In 2006, Norway launched a comprehensive curriculum reform called the knowledge promotion reform (Kunnskapsløftet). At the same time, the national authorities also ordered a major research-based evaluation of the reform. The results were recently published.

The reform covered the primary and secondary levels, including upper secondary VET. It aimed to strengthen basic skills, and entailed a shift to outcome-based learning, new distribution of teaching and training hours per subject, new structure of available courses within education programmes, and more autonomy at local level.

The purpose of the evaluation was to assess whether the reform had delivered the intended results. Also, since the evaluators followed implementation of the reform, they had an opportunity to assess the need for adjustments. Based on research findings, the national authorities have implemented several adjustments since the start of the reform.

The evaluation was organised in 10 research projects, three of which were particularly relevant for VET. The projects submitted intermediate reports along the way, and a central question in the debates that followed was whether the reform had managed to boost upper secondary VET. According to a synthesis report of the research that covered VET, there are two major challenges in the Norwegian VET system today:

  • to get students to choose VET;
  •  to get students to complete VET with a formal qualification.

The findings of the evaluation state that the reform has not contributed significantly to increase either recruitment to VET or the participation rate. Although more than half of the students who embark on upper secondary education choose a vocational programme, only a minority complete with a VET qualification. The completion rates for the upper secondary level have for many years been stable. The number of applicants for VET has slightly decreased in recent years. Many students drop out or choose to switch to a third year, which prepares them for entrance to higher education. The findings from the evaluation also state that there are remarkable gender differences in dropouts; boys drop out of VET far more often than girls. The most critical point in completing VET is the transition from school to apprenticeship training. However, provision of apprenticeship placements does not always meet student demand. The system is dependent on enterprises’ willingness to take on apprentices, and some researchers have referred to this as a structural defect.

The Ministry of Education and Research is currently writing a white paper on the knowledge promotion reform. Several measures are expected to be announced in the paper, which will be published in spring 2013.