What is the Government up to on this?
Both Coalition parties are heavily committed to improving social mobility. David Cameron has said that Social mobility is the main aim of this government’s social policy. Simon Hughes has been appointed access Czar to Higher Education. Alan Milburn is building on the work he undertook in the last government to help advance this agenda. Sir Peter Lampl has easy access to NO 10 . And the Sutton Trust, which he heads, continuously feeds in research to show that social mobility is , well,almost non- existent. Michael Gove rarely misses the opportunity to say his main priority is to improve the opportunities of the most disadvantaged pupils in schools, so they can get the right qualifications for the best universities and the job market. This Government have set out an education reform programme in order to drive up attainment for children, regardless of their background, and to keep pace with the highest-performing systems in the world. Some specific measures to improve social mobility are set out in the Government’s “Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility”. These measures aim to ensure life chances are more equal at critical points such as the early years of development; school readiness at age five; GCSE attainment and the choice of options at 16. Most agree that evidence shows that investment in the early years of a child’s life makes a difference to their future attainment and can affect mobility. The Government has extended the free entitlement to early education to 15 hours per week for all three and four-year-olds, and have committed to extend free early education to all disadvantaged two-year-olds by 2013. Funding for places for disadvantaged two-year-olds will rise from £64 million in the current financial year to £380 million by the end of the spending review period and will mean that around 140,000 two-year-olds will in the future benefit from free places.
Then there is the pupil premium. This aims to provide additional resources to schools to help raise the attainment of pupils from low income families. Total funding for the pupil premium is £625 million in 2011-12, £1.25 billion in 2012-13 and will rise to £2.5 billion a year by 2014-15. It is hoped that schools invest this money wisely. The pupil premium sits alongside a range of reforms that will help to ensure that more pupils achieve higher standards. These include allowing schools greater freedoms and flexibility to use their budgets as they think best, introducing a more rigorous emphasis on phonics in the early years of primary education and reviewing the national curriculum and assessment arrangements. The Government also introduced a new £50 million pupil premium summer school programme which aims to provide two weeks of teaching and activities to help the most disadvantaged pupils make the transition from primary to secondary school. In so doing the Government rather compromised the idea of schools autonomy, suggesting perhaps that it doesn’t necessarily trust schools to use this money wisely.
The Government has also, recently, appeared to concede that disadvantaged pupils really do need access to independent , face to face careers advice early, to help them make the right choices about education, training and employment. It will ensure ,it says ,rather belatedly, that statutory guidance will ensure that schools are expected to give face to face professional advice to disadvantaged and disabled pupils. But, then again, guidance is guidance and, well, it is sometimes simply ignored .