It is only the instructed and trained overlooker and artisan that can successfully compete against foreign skills’: Nineteenth-century adult technical and vocational education offered by the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics’ Institutes and the foundation of further education curricula

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Walker, Martyn (2012)

Further education colleges in England and Wales have offered governmentrecognised courses and qualifications which receive public funding and have included technical and vocational courses since their foundation in the early twentieth century. Yet developments in such curricula and qualifications are not new and they can be traced back to the first half of the nineteenth century when working-class adult education was first being offered through the then evolving mechanics’ institutes. Historians have argued that nineteenth-century British mechanics’ institutes failed to offer working-class adults education and qualifications, instead providing scientific lectures for the professional classes. The assumption has been that it was not until the early twentieth century that technical schools started to offer what is often referred to today as vocational education and training. This article questions these views, using the annual reports of the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics’ Institutes between the 1830s and 1880s as evidence. The article highlights how several Yorkshire Union mechanics’ institutes, many the forerunners of further education colleges, were responsive to offering curricula and qualifications relevant to British industrialisation and the working classes, a tradition which continues today through post-14 education and training.
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