From education to employment

Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential, the Government’s social mobility action plan – Sector Response

Education Secretary Justine Greening

Plan to boost social mobility through education

An ambitious plan to provide opportunity on every young person’s doorstep and help make Britain a country fit for the future has been unveiled today (Thursday 14 December) by Education Secretary Justine Greening.

In a speech at the inaugural Reform social mobility conference, the Education Secretary pointed to the success of government reforms in raising school standards and creating more opportunities.

This includes 1.9million more children in good and outstanding schools than in 2010, record numbers of young people in education or training and more disadvantaged pupils going to university. And earlier this month a new study revealed that England is rising up the international literacy league table, with English 9yr olds now significantly better readers than their American, Canadian and Australian counterparts.

But she made clear that if we are to make this a country that truly works for everyone, there is much more to be done to deliver equality of opportunity for every child, regardless of where they live.

The plan Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential will deliver targeted action where it is needed most, focusing £800 million of government investment on overcoming these challenges.

One overarching ambition will focus on places and communities across the country that feel they have been ‘left behind’, because they have not yet seen the improvement that other parts of the country have already benefited from. A further four ambitions will cover the key life stages of people’s education.

Ambition 1: Closing the word gap

Boosting access to high quality early language and literacy, both in the classroom and at home, ensuring more disadvantaged children leave school having mastered the basic of literacy that many take for granted.

Ambition 2: Closing the attainment gap

Raising standards for every pupil, supporting teachers early in their career as well as getting more great teachers in areas where there remain significant challenges.

Ambition 3: Real choice at post-16

Creating world-class technical education, backed by a half a billion pounds in investment, and increasing the options for all young people regardless of their background.

Ambition 4: Rewarding careers for all

Boosting skills and confidence to make the leap from education into work, raising their career aspirations. Building a new type of partnership with businesses to improve advice, information and experiences for young people.

Education Secretary Justine Greening said:

In modern Britain, where you are born, where you live, where you go to school and where you work directly affects where you get to in life.

Talent is spread evenly across this country; the problem is that opportunity isn’t. We need systemic change and we need everyone – government, employers, education professionals and civil society – to work together so that social mobility runs through everything we all do.

A recent study has revealed that if disadvantaged pupils in all English regions performed as well as disadvantaged pupils in London, this would lead to an overall economic benefit of around £20 billion in present value terms.

Today’s plan focuses government reforms and funding on the people and places that need it most to level up opportunity and ensure no community is left behind, helping to make Britain a success as it prepares for life post-Brexit.

It sets out action and investment in a range of areas including:

  • £50million to boost school nursery provision in some of the most challenging areas, so more children benefit from early education support before they arrive at primary school.

  • A consultation on proposals to enhance early careers support and professional development for teachers, in particular those working in challenging schools and areas. This will help to further drive up standards in schools by retaining the best teachers and attracting the best individuals to the profession with a ‘gold-standard’ training and development offer.

  • A new £23 million Future Talent Fund to trial a range of new teaching approaches to support the education of the most-able children from less well-off communities.

Sector Response

Commenting on the publication today of Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential, the Government’s social mobility action plan,

KevinCourtney100x100Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

We agree with the Minister that schools on their own cannot counter social inequality. This much-heralded announcement, however, offers very little real in the way of meaningful action. Justine Greening is in complete denial about the overall picture for schools, with huge cuts to budgets across the board and a constant battle to recruit and retain teachers.

It is helpful that Justine Greening has finally realised that enforced leadership change and academisation are not the answer for so called ‘coasting schools’. However, this begs the question as to why such actions are deemed appropriate for schools that are rated inadequate by Ofsted, and why the Government has pursued this line up until now. The academy programme and the system of MATs is at breaking point, yet this plan will see more academy chains anointed as ‘system leaders’ and given responsibility for supporting schools in these circumstances. Apart from anything, it is counter-productive to ignore the wealth of expertise that exists in local authorities and their schools. 

Any new money to provide high quality schools-based nursery provision is welcome, but we need full transparency and an objective audit and provision of the resources needed.  Such an audit must be unconstrained by the current inadequate funding envelope and must take account of the needs of disadvantaged children.

Today’s measures dramatically underestimate the impact of poverty on children and families. The Government needs to address the problem of poverty and inequality at its root by reversing regressive benefit reforms and developing an industrial strategy to increase well-paid and high quality jobs. It also needs to ensure that schools and colleges are properly funded and have professional staff who are not overburdened by excessive workloads. Only then will the needs and aspirations of all children and young people be met.

Les Ebdon 100x100Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said:

I welcome this report, and the steps it proposes to increase social mobility. Improving access to higher education for people from disadvantaged backgrounds is one of the most important things we can do to create a more socially mobile society. Doing so is clearly good for the talented students that secure university places, but there are clear wider economic and societal benefits in ensuring that potential is not wasted.

I welcome the recognition in the plan of the progress made in the last decade to improve fair access. Figures released by UCAS today show that greater rates of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are entering higher education than ever before. However, we know that significant challenges remain – especially at those universities with the highest entrance requirements, where someone from the most advantaged background is 5.5 times more likely to secure a place than their peers from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

This challenge will only be overcome by firm commitment from universities, working in close partnership with schools, communities, employers and Government. Talent is found across the country – from council estate to country estate – and ensuring that your postcode doesn’t act as a barrier to your potential must remain a top priority for the Government.”

Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation said:

We welcome today’s social mobility action plan. It will play an important role in enabling less advantaged young people to get on in life. We particularly welcome the Future Talent Fund, which will support bright young people to fulfil their potential and the new role for the Education Endowment Foundation to evaluate early years practice.

Melanie Richards, Deputy Chair at KPMG UK said:

We have heard the Secretary of State’s call to arms today for all sectors to work together to ensure future generations of young people have the skills, opportunity and support they deserve. We strongly support the Department’s Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential action plan; it is the right thing to do for the good of our society and it is also vital if the UK is to remain competitive on the global stage.

It will take the best efforts of all of us – working together – to stamp out the social immobility that currently stops too many people in this country from reaching their full potential.

david hughes 100 x100David Hughes, Chief Executive of Association of Colleges said:

This is an important statement of intent and focus for the DfE. The plan sets out an ambitious agenda to tackle longstanding and deep-seated inequalities which the education system struggles to overcome. It is a brave step to establish this as a goal for the Government and I know that colleges across the country are already working on this ambition in everything that they do. Colleges are drivers of social mobility and will want to work with the Secretary of State to help transform the life chances of children, young people and adults.

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive off the National Children’s Bureau, said:

Justine Greening has shown real leadership in creating a strategy for social mobility that recognises how disadvantage can hold children back from an early age.

We know that by the time they start school, children from poorer families are approximately 11 months behind their wealthier peers. The Government’s plans include welcome investment in high-quality school-based nurseries, but also a recognition that parents have a vital role in providing the best environment for learning at home.

The National Children’s Bureau has long championed the contribution of home learning to better outcomes in literacy and numeracy. Our Making It REAL programme works with practitioners across the country so they can support parents to understand how literacy develops, and make the most of everday opportunities to build their child’s reading and writing skills.

Vulnerable children / Children in need:

Vulnerable children, including those in care and those with SEND are particularly likely to underperform at school. ‘Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential’ recognises the extra help these children need and pledges a review of the ‘children in need’ system. We welcome commitments to ensure the exclusion process is only used as a last resort, for  best practice in alternative provision for children with SEND to be shared widely and for investment that should make it easier for these children to take up places in mainstream schools.

Child poverty / benefits:

The social mobility strategy provides a welcome focus on closing the education gap between rich and poor children. However, it will be a challenge for the Government to deliver a step change in social mobility in the face of on-going cuts to benefits and public services, and the projected dramatic rise in child poverty over the next five years. To be effective, this welcome strategy must form part of a wider cross-Government commitment to a country that works for all children.

In order to charge higher tuition fees, all English universities and colleges must make plans called “access agreements” which describe how they will promote and sustain fair access, and have them approved by OFFA. These plans will include outreach (e.g. summer schools, mentoring, after-school tuition, links with schools and colleges in disadvantaged areas), supporting students to reach their full potential, e.g. pastoral support or help with employability, and financial support e.g. bursaries. OFFA monitors the implementation of access agreements annually.

The plan builds on wider government work to boost social mobility including the publication of an Industrial Strategy to boost productivity across the UK to create more jobs and increase earning power. In addition, the government has introduced the National Living Wage, investing £9 billion in affordable housing and creating more full-time, permanent jobs.

It will sit alongside work already underway via the Opportunity Areas programme, and comes after the Education Secretary hosted a Skills Summit for Britain’s top employers at the DfE last month.

About The Office for Students (OFS): A new public body that will combine the existing regulatory functions of the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) with many of the current functions of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The OFS will take up these duties from April 2018, at which time OFFA and HEFCE will cease to operate. The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) is an independent public body that regulates and promotes fair access to English higher education for people from under-represented groups.

Related Articles