United Kingdom

Introduction to the VET System in the United Kingdom

In United Kingdom (UK), education is one of the areas in which power is devolved to the governments of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. In England: At the end of June, 2007, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) became the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the BIS (Business, Innovation and Skills) . The mission of BIS is building a dynamic and competitive UK economy by creating the conditions for business success, promoting innovation, enterprise and science, and giving everyone the skills and opportunities to succeed. Furthermore, BIS creates the policy critical to grow the economy, from higher education, skills and science to innovation, enterprise and business.

In Wales: In the Welsh Assembly, the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills is the responsible body most relevant to VET .

In Northern Ireland: the Department for the Economy is responsible for developing and implementing policies relating to further education and training programmes.

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Information on EQAVET indicators Northern Ireland

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In Scotland: The Minister for Education and Young People and the Minister for Enterprise, Transport, and Lifelong Learning are responsible for education and training in Scotland Education and training policy is overseen by the Scottish Executive Education Department (SEED) and the Scottish Executive Enterprise and Lifelong learning Department (SEELLD).

For more information on the context of the VET system in Scotland please click here

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Some of the recent policy highlights are as following: England:

  • In 2007, Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) developed the first Workforce Strategy for the Further Education Sector in England, 2007-2012. This Workforce Strategy is designed to be relevant to colleges and learning providers, employee representative bodies, national agencies and government departments, all of whom have a distinctive role in supporting the development of the sector's workforce;
  • In 2007, the Government launched the “World Class Skills: implementing the Leitch Review of Skills in England”. This plan was the Government’s response to the independent Leitch Review of Skills , and sets out how Government will lead the country into a skills “revolution”. The latest review of the Leitch report, Beyond Leitch: Skills Policy for the Upturn was produced by the Learning and Skills Network and called for reforms to Skills Accounts, greater Train to Gain funding by employers, and further integration of the employment and skills system;
  • To support the further education system in its drive for excellence and help in implementing the government's major reform programme, the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) developed an integrated National Improvement Strategy (NIS) in 2007 and a Progress Report one year after . The Improvement Strategy forms part of a much bigger policy package, covering the “new relationship” for the further education system. At the end of 2008 LSIS began a review of this strategy .
  • In 2010, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) , which is responsible for Further Education (FE) (excluding university education), will cease to exist. This change, in which a funding agency will oversee adult skills whilst funding for 14-19 year olds will be transferred to local authorities, is designed to address the need for local authorities to lead all aspects of learning for this age group.


  • The Welsh Assembly Government updated its lifelong learning strategy in The Learning Country: Vision into Action in 2006. This strategy covers a full range of lifelong learning issues.
  • Skills that Work for Wales: A Skills and Employment Strategy and Action Plan (December 2008) is the response to the Leitch Review of Skills in the UK for Wales.

Northern Ireland:

  • The Northern Ireland Executive and its departments have acknowledged the critical importance of a skills based economy. A number of strategies have been published which focus on building a good quality skills : - Economic Strategy for Northern Ireland (2012); - Skills Strategy, ‘Success through Excellence – Transforming Futures’ (2011); - Innovation Strategy (2014) All of the above concentrate on the growing need for higher level skills, with a focus on the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
  • ‘Securing Our Success’ (2014) - aims to help provide the skills needed to rebalance and rebuild the Northern Ireland economy by the provision of apprenticeships from skills level 3 to skills level 8.
  • ‘Generating Our Success’ (2015), a new youth training strategy for 16-24 year olds focussing on the provision of level 2 training.
  • ‘Further Education Means Success’ (2016) builds upon the previous further education ‘FE Mean Business’ by further promoting the importance of the further education sector to the economic success of Northern Ireland across the full range of activities delivered by the sector.


  • Scotland developed lifelong learning strategies based on different sectors. Four strategic documents are made and available for school/pre-school, post-school education and training, enterprise and workforce development, and social inclusion .


School is compulsory for pupils between the ages of 5 to 16 (4 to 16 in Northern Ireland). All publicly funded schools must provide the National Curriculum. There are various initiatives which allow young people below 16 to sample vocational education . At age 16 most pupils sit for public examination. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the exam is the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) in Scotland it is the Standard Grade. From 16 a classroom-based education (in secondary schools and further education colleges) and work-based training is available, sometimes in combination. In this respect, the Young Apprenticeship Programme is relevant in England as it allows pupils to study for vocational qualifications, through a combination of classroom work-based training. Functional Skills are a key element to reforms in this area. The qualifications beyond the age of 16 include the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) in Scotland.


Continuing vocational education and training (CVET) in the UK covers a very wide range. One main purpose of CVET is to provide second chance opportunities for adults to gain initial vocational qualifications or to change directions of their careers. Adults can gain qualifications either through courses aimed specifically at adults and in courses which are open to young people. The main focus in relation to CVET, however, is to up-skill the existing workforce, as part of a recognition that the skills levels of today’s workers must be raised if the economies across the UK are to develop effectively.

CVET is provided through three main categories:

  • In the publicly-promoted CVET category, different social partners contribute at national, regional, local, and institutional levels. Employers may have a more direct involvement with local CVET providers by sending employees on courses or by commissioning and paying for a tailor made course;
  • In the training for unemployed people and others vulnerable to exclusion, a number of programmes are in place across the UK;
  • In the private enterprise initiative or training promoted by social partners CVET category, there is no formalised administrative framework or general mechanism for accreditation or validation , although many employers use publicly regulated qualifications to ensure that current occupational standards are at the core of the training, that the training is quality assured through the awarding body’s procedures, and that the learner achieves recognition for their achievements that is not lost when they move jobs.

Again there are differences between the countries in terms of delivery and programmes. One example provided here is the programme “Train to Gain” in England set up order to improve the efficiency of the “market” in education and training a new structure is being put in place to improve information and advice for employers and individuals. The service aims to encourage all employers to realise the benefits that learning and skills can bring whilst recognising that different sized businesses or businesses from different sectors face different challenges. The service therefore recognises this and is tailored to meet these needs. For example, those employers with 5,000 or more employees will receive advice from a specific service that advises national employers- the National Employer Service. A brokerage service, “Train to Gain”, has recently been created to assist employers to identify and source appropriate training to meet their particular business needs (and to subsidise such training when it meets broader Government priorities). Train to Gain is to be accompanied with a Learner Account programme, to give individuals greater choice and control over their own learning.

Quality Assurance

Due to the devolution of responsibility in the UK, the area of quality assurance In the UK, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) was created in June 2007, replacing the formal Department of Education and Skills. DCSF’s role can be described as “leading the whole network of people who work with or for children and young people”. DCSF wants to “do more to ensure that every child gets a world-class education”. With these descriptions, it is reasonable to assume DCSF is the main governmental body for the quality assurance of VET system in England . Other bodies are also relevant for example, as of October 2008 the Centre for Excellence in Leadership (CEL) and the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) in England became the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), a sector lead organization and combines the role and activities of the two previous organizations including programmes and services designed to raise the quality of education and training in the learning and skills sector at further education level. In the context of quality assurance the Framework for Excellence: Raising Standards and Informing Choice has been developed to emphasize the importance of further education. This framework was developed in 2007. Some aspects are to be tested as pilots until 2009. In this framework, several indicators are used to produce overall performance ratings . A testing of the Case for Contextualization within the Framework for Excellence found for 2009, that there are changes needed in the Qualification Success Rates - QSR (there is an inverse relationship between QSR and some key socio-demographic indicators), in Resource Efficiency (users of Framework outputs will need to be alerted to the strong correlation with QSR, as Resource Efficiency uses QSR's in this formula, as well as strong links between the distribution of grades and provider type, and an inverse link to the proportion of adult learners).

In Wales, the National Council for Education and Training for Wales is responsible for quality assurance . In this context, the Quality and Effectiveness Framework (QEF) for post-16 learning in Wales is relevant . The QEF will use a small number of indicators that will build on those used in provider performance review developed in 2007. It is not possible to detail the whole approach in this document. For further information the reader is referred to the document referenced. The QEF will be implemented using a phased approach During 2009/10 the focus will be on learner outcomes (success in completing and achieving learning activities and programmes) and include pilot measures for responsiveness to learners and employers. In 2010/2011 the pilot measures will be introduce across the sector.

In Northern Ireland, the quality assurance system in the further education and training sectors is set out in Success through Excellence, the quality improvement strategy for these sectors. All publicly-funded courses are subject to inspection, and providers must adhere to the Education and Training Inspectorate’s Improving Quality :Raising Standards guidelines, which include a strong focus on the importance of self-evaluation. The Department for the Economy also supports a range of programmes dedicated to improving quality in the sector which are accountable to the NI Assembly.

In Scotland, “the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is the national body responsible for the design, development, accreditation, verification, quality assurance and certification of vocational education. It works in partnership with practitioners in education and training, industry, commerce and government to develop new qualifications and to manage the portfolio of existing qualifications” .

It is also important to mention the role of Ofqual as the new regulator of qualifications, exams and tests in England . Since the UK consists of four different countries, some other agencies are important to mention in terms of quality assurance process:

  • England: The new Ofsted – the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills – came into being on 1 April 2007 gathering four previously separate inspectorates: the Adult Learning Inspectorate, the Commission for Social Care Inspection, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Court Administration and the Office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools;
  • Wales: Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Education and Training (Estyn) is the responsible body. It provides independent inspection service;
  • Northern Ireland: Education and Training Inspectorate is the responsible body. It provides independent inspection and evaluation services;
  • Scotland: HM Inspectorate of Education is the responsible body. Self-evaluation and inspection are two main processes for quality assurance.

In addition to inspection, the following two sections explain other issues related to quality assurance, both in IVET and CVET in more detail: In IVET, several policies are in place for VET courses, VET providers, benchmarking statistics and good practice:

  • VET courses: Externally awarded qualifications are the ultimate goal for most courses. A final assessment is necessary and this is done by awarding bodies;
  • VET providers: Statistics of VET providers are collected and used for evaluation purpose. Statistics may include retention rates (the percentage of learners who complete their course) and success (learners who achieve the target qualification or other goal as a percentage of those who started);
  • Benchmarking statistics: In addition to statistics collected from VET providers, data for other aspects of VET system are also collected for benchmarking purpose. Some of these data are on learners, courses, achievements, teachers and institutional management and finance;
  • Good practice: Two institutions are mainly responsible for dissemination purposes: in England, in Wales (where it operates as Dysg) and in Northern Ireland, the Department for the Economy’s (DfE) Quality Improvement Team is responsible for the Quality Standards and dissemination of good practice for the most of DEL funded provision but not for the Quality Agenda generally in Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the Scottish Further Education Unit has the function of dissemination.
  • Investors in People: a national quality standard which sets a level of good practice for improving an organisation's performance through its people.

In CVET, there are also several strands existing for quality assurance :

  • VET courses: Similar to the IVET system, externally awarded qualifications are the ultimate goal for these courses;
  • VET providers: Similar data as in IVET are published. CVET providers are required to submit broadly the same data for students as IVET providers are, and retention and success rate data are published in the same way as for IVET;
  • Benchmarking statistics: Extensive data on learners, courses, achievements, teachers and institutional management and finance are collected in order to reflect the quality of VET providers;
  • Evaluation of new initiatives: new initiatives are evaluated by independent agencies. This is important to continue policy developments;
  • Good practice: The institutions mentioned in the IVET categories are also responsible for dissemination.


The attached pdf summarises the situation with regard to the ten indicators created by CQAF in the UK. Due to the devolved status of education and the multitude of organizations involved in the quality assurance process in the four countries, the organizations column has not been filled. There are currently some important new policies regarding quality assurance as described above and further investigation will be necessary with various stakeholder organizations to clarify the exact status of the implementation of the indicators in each country. The column “organizations” points out the name of the entity or entities that are monitoring the indicator. The “Observations” column is used when more description is required: UK Indicators

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