Coherence of national education and training systems is increasingly tabled in European policy debates. Leaning on literature about the emergence and consolidation of national education systems, this article explores the rationale for VET reforms in Norway and Spain by scrutinising attempts to strengthen the coherence of their VET systems. Coherence has been sought through the unification of different strands of vocational education; initial, continuing and active labour market policies (what we call ‘horizontal coherence’) and the mainstreaming of VET curricular elements; plus the systematisation of VET practices across educational levels (‘vertical coherence’). While both countries looked for coherence, their motivations, how they operationalised the term and the emphasis of their actions differed substantially. Spain has experienced a move from the three largely unrelated strands into a more unified system; Norway from a fragile VET system to the availability of more VET courses and apprenticeship arrangements at all educational levels.