Robert Goodwill: Better education is key to improving social mobility

EDUCATION is fundamental to breaking the link between a person’s background and where they get to in life. It is our primary tool for opening up opportunity and giving people a chance to go as far as their talents and ambitions will take them.

The Prime Minister has talked about areas in which we can work together, and I hope that this is one of those.  I am grateful to the Social Mobility Commission for setting out its views in its recent Time For Change report, and I add my personal thanks to Alan Milburn. We welcome the report and recognise its conclusion that life chances are too often determined not by someone’s efforts and talents but by where they come from, who their parents are and what school they attend.

At the start of this year, the Secretary of State (Justine Greening) set out three priorities for social mobility. They were tackling geographic disadvantage; investing in long-term capacity in the education system, and ensuring that that system really prepares young people and adults for career success.

Before I explain how we are delivering against those priorities, I should emphasise that we are driving opportunity through everything we do. For instance, there are now 1.8 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010, including – dare I say it – 11,043 more in Conservative-controlled North Yorkshire, where 73,096 children are in good or outstanding schools.

As well as increasing school quality, we are strengthening the teaching profession, opening up access to higher education, transforming technical education, delivering three million apprenticeship places and investing in careers education.

Beyond that progress, the Department for Education is delivering against its social mobility priorities in several specific ways. We are tackling geographic disadvantage by focusing efforts on supporting specific areas that face the greatest challenges and have the fewest opportunities. We are investing £72m in 12 opportunity areas – social mobility “cold spots” where the Department is working with a range of local partners to break the link between a person’s background and their destination.

Our approach goes beyond what the Department for Education and central Government can do alone; it extends to local authorities, schools, academy sponsors, local and national businesses, local enterprise partnerships, further education colleges, universities and the voluntary sector. Through that process, we will not just build opportunity now but lay the foundations for future generations.

Tackling geographic disadvantage is important, but so is investing in the long-term capacity of the education system. We are absolutely clear that some of the biggest improvements in social mobility can be achieved by deploying high-quality teaching. We have more teachers in our schools than ever before. There are now more than 457,000 teachers in state-funded schools throughout England, which is 15,500 more than in 2010. More than 14,000 former teachers came back to the classroom in 2016.

We continue to provide the pupil premium, which is worth around £2.5bn this year, but we want to ensure that that funding actually benefits the most disadvantaged, so we are also investing £137m through the Education Endowment Foundation to expand the evidence base for what works for disadvantaged pupils.

Our third priority is to ensure that the system prepares young people and adults for career success. We are investing more than £70m this year to support young people and adults to access high-quality careers provision. The Careers & Enterprise Company will ensure that every secondary school in each opportunity area has an enterprise adviser and delivers four encounters with the world of work for every young person. That will focus the whole education community in areas of the country where social mobility is lowest. We have also developed and expanded traineeships for under-25s, which give young people the skills and experience needed to progress to apprenticeships or sustainable employment.

We are delivering against our commitment to social mobility, but of course more must be done. We know that too often a child’s life chances are determined by where he or she comes from, and we understand that not everybody can access the opportunities available to them. In the early years, we must continue to work to ensure that all children are school-ready by the age of five. In schools, we must ensure that all children benefit from a rigorous academic curriculum and excellent teachers.

Beyond school, we must ensure that young people have the opportunity to pursue whatever route they choose. We must therefore continue to reform technical education to ensure that people have the skills they need to succeed in the world of work, and we must continue to provide the opportunity for disadvantaged young people to go to top-performing universities.

Social mobility is vital. We know that education plays a fundamental role in that, and we will continue to build on what we are already doing by working closely with employers and other partners. The benefits to be gained by the agenda are significant, and the more society as a whole can support it, the better.

Robert Goodwill, the MP for Scarborough and Whitby, is also an Education Minister. He spoke 
in a Parliamentary debate on social mobility – this 
is an edited version.

Yorkshire Post