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Social Mobility Commission - Quarterly Commentary

Dear Reader,

It has been a busy period for the Social Mobility Commission since our last edition.

We’ve held a series of events in partnership with Think Tanks, including a discussion about ways to boost economic growth within different regions, and a debate on the importance and use of high-quality data. It’s been fantastic to hear such a wide range of views shared at these events, offering perspectives and ideas about addressing different aspects of social mobility.

We have also continued our Social Mobility Talks podcast series, with guests including education consultant Barry Smith on Charter Schools, Tom Richmond, Director of EDSK on apprenticeships, Adrian Joseph OBE on AI, Sir David Bell on early years provision and most recently Ed Balls.

A new phase of our parenting campaign, It’s Child’s Play, launched in Blackpool and Middlesbrough, encouraging parents to play, read, chat and count more with their children. The pilot is targeted towards supporting parents of preschool children, aged 2 to 5, in low-income areas where families can find it difficult to access resources, and help their children improve their basic reading and speech skills before they start school.

In March, myself and the other Commissioners visited Blackpool to meet with community leaders from the council, charities, businesses and educational organisations to discuss challenges the area faces and solutions in relation to social mobility.

As discussions continue about a possible election, we can expect a wide variety of policy proposals to be shared, both by the key political parties and other interested parties like think tanks and charities. We’ll be keeping a close eye on all the main political parties to see what ideas and recommendations they are putting forward that could impact social mobility.

Coming up, we will be continuing our events and podcast series. In June, we will publish our policy paper. The paper will set out the SMC view on key social mobility issues and policy recommendations to address social mobility throughout the UK. We are also working on the next issue of our annual State of the Nation report, which tracks changes and inequalities in key areas including income, wealth, education and housing. The new report, due to be published in the autumn, will provide analysis at a more detailed geographical level, which will enable government, regional and local authorities to consider policy that better tackles the issues affecting their specific areas. We look forward to sharing this work with you over the coming months.

Alun Francis
Chair of the Social Mobility Commission

Growing opportunities

Former Cabinet Member, Ed Balls, has been working on a research project, looking at how government policy has affected social mobility in different regions of the UK. The third and final report was published by Harvard University and King’s College in February. Ed discusses the research project with our deputy chair, Resham Kotecha, in a new edition of our podcast series, which I’d encourage everyone to watch. One of the most critical conclusions is that a long term consensus between the political parties is critical to making real progress in tackling regional inequalities. A project by the Policy Exchange has also looked at lessons that can be learned from other countries in economic transformation.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released new data on how many people with post-16 qualifications stayed in or returned to the towns they grew up in. Their findings suggested the likelihood of moving to a different area was much higher for graduates who came from rural areas and small towns than for graduates who came from large towns or cities. The DfE has also been looking at young people in coastal and rural areas by backing an initiative to help access jobs in areas where opportunity can be particularly limited.

Nurturing talent

This quarter has seen the introduction of 15 hours free education for 2 year olds, which will be extended further in September to include children from 9 months. Educational think tank Civitas has produced a report on universal childcare, asking whether it produces the best educational results for children. It acknowledges that children from the most deprived backgrounds benefit most from universal childcare, in that it helps to close the attainment gap, but suggests the policy has failed to benefit the majority of participating children.

The first Director of Sure Start, Naomi Eisenstadt, and Professor Kathy Sylva also wrote a paper for Nesta, setting out nine recommendations to narrow the gap in school readiness between children from lower and higher income families. It’s an interesting read alongside Kindred Square’s annual school readiness survey, which says the impact of COVID-19 has had a noticeable effect on young children who missed out on valuable nursery time as a result of the pandemic.

At secondary level, school absences have continued to be widely reported on with research from EPI raising particular concerns about the english and maths outcomes for young people who are suspended from secondary school. The Sutton Trust released research into school selection and impact on social mobility, whilst a study from Stanford University in America offers insights into the performance of charter schools. You can read a blog by Rob Wilson about charter schools, which suggests this may be an interesting area for further research.

Developing skills and talent

A joint report between the EPI and Centre for Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE) has provided a useful comparison of post-16 education and training, looking at policies, participation and inequalities in different settings. Their report identifies marked inequalities in provision and outcomes throughout the UK’s four nations, highlighting the impact of policy churn in negatively shaping the aspirations of young people and their perceptions of education and training pathways.

Careers advice and career readiness are two topics we have been discussing at SMC with our Employer Advisory Group (EAG) and other stakeholders. The Careers & Enterprise Company and Teach First have both released interesting reports looking at careers advice and perceptions into STEM careers.

For employers, a report by the ‘Inclusion at Work Panel’, established under action 69 of the Inclusive Britain plan, has made a series of recommendations to help businesses evaluate their diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices. Key recommendations include a new government framework to guide criteria employers might apply to their D&I practice for effectiveness and value for money, and development of a digital toolkit to help businesses.

Better data and evaluation

Following a Guardian article suggesting the Commission has understated the importance of class, I challenged their view and made the essential point: measuring social mobility involves a complex range of data, however no meaningful progress can be made unless we start with the evidence. Our State of the Nation 2023 report presented evidence relating to occupational class as well as other important outcomes including income, education, housing and wealth. I believe that all these factors matter greatly to people, because they have a real impact on their opportunities in life.

The Institute for Government (IFG) has published a report about the benefits and drawbacks of greater transparency in government. It highlights the importance of publishing the data on which decisions are made, to help make the government and its decision making process more transparent to the public. This is a conclusion I and the SMC would wholeheartedly support. The SMC has even created its own data tool, to enable government and other stakeholders the opportunity to look at key data on social mobility in the UK, on which our own recommendations are made.