examinations Board for Supervisory and Management

NEBSS National Examination Board in Supervisory Studies – established in 1964

NGfL National Grid for Learning

NICCEA Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment

NIG NAFE Implementation Group

NIHEC Northern Ireland HE Council

NISEC Northern Ireland Secondary Examinations Council

NISVQ National Information System for Vocational Qualifications

NNEB Nursery Nurses Examination Board

NOC National Occupational Standards

NOCN National Open College Network

NPS National Preferred Scheme

NPTC National Proficiency Test Council

NQAI National Qualifications Authority of Ireland

NQF National Qualifications Framework

NR National Route

NRA National Record of Achievement 1991+

NRDC National Retail Distribution Certificate

NRCVQ Network of National Resources Centres for Vocational Guidance

NREB Northern Region Examinations Board

NROVA National Record of Vocational Achievement 1988+

NSEAD National Society for Education in Art and Design

NSLC Natural Science Learning Centre

NSTF National Skills task Force established in 1998

NTA National Training Award

NUJMB Northern Universities Joint Matriculation Board

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

NVQs National Vocational Qualifications 1988+

NWREB North West Regional Examinations Board (CSE)


‘O’ Ordinary level

O1, O2 First two years of an ONC course

Ofqual Office of Qualifications

OC Open  College – established in 1987 by the DTI

OD1, OD2 First two years of an OND course

OCR Oxford Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts from 1998

OCEAC Oxford Cambridge Examinations and Assessment Council

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

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

OD Open Diplomas

ODLE Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations

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

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

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

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

Open College Established by the DTI in 1987

Open Tech 1982-87 a relatively short lived project

OT Other Training – other training not leading to NVQ qualifications

OU Open University 1969 first students in 1971

OUDE Oxford University Department of Education


P1, P2 First two years on preliminary course

PCC Preliminary Craft Course (Pre-Craft Certificate)

PCE Professional Certificate in Education

PE Pitman Examinations

PEI Pitman Examination Institute

PGCE Post Graduate Certificate in Education

PIs Performance Indicators

PL Principal Learning

PNC Preliminary National Course (Pre-National Certificate)

POS Programme of Study

PRA Professional Recognition Award

PSC Pre-Senior Course

PST Pre-Senior Course

PST Preliminary Senior Technical Course. (Evening Institute)

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


 QAA Quality Assurance Agency

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

QCDA Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency

QCF Qualifications and Credit Framework

QIA Quality Improvement Agency

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


RAA Royal Academy of Arts

RACs Regional Advisory Councils

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

RCB Regional Curriculum Board

RCT Royal College of Technologists/Technology

RDAs Regional Development Agencies

REBs Regional Examinations Boards/Bodies

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

REUs Regional Examining Unions

RMC Regional Management Centre

RMCA Regional Management Centre Association

RoA Record of Achievement

RoC Rules of Combination

RRQs The Register of Regulated Qualifications

RSA (Royal) Society of Arts founded in 1754

RDA Regional Development Agency

RSPs Regional Skills Partnerships

RtA Route to Achievement

RTJC Retail Trade Junior Certificate

RVQ Review of Vocational Qualifications 1986

RVQs Related Vocational Qualifications

RWE Realistic Working Environments


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

SA Student Apprenticeship

SAD Science and Art Department

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

SAR Self Assessment Report

SASE Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for Employers

SATs Standard Assessment Tests

SC School Certificate

SC Schools Council 1964 replaced  SSEC that was created in 1917

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

SCAGES Standing Conference of Associations for Guidance in Educational Settings

SCC Senior Commercial Certificate (Scotland)

SCCE Scottish Council for Commercial Education – established in 1961

SCCE Schools Council for the Curriculum and Examinations

SCAA Schools’ Curriculum and Assessment Authority

SCDU School Curriculum Development Committee founded in 1984

SCE Scottish Certificate of Education

SCORE Science Community Representing Education

SCOTBEC Scottish Business Education Council

SCOTCATS Scottish Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme

SCOTEC Scottish Technician Education Council

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

SCQF Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework from 2002

SCRAC Standing Conference of Regional Advisory Councils

SCREB Standing Conference of Regional Examination Boards

SCTEB Standing Conference on Technical Examining Bodies

SD Specialised Diplomas

SDC Scottish Diploma in Commerce (Scotland)

SDUK Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge

SE Scottish Executive

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

SEB Scottish Examination Board

SEC Schools Examinations Council founded in 1984

SED Scottish Education Department

SFR Statistical First Release

SEG Southern Examining Group (GCSE + CSE examinations)

SEO Scottish Office

SEREB South East Regional Examinations Board (CSE)

SFA Skills Funding Council

SIAD Society of Industrial Artists and Designers

SL Supplementary Learning

SoA Society of Art

SOC Standard Occupational Classifications

SOED Scottish Office Education Department

SQA Scottish Qualifications Authority from 1997

SQC Scottish Qualifications Certificate

SRCFE Scottish Region Council for FE

SREB Southern Regional Examinations Board (CSE)

SS Skills Strategy

SSA Sector Subject Area

SSA Scottish Survey of Achievement

SSC Senior Secretarial Certificate (Scotland)

SSEC Secondary Schools Examinations Council

STC Short Training Course

SRECC Scottish Technical Education Consultative Council

S-SC Single-Subject Certificates

STF Scottish Training Federation

SUEB Scottish Universities Entrance Board

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

SVQ Scottish Vocational Qualification

SVQRB Scottish Vocational Qualifications Reform Board

SWEB South West Examination Board (CSE)


‘T’ Technician Course

T1, T2 First two years of a technician course

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

TCs Training Credits

TEB Technical Education Board (London)

TEC Technician Education Council

TD Technical Diploma

TGAT Task Group on Assessment and Training established in 1983

TMG Target Minimum Grade

TRADEC Trades Education Courses

TRIST TVEI-Related In-Service Training

TSP Training for Skills Programme

TVEI Technical Vocational Education Initiative from 1983


UABs Unitary Awarding Boards/Bodies

UBS Unit Based System

UCLES University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate

UESEC University Education and Schools Examination Council

UD Unit Database

UDE University Diploma of Education

UDSEB University of Durham School Examination Board – abolished in 1964

UEI Union of Educational Institutions

UF Unified Framework

UFI University for Industry from 2000

UKBVQR UK Board for Vocational Qualifications Reform

ULCI Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutions

ULEAC University of London Examinations and Assessments Council

UODLE University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations

UoD Units of Delivery

UoI Union of Institutions

UQ Unified Qualifications

ULF Union Learning Fund

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


VABs Vocational Awarding Bodies

VASFE Vocational Aspects of Secondary and FE

VCE Vocational Certificates of Education

VCE ‘A’ level Vocational Certificate of Education Advanced level

VET Vocational Education and Training

VGCSEs Vocational GCSEs replaced GNVQs in 2001

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

VQRP Vocational Qualifications Reform Programme

VRQs Vocationally Related Qualifications from 2002


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

WAG Welsh Assembly Government

WB Welsh Baccalaureate

WBA Work Based Assessment/Accreditation

WBA Work Based Assessment

WE Work Experience

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

WMACFE West Midlands Advisory Councils for FE

WMEB West Midlands Examinations Board (CSE)

WO Welsh Office

WRNAFE Work Related Non-Advanced FE

WULF Wales Union Learning Find



YA Young Apprenticeship

YC Youth Credit

YCFE Yorkshire Council for FE

YHAFHE Yorkshire and Humberside Association for Further and Higher Education

YHREB Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Examinations Board (CSE)

YPLA Young People’s Learning Agency

YTS Began in 1983

YUMI Yorkshire Union of Mechanics Institutions


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skills: Practical abilities that underpin performance

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

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

Chapter 17 – Concluding Remarks

This entry is part 17 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.

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

This entry is part 16 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education



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

This entry is part 15 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education

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

This entry is part 14 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education


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 entry is part 13 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education

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

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series The History of commercial & Technical Examinations

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.