Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance

Qualification Reform and the Decline of Vocational Learning in England

Over the last thirty years the English Government has undertaken a series of policy initiatives intended to improve the initial vocational learning system for 16 and 17 year olds. These initiatives have had two main purposes: to renew the national skills base and so engender higher rates of economic growth and to promote the social inclusion of lower attaining pupils. Achieving the first purpose is typically associated with increasing the proportion of the workforce with Level 3 qualifications, especially those related to intermediate and technical skills, the latter with increasing the participation rate of lower attaining learners in post-compulsory education and training (PCET).

To achieve these outcomes two major types of policy instrument have been used. First the reform of vocational qualifications and frameworks: the introduction of new full-time vocational qualifications such as the General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) and Vocational Certificates of Education (VCE) for use in FE colleges and schools; the successive elaboration of core, then key, skill qualifications; and several reforms of the work-based training frameworks. Second the development of a learning market in which money followed the learner and different types of educational institution (and employers) actively compete for 16 year olds. This market provides the inducement for the entry of new players to provide vocational learning, notably Maintained Schools and Sixth Form Colleges. The question addressed here is the extent to which these policies have been successful in achieving the aims of skill renewal and social inclusion. This is undertaken through the examination of the changing patterns of participation of 16 and 17 year olds in post- compulsory education and training who lack a level 2 qualification. This issues paper focuses on policy for the latter group.

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