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Beyond comparative institutional analysis: a workplace turn in English TVETVocational education analyses often compare national patterns seen to favour industry-based training, state schooling or personal investment in skills acquisition: these are increasingly offered as ‘templates’ to new and established industrial economies. Institutionalist scholarship has correspondingly foregrounded skill formation as key to national policy differences; in particular historical institutionalism has focused on the role of labour market and state actors in negotiating and contesting arrangements for skill formation. Whilst paying relatively little direct attention to educational practice, these approaches provide theoretical tools to understand policy differences and to identify possibilities, limitations and strategies for change. This paper draws on their application in England, where apprenticeship and technical education reforms are periodically represented as relocating skills formation to the point of production on the model of collectivist systems: case study data is examined for evidence of institutional change strategies within emerging educational practices. Whilst the absence of engaged labour market actors renders the adoption of a substantially different model improbable, contestation over knowledge, control and educational roles is nevertheless evident, indicating the deployment of strategies for significant change. Their outcomes will determine the availability of transitions, with a layering of selective opportunities threatening to diminish the opportunities available to others.
‘They get a qualification at the end of it, I think’: incidental workplace learning and technical education in EnglandWorkplace learning is increasingly central to the international lifelong learning agenda but has made limited contributions to full-time vocational education in England during the last 30 years. A more central role is envisaged within the technical education proposed by the 2016 Sainsbury Review and Post-16 Skills Plan, with access to work placements dominating discussion of policy implementation. A multicase study of workplace learning among post-16 students in England on current ‘study programmes’ was mapped to four of the technical routes designated by the Sainsbury Review and Skills Plan, using documentary, observation and interview data. The study drew on theorisation of the workplace as the site of situated or incidental learning, whilst noting that its opportunities are differentially allocated according to organisational or personal differences, in ways that have particular implications for young people on placements. Whilst access to more advanced learning opportunities was secured through planned, collaborative approaches, reliance on incidental learning offered more routinised experiences to students less prepared for autonomous learning. The study indicates that questions of access, knowledge and pedagogy remain to be addressed if plans for ‘technical education’ in England are to provide meaningful learning opportunities and support transitions to fulfilling work.