Is England’s current system of vocational qualifications (VQs) fit for purpose? The conclusion that the Wolf Review of Vocational Education (2011) came to is that, at least in parts, it is not. The Review’s recommendations for reform were accepted in full by the Department for Education (DfE), but little subsequent attention has been given to the long-term implications of this decision.
This Issues paper will argue that policy makers now face two large-scale and strongly inter-related problems. First, the system of VQs has design flaws and weaknesses that mean that learners in England receive a shallower and narrower package of learning than their counterparts in many other parts of the developed world. Second, the labour market has significant structural problems that make it extremely hard for many VQs to generate any significant wage premia or support job progression. The interplay between these two factors, where one helps sustain the other and vice-versa, creates what policy analysts sometimes refer to as a ‘wicked problem’ or a form of systems failure.