Critical commentaries on the system of vocational education in England that have been followed by reforms can be traced back to the late nineteenth century. However, since the end of the Second World War and especially since the early 1980s, both criticisms and proposals for reform have recurred with ever increasing frequency. At the same time, the focus of reforms has varied widely from institutions and curricula to, more recently, national agencies and qualifications. Where responsibility for failure is placed has also varied. In the 1980s, governments blamed trade unions, who were seen as blocking changes that appeared to weaken their bargaining power (Raggatt and Williams 1999); at the same time they also criticized the further education colleges for their ignorance of industrial realities and their academic conservatism. Social scientists, on the other hand, have tended to blame employers for weaknesses in the provision of vocational education and training (VET). Too many, they argue, take a short-term view of the costs and benefits of training. However, they have also located the weaknesses of our system of VET in its wider social and political context (e.g. Finegold and Soskice 1988). Some point to the anti-industrial and elitist culture that has pervaded English governing classes and its tendency to value knowledge as a mark of status rather than as an instrument of economic transformation (Weiner 1981). Others have highlighted the peculiarly voluntarist role of the state that emerged in England in the nineteenth century (Green 1990) and is reflected in the continued reluctance of governments of both Left and Right to extend either the legal obligations on employers to guarantee training or the range of occupations that require some form of ‘licence to practise’.