CLA Briefing: Government Social Mobility announcements, Winter 2017

20 December 2017

In the last month we have heard a lot from government and the press about Social Mobility. This post gives you the headlines of both the recent Social Mobility Commission Report, and the Department of Education’s Social Mobility Strategy.

Social Mobility Commission: State of the Nation Report

The Social Mobility Commission was established in 2010 to:

  • publish an annual report assessing improvement in social mobility in the UK
  • provide published advice to ministers
  • undertake social mobility advocacy

At the end of November 2017 it published its latest, and fifth, annual State of the Nation report.

At the time of publication the Commission comprised:

  • The Rt Hon Alan Milburn (Chair)
  • The Rt Hon Baroness Gillian Shephard (Deputy Chair)
  • Paul Gregg, Professor of Economic and Social Policy, University of Bath
  • David Johnston, Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation

This particular document focusses particularly on place-based division and the inequalities of geography. Right out of the gate, the report is clear that not enough is being done to break down the deep divisions that are present across British society. It cites the country’s ‘lamentable track record’ and talks of a ‘fracture line running deep through labour, housing and education systems’.

The report is an extremely detailed analysis of every local authority in England, with separate chapters focussing on Scotland and Wales (where the data is not directly comparable). It ranks each area according to a specially-developed Social Mobility Index comprising indicators from early years provision to schools, youth provision, careers, further and higher education, pay and working conditions, and housing.

This report is compelling – and required reading for anyone trying to understand their specific local context and the initiatives and approaches that might work to tackle some of these issues. For example, it covers detailed reasons for difficulties in teacher recruitment and retention in some areas (such as lack of jobs for partners), looks at effective strategies for increasing take-up of free early years provision for disadvantaged kids, and flags up good careers provision such as that offered by the North East Local Economic Partnership.

What are the headlines?

The data shows an increasing gulf between life-chances and outcomes for young people in major cities (especially London), and other areas of the country: the new social mobility cold-spots in our country are concentrated in remote rural or coastal areas, and in former industrial areas, especially in the Midlands.

The headline recommendations of the report are unsurprising: they centre on partnership working, and on the need for communication to communities and relationships with professionals which target those most in need of accessing services. The report squarely acknowledges the central importance of the early years. The Commissioners also strongly assert that change is possible, and that with the right investment and a forensic policy focus, particularly from local authorities, the divide can begin to be breached.

A few days after the report was published, the Commission hit the headlines, with widespread reports that the entire team (including leading conservative, Baroness Shephard) had quit the Commission, as it felt that the government, preoccupied by Brexit, could not spend the necessary time, resource and energy to ensure social mobility and a fairer Britain. You can read the coverage in the Guardian here and in the Telegraph here.

Anything to note for arts and culture?

There is nothing specific about the arts, culture or creativity, but interestingly, the report does cite London’s cultural offer as one of the reasons that schools in the capital out-perform those in the rest of the country –alongside greater funding per-head, ease of transport and a plethora of government initiatives. It also flags South Tyneside’s success in school partnership building as an indicator of success, and references its strong relationships with creative and digital businesses.


You can read the Schools Week’s summary of the recommendations for schools here:

DfE Social Mobility Strategy

On 14 December the Department of Education published its Social Mobility Action Plan: Unlocking talent, fulfilling potential: a plan for improving social mobility through education. It also published a summary here.

The document is divided into four key ambitions:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

What are the headlines?

As is to be expected the plan’s purpose appears to be to pull together existing initiatives and funding and to join them up – rather than funding or creating anything new.

It echoes some of the themes in the Commission’s State of the Nation report, particularly emphasising the importance of Early Years teaching and learning. However, it is interesting to note that whilst the Commission mainly highlights the need for more good and outstanding early years and school provision, the DfE focusses a great deal on English and Maths and the need to boost and improve attainment – through strategies such as universal phonics checks and specialist maths schools.

There is a real emphasis on the need for ‘evidenced-based’ strategies, with the Education Endowment Foundation cited several times – and given a new remit to look into early years provision. There is to be a £5 million trial into ‘what works’ in the North of England, and a £23 million Future Talent Programme to trial approaches and present clear recommendations on how to support the most able disadvantaged children, particularly during key stage 3.

For those playing policy bingo, there are also sections on:

  • Free schools (creating more next year)
  • Professional development for teachers and early years professionals (particularly in numeracy and literacy)
  • Incentives for recruitment in shortage subjects (modern foreign languages, biology, chemistry, computer science and physics)
  • Opportunity Areas: areas of disadvantage that are benefitting from focussed investment and partnership working. They are: West Somerset, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, historic market towns such as Norwich and Ipswich, coastal areas like Blackpool, Hastings and the North Yorkshire Coast, Derby, Doncaster, Bradford, Oldham and Stoke-on-Trent.
  • EBacc – reaffirming a commitment for 75% of children to achieve it by 2022
  • Pupil Premium
  • The need for expert careers advice that meets the Gatsby Foundation’s Career Benchmarks, and the need for employers to offer work-experience opportunities
  • Apprenticeships and the Levy
  • T-Levels (and their imminent roll-out)
  • Degree Apprenticeships
  • Investment into further education (particularly Maths and English).

The report also announces that the DfE will establish a national Social Mobility Partnership Board with external experts - including the new Chair of the Social Mobility Commission when appointed.

Anything on the arts and culture?

There is nothing in the report on arts and culture or creativity, which seems like a real missed-opportunity, especially with local infrastructure like Local Cultural Education Partnerships uniquely placed to bring partners together to deliver against this agenda. It also ignores all the evidence that points to real and tangible benefits for children and young people engaging with the arts – as is shown by our Key Findings.

The report’s aim of join-up and renewed focus has been welcomed by a number of education and social mobility bodies including the National Association of Head Teachers, the Association of School and College Leaders and by the Sutton Trust.

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