Social Mobility Commission

It is not really surprising, to see that the whole of the board of the Social Mobility Commission has followed the lead of their chair and resigned. I commented on the Commission’s most recent report in a previous post. Officials at the Commission have talked to me about teacher recruitment in the past and are clearly aware that good teaching can have an effect on educational outcomes. This was something the Liberal Democrat Education Association discussed at a conference in Oxford yesterday.

So, who might replace Alan Milburn and be handed the responsibility for chairing the Commission, assuming that the Commission retains its present form and function? Perhaps, David Laws, former Education Minister of State and briefly Treasury number 2, in the coalition government might make a good choice? He has spent his time since being ejected by the electorate in 2015, building up the Education Policy Institute as a leading think tank, and is well on the way to making EPI match the Institute of Fiscal Studies as the leader in its area of expertise. However, with experience beyond just education and a wide range of contacts, David would make an excellent chair, with a good head for data and understanding of the machinery of government. He was also heavily involved with the introduction of both the Pupil Premium and the infant free school meals policies, both key measures to help achievement and further the possibility of social mobility during the coalition.

Of course, if he wants to stay where he is and thinks he can do more good at EPI, Nick Clegg, the original architect of the Pupil Premium is another name to conjure with for the role of chair. Andrew Adonis might be another name for the frame were he not presently heavily engaged with trying to develop the national infrastructure.

As an active Liberal Democrat, I make no apologies for suggesting two fellow Liberal Democrats for the exacting role of chairing the Commission. Other members that could sit on the Board might include a senior Labour figure from the Brown government, a Conservative peer and perhaps a well-regarded figure from the charity sector with long experience of social mobility.

We all know that exiting the European club was going to be a full-time job and that it came at a time when George Osborne had predicted that the worst of the effects of the crash would be felt by the weakest in society. Such factors make the work of any Social Mobility Commission more of a challenge, but no less important.

With the IT revolution once again picking up speed, and predications of massive job losses from the growth in Artificial Intelligence awakening the Luddite mentality in many of us, the Commission must act not only as the government’s conscience on social mobility, but also as a source of genuine new policies that are radical and forward thinking. More of the same just won’t work.

We have seen in Germany that the failure to ensure the success of the economy across the whole country has inevitably lead to the rise of the far right in politics. Social mobility is important, but we cannot ignore those left behind. They must not become the poor relations kept, for ever, out of sight.

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Class rules: not OK

The Social Mobility Commission is an advisory, non-departmental public body established under the Life Chances Act 2010. It has a duty to assess progress in improving social mobility in the United Kingdom and to promote social mobility in England. Today it has published a report which finds that nearly half of people (48 per cent) believe that where you end up in society today is mainly determined by your background and who your parents are. This compares to 32 per cent who believe everyone has a fair chance to get on regardless of their background.

The Social Mobility Barometer uncovers feelings of deep social pessimism among young people with half (51 per cent) of 18-24 year olds agreeing with this statement compared with 40 per cent of those aged 65 and over. The full report can be accessed at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/social-mobility-commission and is based upon data collected in March, well before the announcement of the general election, although during the period when campaigning in the shire counties for the county council elections was already underway in some parts of the country.

Although the report makes depressing reading in many aspects of its conclusions, there are some interesting and more optimistic observations on which those that believe in greater social mobility can use to build. It is clear that the country almost certainly did feel at the time the data was collected for this report that austerity had gone too far in hitting the poor. 49% thought that those ‘who are the least well off’ did not receive enough government support and this rose to 61% for ‘those just managing’, whereas 58% thought that ‘those who are the most well off’ received too much government support. I am sure that those sentiments played out in the voting patterns in the general election. What, because of my age, I call the 1945 effect. That was the election when the population was finally able to express an opinion on the 1930s decade of hardship and ignored the win in the war voted for Labour and social justice.

Anyway, back to the Social Mobility Commission’s report and a few other interesting nuggets. There are clear regional divides, with London and the South East being seen as the area of opportunity and the North East being seen as a part of the country where you may have to leave to seek opportunities elsewhere. Wales and Northern Ireland are also seen as ‘go from’ areas, something the DUP will no doubt be discussing with the Prime Minister in terms of the price for supporting her government.

The fact that 64% of respondents said that they had received a better education that their parents is encouraging and something we do need to preserve for the future. The supply and recruitment of teachers is absolutely key to achieving this goal. Respondents placed education as the future outcome where prospects were brightest over the next ten years with 40% expecting the next generation to receive a better education. There is a lot of trust being placed in us as educators by society.

It was also interesting to listen to the Oxford Dictionary representative on the radio this morning talking about the level of understanding of the use of language among primary school children. The fact that ‘Trump’ is their word of the year is also very reflective of how engaged young people generally are in what is going on around them.

Of most concern in the report is the fact that there is still general acceptance that educational opportunity is still shaped by background, with those from poor backgrounds having least opportunities and that the level of opportunity deteriorates between school and university.

I have written about the education divides locally in Oxfordshire in previous posts, this report reaffirms what we need to do. Recruit the best teachers and properly fund the schools in areas of least affluence and motive the parents to understand and support the benefits of education.

For government, spread the wealth from London and South East by opening up opportunities elsewhere or continue to see a southward shift in the population that could be accelerated after Brexit.

 

 

 

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. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/496103/Social_Mobility_Index.pdf 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. .

Human Rights

There’s a great story in the Daily Mail today about a BBC programme to be shown on tuesday evening that follows a group of Chinese teachers when they spent four weeks teaching in a Hampshire comprehensive school. Result; teenagers need more discipline. That was pretty predicable.

But, the glorious line in the Daily Mail has the following quote from one of the teachers: ‘If the British Government really cut benefits down to force people to go to work they might see things in a different way.’ A Marxist Chinese teacher telling a Right Wing Tory government to cut benefits. I am indebted to LBC Radio for bringing this to my attention. Hopefully, they will also ask Jeremy Corbyn for his reaction. Does he support this Marxist line of ‘conform or lose benefits’?

At the heart of this debate that will no doubt make for great television in the same way as ‘tough young teachers’ and the Educating Children in various parts of England series did is the question of whether respect for authority is earned or implicit in our society? The great thing about selective schools and indeed, private schools is that a lack of respect for their values gets you slung out.

Even in the 1970s you had to earn the right to teach those teenagers that didn’t want to learn. There is a previous blog post I wrote two years ago in August 2013 celebrating the Newsom Report about secondary modern schools. This was a government report published over 60 years ago that recognised the need for teachers to acquire the skills necessary to teach in a culture where individualism is more important than uniformity.

I would also be interested to see the CBI’s reaction to the programme since they seem to want both intellectual ability and the softer skills of teamwork, personal confidence, leadership and other attributes that aren’t brought out easily by rote learning in large classes.

Perhaps at the heart of this debate is the classic British desire to look for the failures in our society and celebrate defeat rather than identify where our education system is doing well and consider how that success can be replicated.

There is certainly an issue with some aspects of authority in our school system as the DfE figures released last week on exclusions demonstrate with figures for the increase in exclusion of primary school pupils. So, will the next Tory announcement be, a loss of benefits if your child mis-behaves at school? I hope not because I suspect all that will happen is that parents of some of these children won’t send their children to school and they will fall further behind and then become even more troublesome on the days that they do attend.

Personally, I think we need to revisit the curriculum for teenagers and ensure we focus behaviour management strategies in training on dealing with teenagers that find singers more interesting that statistics and tablets more fun than tables.

Finally, I wonder what the Chinese word or symbol is for dumb insolence; perhaps they don’t have one.