The number of vocational qualifications earned by students in the UK has reached a record high of 3.6 million, a new report says.
It was published on the second VQ Day, the annual celebration of results in practical studies, and shows that the total number of such qualifications rose by 11 per cent in 2008, compared to 2007.
It also details how vocational qualifications are growing rapidly outside their core constituency of colleges and training providers, among under- 16s in schools. Here the number doubled for the second year running, up to 322,000.
Andy Powell, chief executive of Edge, a charity that promotes vocational education and which commissioned the report, said: "In the space of just a year, the vocational landscape has changed quite dramatically. Vocational learning is no longer a marginal topic or the option for other people's children. This is a massive step forward."
VQ Day was conceived as a way of publicly recognising the achievements of students on vocational courses, despite the lack of a single results day to compare with those of GCSEs and A-levels.
The national celebration - held on Wednesday - saw the announcement of two "VQ heroes", recognised for their efforts in their studies.
Aaron Collins, from Croydon College in south-west London, was one of the contenders in the London heats. Excluded from school, he was transformed at college, gaining a distinction in a Btec first diploma in art and design. He then became a student representative, taking a qualification in mentoring and volunteering to support young offenders.
John Kerr, operations director for Edge, said: "He is a fantastic example of the progression and opportunities that vocational qualifications can offer, living proof that there are many paths to success, and an inspiration to us all."
The increase in the achievement of vocational qualifications comes partly from more NVQs, including 168,000 through Train to Gain, as well as higher success rates in apprenticeships.
Foundation degrees were up by nearly 30 per cent on the previous year, while there was an 8 per cent rise in other vocational qualifications, including Btecs, City amp; Guilds, and OCR Nationals.
Colleges were the largest providers, successfully teaching 298,000 NVQs or Scottish Vocational Qualifications, as well as 778,000 other vocational qualifications.
Private training providers achieved similar numbers of NVQs and SVQs at 297,000, but just 283,000 other qualifications - fewer than schools for the first time.
Increased take-up of Btec qualifications, which more than doubled in two years, was behind the rise in schools.
NVQs were most likely to be earned by over-25s, who accounted for 57 per cent of the awards.
Train to Gain was having a marked impact on the older workforce, the report said, with a third of learners aged from 36 to 45, and a further third aged over 45.
But the report's authors warned that their statistics on vocational qualifications were not wholly reliable, saying that one database underestimated the numbers because many qualifications were excluded, while another wrongly included many generic courses as vocational.