Companies should offer a job opportunity to a candidate from an under-performing school before an Old Etonian with the same grades, because the former is likely to be more “impressive”, Justine Greening has suggested.
The former education secretary urged companies to play their part in boosting social mobility by using “contextual recruitment”, which takes into account the context in which someone’s academic results are achieved.
Speaking this month at a summit on social mobility organised by the Sutton Trust in New York, Ms Greening said: “Contextual recruitment basically says when you’re looking at someone’s grades who’s applied for a job to you, look at it in the context of the school they went to.
“You can easily do this, there’s software to help you as a company.
“So if you get three Bs from Eton, you’re probably not as impressive as somebody who gets three Bs from the school in a part of the country where the school [wasn’t] doing well.”
“That needs to be much more sophisticatedly used by companies to start looking at the quality of candidates and the potential candidates that are applying to them for careers and jobs.”
Employers 'should stop fishing in a talent puddle'
Ms Greening said contextual recruitment would allow companies to “stop fishing in a talent puddle and start fishing in a talent pool”.
She said research showed that disadvantaged applicants were 50 per cent more likely to be hired using contextual recruitment than they otherwise would have been, “because the companies are looking more sophisticatedly at their future potential, not just looking at grades as a bit of a rearview mirror on where the chid and the young person began”.
During her time as education secretary, Ms Greening put promoting equality of opportunity at the heart of her agenda, publishing a “social mobility action plan” last December.
Since leaving the government she has continued to campaign on the issue by urging companies to sign a three-point “social mobility pledge”, which includes a promise to adopt open recruitment practices to provide a level playing field for applicants.
However, her suggestion that employers should discriminate in favour of people from challenging schools and against those who went to high performing private schools is likely to prove controversial.
Julie Robinson, general secretary of the Independent Schools Council, which represents over 1,200 private schools, told Tes: “It is important to understand that school type is not of itself an indicator of socio-economic advantage.
"For example, many pupils attending independent schools receive means-tested bursaries.
“Therefore, wherever ‘contextual recruitment’ is used, the process must take a range of factors into account in order to recruit the best person for the job.”