Our Response to the Government’s Social Mobility Action Plan

We welcome the Government’s creation of an action plan for improving social mobility through education and would like to see it supported through comparable initiatives in other Departments to ensure a joined-up, concerted and collaborative approach to drive forward change.

We support the primary ambitions to ensure that all children and young people have access to high quality teaching and learning, regardless of where they live. Many of the proposals are ones that we, along with a host of other experts, have been calling for – and for a considerable length of time. For instance, the need to increase the focus on technical education which has been overlooked for too long; the importance of adopting an evidence-based approach and learning from what ‘works’; and the value of continued professional development for teachers.

We also have some reservations about aspects of the plan:

  • While we fully support a place-based approach to developing educational policy, and ensuring resources are more fairly distributed across the UK, we challenge some of the assumptions underlying the overarching ambition: ‘no community left behind’. In particular, we are uneasy with the way it presumes that London is the model against which all other places are defined. It is, of course, vital to work towards a more even distribution of funding and resources, and to target areas that are socio-economically deprived to promote economic growth. But it is equally important to recognise the distinct cultures and priorities of particular localities which inform educational delivery and participation. Places ‘other’ to London need to be conceived more positively and be granted greater levels of agency.
  • In focusing on challenging areas – in terms of targeting funding, resources, and strategies – there is a risk of overlooking the poor progress made by disadvantaged pupils in more affluent areas. Place matters and shapes the barriers faced by children and young people and it can intensify the experience of socio-economic disadvantage. All schools that have a considerable gap in attainment, based on background, need additional support to effect change, regardless of whether they are in a challenging or affluent area.
  • Too much emphasis is given to creating equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcomes because, without systemic change, too many children and young people are unable to realise the outcomes of the opportunities that they may have secured. For instance, they may have attended a strong school and secured high attainment, but they may still face barriers in securing a graduate job because of the way background determines the recruitment process.

How we are working to improve social mobility:

  •  Improving understanding of the way in which place shapes educational outcomes, particularly with regard to young people living in geographical isolated places. We need to better understand the way that place – in terms of its culture, topography, opportunities, and attachments – informs the decision-making of young people.
  • Working with higher education institutions to ensure more equal graduate outcomes. We are looking beyond issues around access to better understand the barriers facing student success.
  • Working with employers to reform their practices to remove obstacles to accessing graduate jobs and ensuring fair progression.
  • Promoting dialogue and exchange between sectors (schools, higher education, charities, and employers) to ensure joined-up thinking and solutions to inform the whole student pipeline.