The ability to perform to a specified standard. The introduction of competence‐based vocational qualifications, which was signalled in the 1981 White Paper A New Training Initiative, brought with it a number of changes in the way training and assessment were understood and applied. Where previously gaining a qualification might have been based on time served, or courses attended and examinations passed, it was now based firmly on what the candidate could do; and so the emphasis moved from teaching skills to assessing them. Thus, a candidate for a vocational qualification might be assessed at the point of enrolment, found to be already competent, and awarded their qualification. The introduction in 1986 of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and the national framework of vocational qualifications established competence‐based assessment as the dominant model in vocational education and training. This gave rise to a number of debates, which can be summarized as follows: How does the competent/not competent model of assessment allow for a differentiation to be made between the candidate who is barely competent and the candidate who is very competent indeed? What part do experience and theoretical understanding play, if any, in the competence model? How many times should the candidate be required to demonstrate competence before the assessor can be sure that an assessment of ‘competent’ is reliable?
An occupational, competence‐based qualification is made up of units, each of which contain a number of statements of competence, each with performance criteria defined in terms of standard and range. They describe the skills and knowledge that a candidate must be able to demonstrate in order to be judged competent. The teaching profession has resisted the introduction of competence‐based teacher training programmes, arguing that many of the areas of skills, knowledge, and understanding necessary in an effective teacher cannot be described in terms of observable behaviours and require a developmental rather than instrumental model of learning and assessment. However, the professional standards for teachers in the lifelong learning sector introduced by Lifelong Learning UK in 2007 bear a close resemblance to a competence model.