Progress on social mobility too slow, commission report warns

It could take 120 years before disadvantaged young people are as likely as their better-off peers to achieve A level or equivalent qualifications

Julia Belgutay

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Progress on social mobility is too slow and the government should take a range of measures to improve outcomes for young people, according to the Social Mobility Commission.

In its report published today, the commission says two decades of government efforts to improve social mobility have failed to deliver enough progress in reducing the gap between “haves and have nots” in the UK.

To improve this, the government should set a new aim to halve the attainment gap in level 3 qualifications within the next decade. To do this, the report backs a range of new policies including T levels, apprenticeships and extra support and accountability reforms for further education colleges.

It should also refocus apprenticeship policy on young people and on higher-quality apprenticeships, and ensure careers advice and support is available in all schools via a greater emphasis on destinations measures. The government should also ensure higher education is available via further education colleges in “social mobility cold spots”.

Red, amber and green ratings

The commission is an independent body that monitors progress on social mobility. Today’s Time For Change report covers four life stages, from the early years and school through to training and further and higher education and then into the world of work, giving red, amber and green ratings depending on how successful governments have been in translating policy into positive social outcomes. However, the report is not able to give a single “green’ rating to any of the life stages”.

While early years and schools are given an “amber” rating, young people and working lives receive a “red”. Progress such as the school age rising to 18, access to higher education widening and the recreation of apprenticeships should be welcomed, the report says – but it adds that progress is too slow.

Labour market outcomes for young people are poor, it concludes, and the number of young people receiving careers advice or work experience has fallen. More new apprenticeships have gone to older workers than younger ones, the commission says. At current rates of progress, it will take 120 years before disadvantaged young people are as likely as their better-off peers to achieve A level or equivalent qualifications, according to the report.

'New geographical divide'

Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said: “When more and more people feel like they are losing out, social mobility matters more than ever before.

"Higher social mobility can be a rallying point to prove that modern capitalist economies like our own are capable of creating better, fairer and more inclusive societies. What is so striking about this new analysis is how divided we have become as a nation.

"A new geographical divide has opened up, a new income divide has opened up and a new generational divide has opened up."

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: "The opportunity to improve social mobility is provided on a plate through our further education colleges, which, as the report says, are used by up to 80 per cent of disadvantaged students before the age of 24.

“But successive governments have failed our colleges and the students that rely on them, seeing them as easy targets for cuts and the austerity agenda. Colleges must be given the chance to flourish and deliver for people who want to get on in life, especially as we seek to improve people’s skills post-Brexit.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said tackling social mobility was "at the heart of the government’s ambition to make Britain a country that works for everyone".

“There are 1.8 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than in 2010, and we are delivering three million apprenticeship places, opening up access to our higher education system and investing £500 million a year into technical education.

"However, we know that more must be done, and that’s why last year we launched our £72 million Opportunity Areas programme.

"This is bringing together local businesses, schools and councils in 12 social mobility ‘cold spots’ to create better opportunities for young people.”

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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