Skills beyond school

England should expand provision of postsecondary vocational programmes, says OECD


23/09/2013 - England should expand the provision of postsecondary vocational training in order to meet the changing needs of students and employers, according to a new OECD report.


Skills Beyond School – England says that although England has a large and successful university system offering three year bachelor degrees, too few people are pursuing shorter (one to two years) vocational programmes at the postsecondary level which will give people the skills many employers are now seeking.


Too few young people undertake the kind of short postsecondary programmes that would respond to the need of certain mid-level skills – well under 10 % of the cohort – compared to other OECD countries where sometimes up to one-third of the entire cohort have postsecondary VET qualifications as their highest qualification.


There are also few programmes designed to deepen the professional skills of graduates of vocational programmes and apprentices – programmes which represent a substantial proportion of postsecondary vocational provision in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, for example.


England should rationalise the number of types of vocational qualifications offered by awarding organisations. The current system inhibits employer engagement in the development of qualifications both at national and local level, and causes confusion because of the large number of overlapping qualifications. England should implement a franchise system under which awarding organisations would bid for the right to provide qualifications within specific professional domains.


Other recommendations include:


  • Quality workplace training opportunities should be a substantial and mandatory part of postsecondary VET programmes; local partnerships between employers and Further Education (FE) colleges should be encouraged to support this.
  • Pursuing reform of further education college teacher qualification requirements to ensure a good balance between teaching skills and up-to-date industry experience.


The strategic development of a postsecondary VET system should build on the system’s strengths:


  • A diverse offer of FE colleges, universities and other institutions including private providers, that meet the needs of many different groups of learners;
  • Entrepreneurial and flexible FE colleges, that provide a strong foundation for the development of new programmes;
  • Strong quality assurance mechanisms, including a blend of institutional audits, direct inspections and student destination surveys;
  • Fast-growing Higher apprenticeships, highly valued by employers and students; and
  • A strong base of research expertise and data.


Nigel Whitehead, Group Managing Director Programmes & Support at BAE Systems and Commissioner at the UKCES, says: “We welcome the OECD’s view that vocational qualifications must address skills needs and be clear signals to individuals of what employers value”. 


This review is part of an OECD series, Skills Beyond School, that aims to help countries improve their postsecondary vocational and educational training programmes. It covers issues including funding and governance, matching supply and demand, quality assurance and equity and access. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills funded this work and helped to support and facilitate it.


Full country policy reviews are being conducted in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Kazakhstan, Korea, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (England) and the United States. Shorter exercises leading to an OECD country commentary will be undertaken in Belgium (Flanders), Canada, Iceland, Romania, Spain, Sweden and in Northern Ireland and Scotland in the United Kingdom.


This report will be presented at the first National Conference on Vocational Education and Training (VET) which will take place during The Skills Show on 14 November in Birmingham, - See more at:


For more information, see

For further information about England, journalists are invited to contact Simon Field (, tel. + 33 1 45 24 18 71).


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