Social Mobility Index

The government has drawn together a range of evidence about social mobility and come up with an index for each of over 350 local authorities. The key headlines are the widening north south divide and the fact that London and parts of the Home Counties are the place where social mobility is most apparent. Coastal areas and industrial towns are becoming real social mobility cold spots.

What is interesting are those areas where mobility is high but education performance is poor for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This seems to be areas in the south where the adult labour market is strong. Oxford is one of these places. The education outcomes of schools in some parts of the City are amongst the worst in the country, yet unemployment is amongst the lowest as measured by those on benefit. The two universities, a large health service presence and a major car-making plant all no doubt generate significant employment opportunities servicing their needs that doesn’t yet require significant levels of education. How long that will last is open to question. I recall the adage that the porter of yesterday is the fork-lift truck driver of today and the operator of the robot staffed warehouse of tomorrow. It is clear that a porter may need fewer educational skills than the console operator, although driving robots might need far fewer people to do the same job.

Even more worrying is the statement that ‘Many of the richest places in England are doing worse for their disadvantaged children than places that are much poorer’. Civic pride has been replaced, at least in education, by a governance system devoid of ties to local areas. The report concludes that, ‘It is notable that local areas in the East Midlands and the East of England are significantly are over-represented in areas that do significantly worse than expected given their level of deprivation, together making up half of the lowest performing 10 per cent of areas on this measure.’

I would urge anyone interested in the issue of social mobility to look at the full report and perhaps to challenge some of the assumptions behind the data. For instance, social mobility might seem good in London, but who can afford to live in the city these days and does that affect the outcome of reports of this nature?

The importance of communications is one of the features that can affect social mobility. It is interesting to look at Banbury in North Oxfordshire as a case study. Not only does the M40 run pas the town with a junction handily placed for commuters but the rail link to London now takes less than an hour. As a result, the town has relatively low unemployment, but still has areas of disadvantage second only to Oxford in the county. As the town grows so it attracts more affluent incomers, but at the risk if leaving behind a group of under-performing long-term residents that have received some benefit from the growth, but not as measured by this Social Mobility Index. .


9 thoughts on “Social Mobility Index

  1. John Goldthorpe, Oxford University, has argued that education’s role in social mobility is limited. It depends more on such factors as employment. If jobs are in short supply then those with high qualifications will apply for jobs which do not need such high qualifications. This in turn pushes out those with weaker qualifications.

    At the same time, highly-qualified graduates in other parts of the world (eg India) will work for lower wages than are paid in the UK and USA. And India, of course, has the advantage that these graduates speak English. In ‘The Global Auction’, the authors argue the rhetoric about how a good education will result in a ‘good’ job and subsequently a comfortable life doesn’t match this reality. We’re already seeing how our young people can’t afford to buy a home or risk starting a family – things that older generations took for granted.

    We’re also seeing the collapse of the middle class in the USA – this is coming to the fore in the run-up to the Presidential elections. But our politicians are ignoring this looming crisis here.

    The authors of ‘The Global Auction’ argue that the focus of education needs changing to one where it becomes valued in its own right for its ability to bring meaning and fulfilment. The Education Select Committee recently consulted on the purpose of education (consultation now closed). It’s a pity this question wasn’t asked years ago before Gove embarked on his ‘cultural revolution’ to reform education in England – an approach which the new Select Committee’s chair has described as ‘act first, think later’.

    • Janet,

      Welcome back to this blog.

      I also recall Halsey’s important study of the late 1970s, ‘Origins and Destinations’ that also looked at social mobility alongside the Goldthorpe work. Successive governments have tried and failed to develop a commercial policy that re-energises parts of the country and thus provides jobs and motivation. I recall working in Durham in the 1980s when almost every child at 16 went onto a scheme run by YTS or some similar body because there was no work locally. I also see companies in London struggling to recruit staff from the UK in the computer industry,this despite salaries that would be more than paid to teachers.

      Society is changing, as is probably a normal state of affairs, so we also have to ask how we measure social mobility in the future? One thing missing from the recent report was whether selective secondary education helps or hampers social mobility? A deliberate omission?

  2. I don’t know if you saw that all the data for the index and the methodology has been published, including an interactive spreadsheet that allows you to play around with the weighting of the different indicators in the index.

    It’s also worth saying that the focus in the index is on the poorest students so it is hopefully picking up those being “left behind” in growth areas.

    On your point on Banbury, it is in the local authority district of Cherwell which comes 252nd out of 324 local authorities in the index and so only narrowly misses out on being identified as a coldspot (it’s in the bottom 23 per cent).

    [Disclaimer – I am an official who was part of the team who put the index together]

    • Peter,

      Thanks for the comments.

      Banbury is indeed in Cherwell and I wonder if the district didn’t also contain Bicester whether it might be an even colder spot. These places in shire counties are affected by the average deprivation across the county for education purposes. I think the breakup of Berkshire into unitaries demonstrates that point quite well. I did see the spreadsheet and much of the data for young people is in the LAIT database and are reported to Performance scrutiny committee at Oxfordshire as well as Education Scrutiny Committee.

      John Howson

      • You’re right that there will of course be variation within the 324 local areas we look at but data constraints are already beginning to bite hard at the level of aggregation we are looking at. The Department of Education do publish ward-level statistics (though they discontinued ward-level FSM statistics in 2012-13) if you wanted to look at a more finely grained measure of social mobility in Cherwell

        But the questions you are asking are the right ones and the ones I think the SMCPC Chair and Commissioners hoped people would be asking in response to the index – and I would hope that Cherwell coming in the lowest ranked 23% would lead to questioning of why it does worse for poorer children than similar parts of England: the 20 per cent threshold we chose to identify coldspots is essentially an arbitrary one and there’s no a lot of difference between overall performance against the index between Cherwell and Middlesborough 8 places above it…

      • Peter,

        I have asked questions of oxfordshire’s cabinet about progress in English and Maths for secondary schools across the Cherwell council area and expressed concern about some of the outcomes. However, as councils, both district and county, cannot now mover resources between schools it is difficult for them to influence matters as was possible in the past. Added to the fact of ever rising house prices in Oxfordshire this means recruiting staff is becoming an issue. In the past, schools serving communities with higher levels of deprivation have suffered more during recruitment crises. if the primary schools are affected then we essentially knock away the building blocks on which all children rely for their future life.

        John Howson

  3. John – The Social Mobility Index was NOT pulled together by the government but by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission which is a statutory body that is independent of the government. The Commission was created by the 2010 Child Poverty Act as modified by the 2012 Welfare Reform Act.

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