Developing learning programmes to enhance the formation of generic skills is an international concern in education and training policy. This paper provides a broad survey of the development of generic skills policy in England from 1975 to 2002, drawing on both the economic and educational literature. It demonstrates that, despite an evident demand for generic skills in the English economy, successive waves of education and training policy intended to stimulate the supply of such skills have failed to deliver the desired results. Such failure is accounted for using a policy instruments and institutions framework. This suggests that the failure of generic skills policy can be attributed to a combination of weak policy design, the interaction of generic skills policy with other market-led reforms of education and training in England, and broader exogenous socio-economic trends. The paper concludes that current initiatives to develop key skills for all 16-19 learners in England are unlikely to succeed without substantial changes in the current education policy environment.
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