The latest State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission is a bit of a curate’s egg. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/662744/State_of_the_Nation_2017_-_Social_Mobility_in_Great_Britain.pdf
Let me illustrate this in terms of one district in Oxfordshire. On page 161 the report says that; “Three districts in the South East have among the lowest attainment for disadvantaged children at key stage 2 in England: Horsham, South Oxfordshire and Arun. In all three areas, fewer than one in five children achieves the expected standard.” Yet, in the overall ranking of local authorities in Appendix 2, South Oxfordshire is ranked 178 out of 324 local authorities and is the second highest of the five districts in Oxfordshire. Oxford City is ranked 257th out of 324 councils. So, even if the Key State 2 data is correct for South Oxfordshire, how representative is it of the districts overall outcomes in terms of social mobility?
With that question out of the way, it is also worth considering the data from different stages of the education process and especially schooling relates to the data on qualifications as they may represent different groups. In many towns, as the report recognises, those that leave to go to higher education may not return, and in some university towns and cities the influx of students may boost the qualified workforce as graduates may choose to stay put, even if there is no work that makes full use of their degrees.
The data on teacher turnover and retention data is taken from the School Workforce Census and there must be question marks about the how many schools filled in the data comprehensively across all years included in the time frame. At one point the DfE was reporting lower full completion rates from London schools.
In relation to teacher recruitment, I am not sure why Regional School Commissioners should be “given responsibility to work with universities, schools and Teach First to ensure that there is a good supply of teachers in all parts of their regions.” After all, they don’t have responsibility for maintained schools. Perhaps this should read; local authorities, diocese and RSCs should come together to ensure that there is a good supply of teachers in all parts of their regions.
Nevertheless it is clear that schools in many parts of the country still have some way to go to ensure that they achieve the best possible outcomes for all of their pupils. The report, rightly, mentions transport tissues in rural areas, but doesn’t, as far as I can tell, look at what effect free travel offered to those in education by TfL may have had on education outcomes in the nation’s capital city. It certainly should be taken into account when looking at living costs in different areas.
There are those that say none of this matters for the country as a whole so long as jobs are being created somewhere in the country. They would say that no settlement has a right to exist and government attempts from the 1930s to the 1980s to support declining industrial areas have had mixed and often poor results. When Durham County classified its settlements from A to D, it didn’t try to develop the ‘D’ settlements. This report in a sense asks the same question of government; move people to economically successful area of the country or try and create economic success where present there is poverty and a lack of social mobility. Building 100,000 new houses in Oxfordshire by 2031, and a creating a new ‘expressway’ between Oxford and Cambridge shows the thinking of the present government. I don’t think this report will change that approach.