Conservative Governments, from 1979 to 1997

Following the 1979 General Election, the Conservative Party regained power under Margaret Thatcher. In the early period it made two main changes:

New Vocationalism was expanded (Labour had made some small efforts beforehand, but the Conservatives expanded it considerably). This was seen as an effort to reduce the high youth unemployment, which was regarded as one of the causes of the sporadic rioting at the end of the seventies. The Youth Opportunities Programme was the main scheme, offered to 16- to 18-year-olds. It had been introduced in 1978 under the Labour government of James Callaghan, was expanded in 1980 under the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, and ran until 1983 when it was replaced by the Youth Training Scheme.

The Assisted Places Scheme was introduced in 1980, whereby gifted children who could not afford to go to fee-paying schools would be given free places in those schools if they could pass the school's entrance exam.
In 1986, National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) were introduced, in an attempt to revitalise vocational training. Still, by 1990, apprenticeship took up only two-thirds of one percent of total employment.

The Education Reform Act of 1988
The 1988 Education Reform Act made considerable changes to the education system. These changes were aimed at creating a 'market' in education with schools competing with each other for 'customers' (pupils). The theory was that "bad" schools would lose pupils to the "good" schools and either have to improve, reduce in capacity or close.

The reforms included the following:
The National Curriculum was introduced, which made it compulsory for schools to teach certain subjects and syllabuses. Previously the choice of subjects had been up to the school.

National curriculum assessments were introduced at the Key Stages 1 to 4 (ages 7, 11, 14 and 16 respectively) through what were formerly called Standard Assessment Tests (SATS). At Key Stage 4 (age 16), the assessments were made from the GCSE exam.

Formula funding was introduced, which meant that the more children a school could attract to it, the more money the school would receive.

Open Enrollment and choice for parents was brought back, so that parents could choose or influence which school their children went to.

Schools could, if enough of their pupils' parents agreed, opt out of local government control, becoming grant maintained schools and receiving funding direct from central government. The government offered more money than the school would get usually from the local authority as an enticement. This was seen as a political move given that, often, local authorities were not run by the governing Conservative Party whereas central government was.
Religious education was reformed; Chapter 1 of the law required that the majority of collective worship be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character"

Apprenticeship reform
In 1994, the government introduced Modern Apprenticeships (since renamed 'Apprenticeships'), based on frameworks devised by Sector Skills Councils. These frameworks contain a number of separately certified elements:
a knowledge-based element, typically certified through a qualification known as a 'Technical Certificate';
a competence-based element, typically certified through an NVQ; and
Key Skills (literacy and numeracy).

Education Act 1996
Between 1976 and 1997, the minimum school leaving arrangements were:
A child whose sixteenth birthday falls in the period 1 September to 31 January inclusive, may leave compulsory schooling at the end of the Spring term (the following Easter).
A child whose sixteenth birthday falls in the period 1 February to 31 August, may leave on the Friday before the last Monday in May.
Under section 8(4) of the Education Act 1996, a new single school leaving date was set for 1998 and all subsequent years thereafter. This was set as the last Friday in June in the school year which the child reaches the age of 16.
Under section 7 of the Act, it was made an obligation for parents to ensure a full-time education for their children either at school or "otherwise" which formalised the status of home education.