From education to employment

What Works? Improving social mobility through educational partnership

Dr Mohammed Jakhara, Acting Head of The Institute of Education at the University of Derby

As the Office for Students announces today (28 Feb) a new ‘What Works’ centre to help universities analyse evidence on the impact of different approaches to widening access and improving outcomes and progression for disadvantaged students, Dr Mohammed Jakhara at the University of Derby explains how working with schools to develop outstanding teachers can help promote social mobility, cut equality gaps and ensure children receive the high quality education they deserve:

Britain remains deeply divided

Social mobility is concerned with the movement of people from one socio-economic group to another.

Despite successive British governments introducing a range of policies and measures to improve upward social mobility, data from sources, including the Social Mobility Commission, indicate that Britain remains deeply divided.

Millions of families and individuals, especially women face disadvantage and remain stuck in low paid jobs.

Furthermore, latest statistics from the Social Mobility Barometer suggest that 40% of the 5,000 respondents believed it is now more difficult for those from less advantaged backgrounds to be upwardly mobile in British society today.

Indeed, 46% stated that the social strata you will end up in is mainly determined by who your parents are.

Good quality education is key to supporting social mobility

There is little doubt that those from more affluent backgrounds tend to find it easier to maintain and improve their socio-economic status. In July 2018, Education Secretary Damian Hinds, in his speech to the Resolution Foundation, recognised that parental achievement was a key determinant of young people’s opportunities in life rather than individual talent.

Like his predecessor, Hinds argued good quality education is key to supporting social mobility. It is evident that education providers, including early years, schools, further education and higher education all have an important role to play in supporting those from disadvantaged backgrounds to have an equal chance of success.

However, the notion that access to education alone can serve to address the long-term impact of social and economic disadvantage is open to challenge. Students, their parents, teachers and societal attitudes can all have a significant impact on the outcomes.

Furthermore, the ability and willingness of agencies including schools and universities to work together to ensure children have high aspirations and the tools to succeed are critical.

Universities must collaborate with primary schools to raise the aspirations and expectations of children earlier

Literature is increasingly considering the role that schools and universities can play in supporting social mobility and recognises the need for collaboration. However, there are few examples of meaningful collaborations in practice beyond the provision of outreach.

Outreach by universities to schools and post-16 education providers is essential to raise young people’s awareness of higher education and to support learners with other challenges they may experience including perceptions of cost, fear of moving away from friends and family, and a crisis of confidence. 

Significantly, much of the current outreach activity across the UK tends to be targeted at Key Stages Three and Four, hence is focused on secondary schools.

However, it is apparent from child development theory[1] that children’s attitudes towards education and future aspirations develop at a much earlier age. It is, therefore, essential that universities not only work with secondary schools, but also collaborate with primary schools to raise the aspirations and expectations of children.

The Institute of Education at the University of Derby provides several such examples. In addition to the extensive provision of traditional outreach, the Institute has worked in partnership with primary schools.

This includes arranging learning opportunities for children in Key Stage Two at the University, joint research and publications by school and university staff, as well as working together to support the development of trainees and qualified staff.

Supporting teacher recruitment, training and retention

In recognition that the availability of high quality teachers is essential to supporting positive outcomes for children, the Institute of Education works with an extensive number of schools and other partners to recruit, select, train and retain teachers.

The launch of the new Partners for Progress project by the Institute of Education is a significant development and a further example of meaningful partnership working. The project, supported by the Department for Education, enables the Institute to build on the years of good practice of working with schools to further support teacher recruitment, training and retention.

The intended impact of this is to positively influence outcomes for children and young people. As part of the project, the Institute of Education will work with a select number of primary schools across the Midlands region that have been graded as category three and four by Ofsted.

These schools can face significant challenges and often serve some of the most disadvantaged children. The programme seeks to dispel negative stereotypical views about working in these schools and support the recruitment and selection of trainee teachers with a passion to work with children living in areas of multiple deprivation.

Being part of the programme will allow trainees to access Ofsted-rated Outstanding teacher education at the University of Derby. Partners for Progress will also support the schools by providing continuous professional development for the teachers to develop their careers within the schools.

Addressing broader challenges faced by the schools

At the same time, the programme enables the schools and the University to work together to address some of the broader challenges faced by the schools. This includes access to an independent schools’ improvement officer and specialist SEND advice and training.

The programme will be continually evaluated. Learnings from it will be shared with the Department for Education and the sector to support local and national development.

The launch of the Partners for Progress project coincides with the Department for Education’s new strategy for recruiting and retaining school teachers in state-funded schools.

The University has welcomed the strategy that is based around four key priorities:

  1. School cultures
  2. Early careers
  3. Flexible careers
  4. Attracting new teachers

It is a critical time for tackling social mobility and to ensure we have the best possible teachers in place to support them.

Ensuring children have access to high quality education is one important part of enabling social mobility and improving the long term economic, social and health outcomes for children.

Meaningful partnerships between schools and universities can support this agenda however, it is important that higher education providers collaborate with primary schools as well as secondary schools to raise the aspirations and expectations of children.

The Institute of Education at the University of Derby offers several examples of good practice. The new Partners for Progress project builds on the good practice of the Institute and seeks to work with Ofsted grade three and four schools.

The initiative aims to recruit, retain and develop teachers with a passion for working with children who may experience multiple disadvantages and improve their long term outcomes.

Dr Mohammed Jakhara, Acting Head of The Institute of Education at the University of Derby

[1] Beckett & Taylor, 2016

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