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EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


Quality at the service of training. A European history

by Camille POIRAUD
Language: EN
Document available also in: FR DE LV

[This article was originally published in French by Thierry Ardouin. It was translated in English by EPALE France].

Quality at the service of training. A European history

The latest issue of the Education Permanente lifelong learning magazine, “L'introuvable qualité en formation” (n°223/2020-2), focuses on quality. The contributions featuring in this issue oscillate between the challenges of the new regulations and the considerations related to the concepts - both abstract and complex - of the quality, efficiency and evaluation of training. We will take this occasion to briefly review the “ages” of training quality in France and Europe.


Quality and training: Quality IN training, quality OF training

We have had the opportunity to present our approach to quality IN training and the quality OF training in the blog articles Quality and training: a systemic approach and Quality and training: an encounter rich in exchanges.

Thus, to focus on the relationship and interactions between quality AND training, we suggest:

Quality IN training to refer to the system as a whole by seeking to identify the different levels, the main actors and the different moments or situations that contribute to the quality of training.

Quality OF training, which we see as the result of the different elements of the system, and the relationship between the end report (purpose and objectives) and means (all resources and techniques).

We state from the outset that quality is a means at the service of training, and that the objective of training is to develop knowledge and skills for the development of individuals (micro level), groups or organisations (meso level) and institutions or territories (macro level) in the respect of human rights.


The quality of training: a French and European history in motion

The role of quality in France and in Europe is intrinsic to the development of training, its purpose and operational objectives.

In France, in his provocatively titled articles “Nous, professionnels de la formation, incompétents inconsciemment" (02/09/2019) and "Certification qualité: nous, professionnels de la formation, incompétents consciemment" (08/10/2019), Frank Savann expertly sums up the four stages of the training quality learning process. He questions professionals on their relationship to quality:

- “From July 1971 to March 2014: unknowingly incompetent professionals (I don't know what I don't know)”

- “From March 2014 to September 2018: knowingly incompetent professionals (I know what I don't know)”

- “From September 2018 to January 2020: consciously competent professionals (I'm developing and I know it shows)”

- “From January 2020 to the next training reform: unknowingly competent professionals (I do it because I know how to do it)”.


In Europe, Gérald Bogard (2001) speaks of the “three ages of training in Europe” and of “quality as a lever”. Bogard discerns “three ages that largely overlap the chronology of the construction of training in Europe”.

The first age covers the Treaty of Rome (1957) and ends in the mid-1980s. In this period, at the start of Europe and up to the 1970s, priority was given to education as a principle that could serve as a reference for national policies. Quality was “an incantation” that did not require a definition.

The second age covers the second half of the 1980s. It “involved the development of an agreement... on the need to professionalise all training" both in terms of the training offered and the trainers. New countries joined the European Community (Greece, 1981; Spain and Portugal, 1986), reaching twelve member states signing the Single European Act, amending the Treaty of Rome and adding a title on economic and social cohesion in the framework of the internal market. Thus, for Bogard, in a context of unemployment and economic hardship, “the concerns for human and cultural development that largely prevailed in the general principles of 1963 give way to objectives more strongly marked by the socio-economic context” (p.39). The quality of training was developed to improve the effectiveness of measures to adapt to structural changes in an effort to share or even transfer “good practices”, and to accompany the public policies of the various counties by means of finalised action programmes such as Petra (1988) to combat youth unemployment, Erasmus for student and teacher mobility, Force (1991) for the development of the skills needed by businesses, or Comett (1986) and Eurotecnet (1987) focusing on new technologies. In the nineties, vocational training was seen as a “key to European competitiveness”.


The third age is that of the nineties, during which the search for good practices was dominant.

(Here we take the liberty of stepping away from the initial structure of the article to reinstate dates from the nineties in the third age initially placed in the second age, the eighties).

In the nineties, vocational training was seen as a “key to European competitiveness”. In 1993, Jacques Delors' White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment set out two avenues for improving skills and employment: “making the training system more labour market oriented and considering the need for lifelong learning” (p.40). In terms of quality, it is then a question of doing “better” and going beyond quantity. With the Maastricht Treaty (1993), education policy was included in the area of shared competence between the Community and the member states (art.126). Vocational training at the European Community level “supports and supplements the actions of the member states" around five objectives:

-adaptation to industrial change through training and vocational retraining

-improving initial training and lifelong learning to facilitate integration

-promoting the mobility of trainers

-stimulating cooperation in training institutions

-developing the exchange of information and experience

In the field of quality, Europe does not impose standardization but “looks for good practices”. This led to the Leonardo programme, aimed at “improving the quality of vocational training systems and measures” but which, according to Bogard, will not succeed in really federating the member states. The white paper Teaching and Learning: Towards the Learning Society (1996) and the Memorandum on Life long learning (2000) reinforced the objective of a knowledge-based society to meet the challenges of the new millennium where training must enable the transformation of work processes and skills. But quality as such was not explicitly mentioned.

To these three ages, we add a fourth age, the 2000s and the “Europe 2020” strategy. The “Europe 2020” strategy, adopted in 2010, is the EU programme for growth and jobs. The European Commission emphasises “smart, sustainable and inclusive growth as a means of overcoming the structural weaknesses of the European economy, improving its competitiveness and productivity and laying the foundations for a sustainable social market economy”. Four main objectives have been set for education and training:

  • Make lifelong learning and mobility a reality
  • Improve the quality and effectiveness of education and training
  • Promote equity, social cohesion and active citizenship
  • Encourage creativity and innovation, including entrepreneurship

All the actions and instruments developed by the EU have been mobilised to support this strategy: the ESF as a financial instrument, the Erasmus+ programme for mobility and cooperation, the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), the European framework for key competences, ECTS and ECVET credits, the Europass portfolio, the Europass and Euroguidance networks, and from 2015 the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (EPALE).

Finally, the report by Broek S., Buiskool Zoetermeer B-J, Quality in the Adult Learning sector (2013), sets out specific recommendations for the development of quality systems and frameworks in Europe at both formal and non-formal levels, including using the EQAVET model (European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for Vocational Education and Training, 2009) as a reference point for adult learning, having a flexible framework that respects the principles of adult education, and extending indicators in adult education (p.XVI).

This brief overview shows that the quality of training must be both structuring and therefore normative, and adapted to each country and field of adult education at the formal and non-formal levels, allowing for the development of the informal sector. Thus, the quality of the training shows the importance of working at different levels: decision-makers, trainers and learners, for it to be engineered so that the means are available for professional and social uses. There must be a balance between compliance with the reference frameworks and the expression of the professionalism of those involved. Thus, the quality of training must give meaning to actions and support those involved.





Ardouin T. (2017), « La qualité et la formation : une rencontre riche d’échanges », (blog Epale, 10/10/2017)

Ardouin T. (2018), Qualité et formation : une approche systémique (blog Epale, 29/03/2018)

Bogard G. (2001), « Les trois âges de l’Europe de la formation : la qualité comme levier »,  Education Permanente, n°147/2001-2, p.35-61. 

Broek S., Buiskool Zoetermeer B-J (2013), Developing the adult learning sector. Quality in the Adult Learning Sector, report EAC, June 25, 2013.

European Commission (2013), « Quality in Adult Learning », report Thematic Working group, 24th October 2013.

Savann F. (2019a), « Les 4 étapes du processus d’apprentissage appliqué au développement de la qualité des formations », blog EPALE/Eramus+ (blog Epale 02/09/2019).

Savann F. (2019b), « Les 4 étapes du processus d’apprentissage appliqué au développement de la qualité des formations », (blog Epale 08/10/2019).




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