Focusing on vocational learning in the English further education (FE) sector and situating it within its social, political and historical context, this paper provides an overview of English attitudes towards the vocational and its subordinate status in relation to 'academic' education. It outlines the development of FE in England, describing its peculiarly working-class heritage, and discusses how the nature of the sector has changed against the backdrop of increasing global competition and the restructuring of the UK economy since the 1970s. The paper goes on to outline particular forms of vocationalism found in FE in England and considers some of the limitations of 'progressive' vocationalism and of competence based education and training. Following this, there is a discussion of emerging themes for vocational education and training, and the FE sector in particular, under the UK Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government elected in 2010. Continuities and fractures with established practice are considered. The paper concludes by highlighting the social and epistemological limitations of current approaches to vocational education and training in England. Whilst vocational education in England - within the FE sector at least - is once again on the verge of organisational and regulatory reform, there is little prospect that sociocultural attitudes to the vocational will change significantly, despite global transformations impacting on knowledge production and transfer.