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Vocational and Technical Education

A guide to resources in the IOE archive relating to vocational and technical education over the last century.

Collage of three black and white images from the Institute of Education archives


The archive holds a wealth of historical records relating to vocational and technical education over the last century. Look through this guide to find out more.           

A brief history of vocational and technical education

Perhaps the medieval practice of apprenticeships where a child would be trained and educated in a trade by working alongside their employer, are the first examples of vocational education. Although various attempts were made to develop vocational training models, by and large the apprenticeship system continued to be the only form of technical and vocational education until the mid nineteenth century.

Nineteenth century

In 1867 the Schools Enquiry Commission published a report titled Report Relative to Technical Education, which discussed the lack of technical training offered in the UK. The report observed that the provision of technical education throughout other parts of Europe was putting Britain at a disadvantage in relation to manufacturing standards. Countries such as France and Germany had in place systems of education that provided for technical education on a variety of levels from craft to large scale engineering. Added to this was the fact that the industrial workforces were increasingly keen to understand the engineering processes behind the manual work they carried out. In the latter half of the nineteenth century therefore began an extensive dialogue on the nature of technical education, and experimental models in the provision of it.

Various attempts were made to offer technical training in a formal education setting at this point. However, perhaps the most successful examples are found in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In 1875 the City and Guilds of London Institute for the Advancement of Technical Education was founded offering a wide variety of courses and examinations in a range of crafts. In the 1880s Quintin Hogg began setting up polytechnics in London offering training in technical trades for youths and adults. As a result of the 1889 Technical Instruction Act, technical colleges run by local governments came into being. In addition to this, throughout the 1890s practical subjects such as woodwork, cooking, and drawing were introduced at an elementary school level.

Twentieth century

At the start of the twentieth century the Junior Technical Schools (JTSs) were established across England and Wales (1905). The schools were for male and female students and offered two year courses in engineering and building for boys, and commercial training such as typing and book keeping for girls. The Hadow Report (1926) recommended development of "modern‟ schools, and for some time the JTSs were seen as the answer to the problem of the lack of technical vocational education. Their provision was considered extremely valuable in the post-war period of rebuilding the country.

The Education Act of 1944 saw the JTSs renamed as secondary technical schools and the Spens Report (1948) supported technical schools and recommended their conversion to Technical High Schools, also suggesting widening the curriculum in secondary schools to include more vocational aspects. Many LEAs however were not devoted to the idea of developing secondary technical schools and ultimately they never managed to take their place in what was hoped would be a tripartite structure for secondary education.

The Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) pilot hailed as the re-birth of technical education was launched in November 1982. It was run by the Department of Employment rather than Department for Education and Science. The General National Vocational Qualifications were introduced in 1993 and the White Paper on Education 1993 proposed more provision of technical-vocational education particularly in the post-16 category. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 introduced the Labour governments "New deal" VET (vocational education training) initiatives involving SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises).

Twenty-first century

The UK government continues to struggle to find a solution to the issue of vocational education, most recently explored in the World Review of Vocational Education in 2011.


For guidance on how to use our dedicated online catalogue to browse and search archives, manuscripts and records see the archives home page.

Archive collections

Photograph Archive of the Architects and Buildings Branch (1940s - 1990s) (ABB)

The Architects and Building Branch was formed in 1949 by the merger of the Architects Branch and the Buildings and Priority Branch of the then Ministry of Education. This photographic collection contains many visual examples of the provision of specialist workspaces for the teaching of practical subjects such as woodwork and textiles. (RefNo: ABB)

Records of the National Commission on Education (NCE)

The National Commission on Education was established as an independent body set up in July 1991. Its remit was to consider all phases of education and training throughout the whole of the United Kingdom and to identify and examine key issues arising over the next 25 years. The collection, 1991-1995, includes the minutes of the Commission, Research Committee, Working and Steering Groups, written and oral evidence, including audio-tapes, and press cuttings. A number of pamphlets on the subjects of technical and vocational education can be found in this collection. (RefNo: NCE)

Records of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) Bridging Course

The ILEA Bridging Course began as a pre-pilot scheme in 1976 with one college and two associated schools. By 1980, the numbers involved had grown to nine secondary schools and five colleges of further education in seven divisions of the ILEA. The intention of the Course was to bridge the transition from school to working life. It was part-funded by the EEC from 1978-1982. The collection, 1978-1982, includes reports and evaluations, related reports and papers, administrative records, and exhibition material. (RefNo: BR)

Papers of Elsie Victoria Lane

Elsie Lane (nee Leak) was apprenticed to a wigmaker in 1912 and had a long career as a hairdresser, wig-maker and teacher of wig-making, including in her own school in Mile End Road, London. The collection, 1881-1973, comprises personalia, autobiographical notes and correspondence about her life, training, career and views on education and training, 1912-1973. (RefNo: EL)

Records of the Institute of Education (IOE)

The Institute was founded as the London Day Training College (LDTC) in 1902 by the London County Council. In 1932 it became the IOE when it was transferred to the University of London. Material on technical and vocational education in the collection includes the papers of the Working Party on Technical and Further Education (Garnett College), and papers of the Department of International and Comparative Education. The collection also includes papers of the NW Poly which was established to train technical teachers. (RefNo: IE)

Records of the Independent Schools Careers Organisation (ISCO) and predecessors (ISC)

The origins of ISCO may be found in the small Careers Advisory Bureau (CAB), run by the educational agents Messrs. Truman & Knightley from the 1920s onwards. The organisation developed under a number of names, changing to the Public School Employment Bureau (PSEB) in 1939, in May 1950 to the Public Schools Appointment Bureau (PSAB), and was renamed ISCO, the Independent Schools Careers Organisation, in 1972. The collection, 1933-2004, includes the records of the Careers Advisory Bureau (CAB), the Public Schools Employment Bureau (PSEB), and the Independent Schools Careers Organisation (ISCO), 1933-2003, comprising of publications, minutes, annual reports, and reports of meetings. (RefNo: ISC)

Records of the Schools Council for Curriculum and Examinsations (SCC)

The SCC was a non-directive body intended to provide leadership in curriculum, examination and assessment development, 1964-1980. The collection, c1964-1980, includes papers relating to the Technical drawing steering group, the Council of Europe committee for general and technical education Symposium on objectives and methods of educational assessment held in 1971, and papers regarding vocational guidance. (RefNo: SCC)

Papers of Brian Simon

Brian Simon was the professor of education at the University of Leicester. His collection, 1908-2003, includes press cuttings, notes, and papers on vocational and technical education in relation to his book Education and the Social Order 1940-1990 published in 1991. (RefNo: SIM)

Records of the Girls Day School Trust (GDST)

The Girls' Day School Trust is an independently run but centrally supported group of girls' schools initially created in 1872 to advance the education of women. The records, 1843-2006, include various references to vocational and technical education in the context of the Trust and its activities. (RefNo: GDS)

Records of the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT)

The NUWT was a teachers’ union whose main aim was to achieve equal pay for women teachers but was also interested in various subjects related to education. Their records, 1904-1961, include a number of publications relating to technical education. (RefNo: UWT)

Papers of Bernard Holloway

While employed as the Secretary of the Careers and Appointment Service at the University of Manchester, Bernard Holloway observed the careers guidance facilities of academic institutions around the world. He was responsible for the development of 'Manchester Clearing House' vacancy lists and was a driving force in the creation of the Register of Graduate and Employment and Training (ROGET), which later developed into PROSPECTS. His collection, 1955-1995 includes material relating to his work as Secretary of the Manchester University Careers and Appointments Service, and papers relating to later projects including IndEX, a pre-university industrial training scheme, published and unpublished writings on graduate careers. (RefNo: HOL)