From education to employment

Main levers for improving social mobility lie within the education system

Baroness Claire Tyler, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility

A cross departmental strategy needs big picture thinking with genuine local understanding

Leading a debate on social mobility in the House of Lords yesterday evening (29 Jan) Baroness Tyler of Enfield asked how they plan to respond to the ten steps to improve social mobility contained in the Sutton Trust’s Mobility Manifesto published in November 2019 and the recommendations of the Social Mobility Commission’s 2019 State of the Nation Report:

My Lords I am delighted to be opening this debate on social mobility and delighted also at the level of interest it has generated amongst Noble Lords whose contributions I am very much looking forward to hearing, most particularly Lord Choudrey’s maiden speeches. I should start by declaring an interest as Co-Chair of the APPG on Social Mobility – it has been a real privilege to have served as an officer of this APPG since 2011.

My Lords a general debate on social mobility is long overdue – to be frank it feels as if there has been a deafening silence on this issue lately. There were scant references to social mobility in the recent Party Election Manifestos, and the little there was, to be brutally honest, was less then positive in places. I feel sure that I am not alone in Your Lordships House in regarding taking action to improve the life chances for all of our citizens – whatever their background or the circumstances of their birth – to be a primary responsibility of any Government.

So how do we get this subject back where it should – high up on the political agenda? Well let’s hope that this debate helps and – as a starting point – I don’t think we could do much better than looking at the both the Sutton Trust’s Mobility Manifesto published in November last year and the Social Mobility Commission’s 2019 State of the Nation report. Both reports contain very important recommendations which must not be lost simply because of all the political machinations we have been living through. Thus, I look forward to hearing how the Government plans to respond to them and to indeed to set out its overall thinking on boosting social mobility.  

A few words first about why I think social mobility is such a pressing issue. I’ll try to go easy on the stats but a little scene setting is required. The stark reality is that it is becoming harder to be socially mobile. A recent study of ONS data “ELITES IN THE UK: PULLING AWAY?” found that only 1 in 8 men born the late 70s to early 80s in professional jobs were highly socially mobile, compared to 1 in 5 in the late 50s.

Let’s look next at the economic case.

  • According to the World Economic Forum’s rankings in their Social Mobility Index, published January 2020 – so hot off the press – The UK ranks 21st out of 82 countries. It is the third lowest ranking of the G7 economies (followed by the United States and Italy). So there is no room for complacency.
  • Low social mobility is estimated to cost the UK many billions a year, not least in terms of low productivity, and it has been estimated that even modest increases in social mobility could increase the UK’s GDP growth by 2-4% a year.

So it matters in terms of economic prosperity as well as in terms of social justice.

It’s also highly instructive to look at public attitudes to social mobility and we are lucky to have the Social Mobility Barometer published earlier this month which found:

  • 77% of people in the UK feel there is a large gap between the social classes. This is unchanged from previous years and suggests people feel the gap is not closing. Similarly, almost half (44%) of people feel that where you end up in British society is mainly determined by your background and who your parents were.
  • Tellingly, more than half of those questioned felt that the Government should be doing more to help the least well off;
  • 76% of people feel there are large differences in opportunity across the country in 2019 with the greatest difference between London and the North East;
  • And this is re-enforced by recent polling commissioned by the Sutton Trust which shows that people have become considerably more pessimistic about opportunities to be successful in life, with just 35% of respondents agreeing that people had equal opportunities to get ahead.

In short, my Lords, this stuff really matters so what do we need to do?

The Social Mobility Commission 2019 State of the Nation report, found that social mobility had “stagnated” over the last four years at “virtually all stages from birth to work”. It contained a wide range of recommendations including childcare; the Pupil Premium; support for disadvantaged 16-19 year olds; financial support for undergraduates; university contextualised offers; and Government investment in skills, jobs and infrastructure in areas of low social mobility and low pay.

The Sutton Trust’s Manifesto was similarly wide ranging covering early education and childcare; school admissions; open access to independent schools; support for the highly able from disadvantaged backgrounds; essential life skills; apprenticeships; university contextual admissions and post qualification applications; student maintenance grants and internships.

I am sure that other contributors to this debate will cover many of these specific areas in more detail- despite the acute timing constraints (and I do understand the frustration that many Noble lords feel on this). And of course we have heard only today about the need for Top Universities to increase place for disadvantaged youngsters.

In big picture terms what both reports clearly demonstrate, and my main message today, is that improving social mobility requires the Government to take action across the life course: ie early years education; primary/secondary school; careers education; further education; Universities; apprenticeships; access to good employments opportunities and work progression.

It requires a sustained cross government approach with strong political will and clear delivery mechanisms.

Picking up briefly on several of these areas:

  • On early years there is abundant evidence that a child’s first years play a major role in determining their chances later in life and that good early years education is critical to reducing the gap in school readiness between disadvantaged children and their better off peers at the age of 5. So in summing up could the Noble Lady the Minister say what plans the Government has to review its 30 hours of free childcare to shift the entitlement from high income families to those on low income? In addition could the Ministers say what plans the Government has to give early years teachers Qualified Teachers Status with the increase in pay and status that this would entail? And finally on this phase, could the Minister say what has happened to the long promised review of children’s centres and say what plans the Government has to ringfence funding for children’s centres and focus more sharply on 0-5 year olds;
  • Countless reports and evidence highlight the potential of further education and apprenticeships to be effective vehicles for social mobility, with disadvantaged students significantly more likely to enter FE than their more advantaged counterparts. However, this route has suffered from years of historic underfunding. Funding per student for 16 to 19-year-olds fell by 12 per cent between 2011-19 and is eight per cent lower than for secondary schools. The Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility which reported in 2016 – on which both the Minister and I were lucky enough to serve – also pointed out the simply huge disparities in funding levels between universities and further education colleges, which meant that those studying at FE colleges were getting a very raw deal.
  • Last August, building on the Social Mobility APPG ‘s two key reports The Class Ceiling” and “Closing the Regional Attainment Gap the Groups’s co-chairs wrote to the Chancellor calling on the Treasury to prioritise social mobility in the Spending Review and particularly to increase spending on further education. Of course we welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement in last year’s Spending Round to increase FE funding by £400M. But this was only a one year package and mainly focused on some very specific areas of funding. THEREFORE I AM CALLING ON THE GOVERNMENT AGAIN TODAY TO PRIORITISE LONG TERM, SUSTAINABLE INCREASES FOR FURTHER EDUCATION IN THIS YEAR’S SPENDING REVIEW.
  • Allied to this, the APPG along with others, also called on the Government to introduce a Student Premium of at least £500 per year for disadvantaged 16-19-year-olds. This premium would mirror the current pupil premium funding in schools and be used to raise the attainment of disadvantaged students. SO TODAY I AM CALLING ON THE GOVERNMENT ONCE MORE TO INTRODUCE A STUDENT
  • High-quality apprenticeships have the potential to be powerful vehicles for social mobility – apprentices earn while they learn and take on no debt, while developing the workplace skills employers want. Yet despite recent growth, only 13,000 people started a degree apprenticeship last year compared to 330,000 taking up university degrees. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are also less likely to take up a degree level apprenticeship than their more advantaged peers.

Could the Minister say what plans the Government has to increase the number of apprenticeships as an alternative to university, and ensuring that young people from less advantaged backgrounds are able to access them?

One final question to the Minister – and I am aware that I have asked a lot of questions and would be very happy for the Minister to set out the Government’s full responses in a letter.

What is happening to the “socio-economic duty” (section 1 Equality Act 2010) which requires public bodies to adopt transparent and effective measures to address the inequalities that result from differences in occupation, education, place of residence or social class. Currently, it sits idly on the statute book but has yet to be enacted.

Could the Minister say what plans the Government has bring this duty into force? I would delighted if the Minister would agree to meet with me to discuss next steps and how to “turbo-charge” this whole agenda as I know it something that she also feels passionate about.

To conclude My Lords, from birth to the workplace a young person’s life chances are heavily shaped by how much their parents earn and where they grow up. It is critical that this new Government acts now to put a stop to this tragic waste of talents which blights both our economy and our sense of fairness/social cohesion. Whilst the main levers for improving social mobility lie within the education system, we can’t not just look at schools in isolation.

We need a cross departmental strategy which combines big picture thinking with genuine local understanding

Baroness Claire Tyler, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility

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