Government, Markets, and Vocational Qualifications: An Anatomy of Policy

Government, Markets, and Vocational Qualifications: An Anatomy of Policy

Government, Markets, and Vocational Qualifications: An Anatomy of Policy

Government, Markets, and Vocational Qualifications: An Anatomy of Policy


During the 1980s and 1990s the elaboration of a reformed system of vocational qualifications was perhaps the most controversial of all the governments efforts to improve the provision of vocational education and training. Based largely on interviews with nearly one hundred individuals who were closely involved with these reforms, this book provides the first, in-depth account of the origins, development and implementation of NVQ and GNVQ policies.

In accounting for the progress of vocational qualifications policy three main areas are covered by the book. Firstly the authors look at the origins of the reformed system, then examine the initial implementation of the NVQ and GNVQ policies in the late 1980s and early 1990s and identify the considerable problems that accompanied the reform process. Thirdly, the book focuses on the ways in which the reformed policy was sustained during the 1990s.


It [the NVQ policy] looked and, if you’ll allow me to say so, was credible. Any government of the day, indeed all of us, might have adopted that. We might have tinkered a bit at the edges, but it’s the implementation of it afterwards that’s led to…difficulties.

(senior Manpower Services Commission official)

There has been a considerable amount of interest in recent years in the extent to which the economic performance of nation states can be improved by enhancing the skills of their workforces. Increasingly, the quality of their stock of human resources has been identified as a critical source of improved competitiveness (see Porter, 1990; Reich, 1991), particularly as economic and technological changes are perceived to reduce demand for workers without formal qualifications. The view of a previous United Kingdom (UK) government illustrates a common perception:

Unlocking the potential of individual people by giving them the chance to acquire skills and qualifications will be of greatest importance in the years ahead. It will not only determine success and self-fulfilment for individuals themselves. It will also be essential to sustain a successful national economy in an increasingly competitive world.

(DE, 1992, p. 23)

One of the major ways in which it has sought to boost skills has been through the elaboration of a national system of vocational qualifications comprising National and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (NVQs and SVQs) and General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs). Perhaps the most striking aspect of the new system of vocational qualifications is the way in which their assessment has been founded upon, or related to, the concept of occupational competence, in contrast to traditional approaches in which an examination of knowledge or time served was the main basis of certification. The competence-based approach, which appears to have originated in

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