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Nick Boles: FE policy has been based on 'instincts and prejudice'

Policies on further education have for the past two decades been based more heavily on “instincts or prejudice” rather than evidence, skills minister Nick Boles has said.

Speaking at yesterday's launch of the Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER), Mr Boles said the lack of evidence to inform skills policy was “striking”. This absence had led policymakers to rely more heavily on their own prejudices than they otherwise would, he added.

“It has been striking to me how little evidence we have, in all of the debates, whether it’s about the careers service and what kinds of guidance at what age does actually make a damn bit of difference to what people do and how they perform, or whether it’s about the particular role of the different qualifications,” he said. 

“Politicians will have endless debates about whether there too many young people or too few young people doing [apprenticeships] – do any of us have any evidence?

“I certainly as the minister don’t feel anyone’s told me there’s a definitive answer to any of these questions. In that absence, something that happens anyway happens even more, which is that we all grab our prejudices to put the negative term, or instincts to put the positive term.”

Mr Boles said he hoped that the CVER, based at the London School of Economics, would provide evidence to inform policy.

“Even if I’m no longer the minister for skills, even if I’m no longer in the government in a month’s time, I’m looking forward to learning from the centre the real factual answers to some of those questions, so that future reforms can be more surely rooted in evidence than reforms over the past 20 years, which I suspect relied more on instincts or prejudice,” he said.

The CVER is set to receive £1 million per year from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for the next three years. A spokesman for the centre said it aimed to “generate a step-change in our understanding of the nature, significance and potential contribution of vocational education to individuals and the wider economy.”

Professor Alison Wolf of King's College London, the author of the 2011 Wolf Report on vocational education, will chair of the CVER’s advisory board.

Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive of Association of Colleges, said: “An academic research centre specifically focusing on vocational education and planning to make good use of the big national data sets could make a helpful contribution.

“We are pleased that such a well-respected, world-class institution as LSE will be running it. We very much look forward to helping them understand the environment in which colleges work.” 

Related stories:

Vocational education research centre to be launched – 1 October, 2014

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