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Policy developments

The 2015 PISA results show that the share of young people with low performance in reading, maths and science was above the EU 2020 target of 15%. This share has increased compared to the 2012 PISA survey results, i.e. there were more young people who lack sufficient key competences at age 15 than three years before. There is therefore a need to implement policies that promote acquisition of key competences in upper secondary education, including in VET.

Figure 1.  Share of 15-year-olds with low achievement in reading, maths and science in EU-28

NB: Low achievement means failing level 2 on the PISA scale.
Source: OECD PISA 2012 and 2015.

ReferNet reports on key competences in VET demonstrated that most EU Member States had measures in place promoting key competences in upper secondary VET by 2015, especially mother tongue, foreign languages, maths, and digital and social/civic competences.

Figure 2.          Promoting key competences through upper secondary VET

NB: (*) No data for Greece; (**) partly monitored in some candidate countries.
Source: Cedefop ReferNet (2016). Key competences in vocational education and training reports and ETF data.


Country approaches to promoting key competences varied; they were often linked to education in general. Most common approaches across countries were:

  • introducing key competences in curricula (87% of all cases in Member States);
  • promoting them through national/regional strategies and plans (66%);
  • training VET teachers/trainers (62%).

Adoption of laws and regulations also helped promote key competences and often served as a legal basis for the above approaches. 

Somehow limited national monitoring of key competences in VET prevented confirmation that the objectives of the national policies had been reached, especially those concerning horizontal skills, such as learning to learn, cultural awareness and expression, social and civic competences, and entrepreneurship. Insufficient monitoring limits the knowledge about actual levels of key competences among upper secondary VET learners and whether these had improved in the past few years. However, the objective is not always to improve competence levels; countries also work on expanding the coverage of specific programmes and/or groups.


Reinforced priority until 2020

Ensuring that key competences are adequately integrated in initial VET curricula is one of the aims of the Bruges communiqué (2011), which defined strategic objectives for VET until 2020.

While there was some progress in promoting key competences in 2011-14 (Stronger VET for better lives, Section 2.3.), the successor of the Bruges communiqué, the Riga conclusions (2015), seek more effective opportunities to acquire or develop these competences through VET by 2020 (See medium-term deliverable 4). In fact, further strengthening of key competences in initial and continuing VET is now a major Member State commitment, one of a total five to be achieved,

Following the Member State commitment, the Directors-General for VET (DGVT) stated that aiming to strengthen key competences in VET by 2020 is included in their national priorities. In total, 60% of all Member States rated strengthening key competences in VET as a high or medium priority (Figure 3).

Figure 3.          Strengthening key competences as a DGVT priority for 2016-20

Source: Cedefop

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