SOCIAL MOBILITY AND EDUCATION
Tories see it as the Governments Achilles heel
This much we know- there is a direct relationship between doing well in education and doing well in the labour market. So, it follows, that improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged children has to be central to any policy strategy to increase their upward social mobility.
In short, education and schooling in a knowledge based economy is becoming an increasingly significant driver of social mobility. Indeed, success in school up to the age of 16 has long been regarded as a key factor in explaining rates of social mobility. Attainment at age 16 is key to children’s future life chances.
But social mobility for the disadvantaged has not improved over the last few years.
It is this perceived failure to measurably improve educational outcomes over the last twelve years for the most disadvantaged that lies at the heart of Tory attacks on the Government over its education policies .They see this as the Governments Achilles heel.
The Report from the Independent Commission on Social Mobility (Jan 2009) found that Social class remains a key determinant of educational outcomes. The report set out recommendations for improving the opportunities of disadvantaged children and young people across six key areas: child poverty, early years, education, employment, health and communities. Children from more advantaged backgrounds do better, and there is evidence to suggest that policies over recent decades have – however unintentionally – disproportionately benefited the middle classes. Social class, it found, accounts for a large proportion of the gap in educational attainment between higher and lower achievers – a gap evident from early childhood and tending to widen as children get older. In 2007, only 35% of the poorest pupils obtained 5 or more A* to C GCSEs, compared with 63% of their better-off peers. For those eligible for free school meals that figure falls alarmingly to 22%.Today the chances of a child who is eligible for free school meals – roughly the poorest 15% by family income – getting good school qualifications by the age of 16 are less than one-third of those for better-off classmates It is also the case that the better state schools have less disadvantaged pupils. The Sutton Trust conducted research in 2005 that found that the proportion of young people eligible for free school meals at the highest-ranked 200 comprehensive schools was less than 6%, compared with 12% in their local communities and 14% nationally. While more children from poorer families are staying on at school after 16, between 1981 and the late 1990’s the proportion of poorer children getting degrees rose by just 3%, compared to a rise of 26% amongst the children from the wealthiest backgrounds. The Commission made a number of recommendations to address the problem. For example, it could see benefits in providing greater incentives to teachers to take up posts and to remain in the most challenging schools and, rather obviously, saw the need to target additional resources at the most disadvantaged schools. It also recommended boosting vocational education for teenagers.
A second report this year on Social Mobility was from Alan Milburn ‘Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions’. Alan Milburn believes that academic evidence seems to suggest that education is responsible for about half of all inter-generational and social mobility.
The report agreed with the Sutton Trust that while there has been some improvement in educational attainment, much more could be done to target resources on policies and programmes that enable children from all backgrounds to fulfil their academic potential. The problem it found is not a shortage of parental aspiration. It is a shortage of good schools.
The report suggested a range of measures to address this.
Firstly, City academies could be extended in both the primary and secondary sectors, extending out from the most deprived areas to become, over time, universal across the whole country. Secondly, the supply of school places should be opened up to greater competition, particularly in areas of school under-performance. Thirdly, in areas of disadvantage schools could receive additional funding, or each pupil from a disadvantaged background could attract a premium payment to recognise their particular needs. (Both the Tories and Liberal Democrats like this idea of a pupil premium) Fourthly, individual parents in areas where schools are consistently under-performing could be given a new ‘right of redress’ to choose a better school for their child.
Milburn is personally concerned that the shortage of good schools is a major hindrance to social mobility. Choice is one of the levers for change he believes. He is keen to look at both the Charter and Swedish free schools model to help reform the supply side. He also wants to give disadvantaged pupils a voucher or education credit to get access to the best schools .
Millburn’s report though is about much more than just attainment or having more good schools, desirable though both clearly are. The advantages that many children of professionals enjoy include less tangible factors such as contacts, access to internships and social confidence.
The big challenge for state schools is to develop these skills.
Some Academies are already trying to do this. http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/227102/fair-access.pdf