Damian Hinds, social mobility and some  key truths

Myths, delusions and truths about social mobility


There was a Westminster Hall debate  last week, led by Tory MP, Damian Hinds, on Social Mobility. Hinds is Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility which has just produced an ‘Interim’  report on Social Mobility.

There is much nonsense talked about social mobility, generally, and evidence produced and cherry picked to   suit particular agendas, with  some of it of pretty dubious quality. Alan Milburn,who advises the government on social mobility, when given the opportunity by the Times recently,  to expound  on the subject, droned on about removing private schools charity status, (it’s a bit of a persistent  bee in his bonnet) as  if this was  a key lever to improve social mobility.  What a wasted opportunity! The think tank Civitas’ report ‘ Social Mobility Delusions’ helps rebalance the facts and arguments.  England is, apparently, more socially mobile than Germany, France and Italy, according to sociologist Peter Saunders, the report’s author and ‘Social mobility is the norm in Britain, not the exception, and it occurs in both directions across the entire range of the occupational class structure’. You may not believe this and think that it is counterintuitive nonsense, but the report encourages one to look a little more carefully at the objective facts and also challenges some of the research being published by the Sutton Trust, which has such an influence on the  current debate.  The Trust is the nearest thing we have to motherhood and apple pie  when it comes to matters related to educational disadvantage and social mobility  so there is no harm in putting their research into the spotlight.(It was Anthony Sampsons ‘Anatomy of Britain’  in the 1960s which first raised   issues about the privileged  public school elite running the country)

The All -party Groups Interim report seems to make quite a lot of sense. Usefully, Hinds reiterated in the  Westminster Hall debate the  seven basic truths they identified  about social mobility.

‘First, the point of greatest leverage is what happens between the ages of 0 and 3, right at the start of life. That means primarily at home. Secondly, the cycle may be broken through education. Thirdly, the single most important controllable factor in education is the quality of teachers and teaching. Fourthly, what happens not just at school, but after the school bell rings—in the evenings and at weekends and in the holidays—is relevant. Fifthly, university is the most important swing factor of achievements later in life. Pre-18 attainment dictates whether someone gets there, so pre-18 attainment is key. Sixthly, people should not give up, because it is possible to get back on the ladder and to go up it. Later pathways to mobility are possible as long as the will and the support are there. Seventhly, personal resilience and emotional well-being are the missing link in the chain, and permeate those different levels and life stages.’



Note- Conor Ryan who was an adviser to David Blunkett  has just joined the Sutton Trust



  1. Hence Ovid’s sententious: summa petit livor…envy aims very high. Which, if they had had a decent education, some of the voices you refer to Patrick might know… and hence avoid.

  2. It sounds like social mobility is seen by many as a game of snakes and ladders. Maybe another way of looking at success in life is the achievement of the aims and aspirations that enable us to be in our element, as Ken Robinson would say. Which may or may not involve going to university, which of course not everyone can do and not everyone wants to do. Those seven points are well and good, but it’s not true to say “Pre-18 attainment dictates whether someone gets [to university]”. Cleary there are thousands of individuals who only become motivated to work hard at examinations after the age of 18, and who then go on to higher education. Motivation is a key factor throughout life, and this isn’t really mentioned here.

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