The Social Mobility Commission (SMC) is calling for the introduction of a student premium for 16-19 year-olds, similar to the pupil premium.
In its sixth State of the Nation report, published this morning, the commission highlights that “the better off are nearly 80 per cent more likely to end up in professional jobs than those from a working-class background". "Even when people from a disadvantaged background land a professional job, they earn 17 per cent less than their privileged colleagues”.
Commission chair Dame Martina Milburn said “being born privileged means you are likely to remain privileged. But being born disadvantaged means you may have to overcome a series of barriers to ensure you and your children are not stuck in the same trap.”
More on this: Gap between rich and poor pupils ‘stagnating’
'Funding has fallen'
The report points out that twice the number of disadvantaged 16- to 18-year-olds are in further education than in school sixth forms, “but funding has fallen by 12 per cent since 2011-12”.
The commission is calling on the government to increase per-student spending in the 16 to 19 education budget “by a significant amount” within the upcoming spending review. The government should also “immediately make the following changes to existing disadvantaged funding mechanisms for 16-19 students” – including reforming how data can be shared automatically across schools into 16-19 institutions so disadvantaged students are automatically identified.
The methodology underpinning the discretionary bursary fund to ensure resources are allocated to institutions based on current data should be “rapidly updated”.
The commission says the government should introduce a student premium for disadvantaged students aged 16-19 that “models the pupil premium in schools, with a goal of targeting funding and focussing on raising attainment for disadvantaged students".
In its report, the commission also welcomes the government's announced review of post-16 qualifications, but says it believes additional items should be added to its scope to ensure social mobility is considered in the review.
This includes assessing ways to “improve progression of disadvantaged students beyond level 2, including reviewing whether prior qualifications and other course requirements asked for by providers create barriers to entry and progression for disadvantaged students”.
Alastair da Costa, SMC commissioner and chair of the Capital City College Group, said: “Further education provides alternative life chances for all 16 plus age groups. Consistent budget cuts have made it more difficult to provide opportunities for everyone. But as 75 per cent of disadvantaged 16 to19 year-olds choose vocational education, the cuts represent a class-based segregation of the school system.”
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “The Social Mobility Commission report has challenging findings for the education system about the prospects and achievements of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. For far too long the importance of funding for further education has been overlooked, despite the fact that nearly 700,000 young people are learning in colleges on a daily basis. The investment we make in the skills of young people is very low compared with other countries, meaning that opportunities to learn are often limited and they are more likely to have insecure jobs without training and development opportunities.
"The SMC supports our calls for better investment in colleges, and recommends an increase to 16-18 funding with a particular focus on disadvantaged young people by extending the pupil premium. Treasury and DfE should carefully consider these recommendations because they echo similar calls from many other reports and institutions, including employers groups such as the CBI. The case is so strong now, we simply are awaiting the Treasury to acknowledge and respond in the spending review this year.”
'Supporting the call for more funding'
Sixth Form Colleges Association deputy chief executive James Kewin said: “Today's report does a good job of setting out the main barriers to improving social mobility, alongside a range of practical recommendations to help overcome them. We are particularly pleased that the Social Mobility Commission has used its report to support the call from the Raise the Rate campaign to significantly increase the base rate of education funding for 16- to 19-year-olds.
The report draws on the campaign’s latest funding impact survey and research from London Economics to urge the government to make this change as part of the upcoming spending review. The Raise the Rate partners – that represent schools, colleges, teachers, support staff, students and governors in England – warmly welcome the support of the commission, and its recognition that increasing investment in sixth form education is vital to driving up social mobility. The government cannot continue to dodge this issue, because as today’s report sets out - there is far too much at stake”.
UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: “We welcome the call from the Social Mobility Commission for greater support for education and the vital role it must be allowed to play if we are to improve social mobility. Education can only play its crucial role in improving people’s life chances if it gets proper government funding and support.”