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Social Mobility – Leave it to the government?

Peter Truesdale, OBE

When I completed my last blog on this subject last week, I was left feeling a little uncomfortable.

Why?

Well I couldn’t quite tell. The actions taken by the companies covered in the Times supplement were excellent. Yet I couldn’t but think more wide-ranging action was needed.

That perception has been reinforced by the publication of the snappily-titled Time For Change: An Assessment of Government Policies on Social Mobility 1997-2017 by the Social Mobility Commission. It is prefaced by a Foreword from Alan Millburn, Chair of the Commission and Gloomster-in-chief. He has much to be gloomy about. Rather than treat themselves to the full 89 pages of the report readers might like to look at what Channel 4 thinks are the top ten graphs. Depressing stuff in anybody’s book.

The Commission sets out a prescription of nineteen actions the government should take.

The five recommendations under the heading Working lives require private sector engagement to achieve the goal. I found them underwhelming, particularly the last two:

  • forge a new concordant with employers behind a national drive to improve career progression underpinned by increased investment in skills policies – including high-quality apprenticeships
  • make socio-economic diversity in professional employment a priority by encouraging all large employers to make access and progression fairer, with the Civil Service leading the way as an exemplar employer

Are these undesirable aims?

No.

Do they attack the root of the problem?

No, they deal with the manifestation of its results in the late teens and early twenties.

The key to sorting the problem are recommendations such as:

  • establish a new national ambition to ensure that within a decade every child, regardless of background, is school ready by the age of 5 and that the attainment gap between poorer 5 year olds and their peers has been halved
  • focus childcare policy on improving teaching for the poorest children by doubling the early years pupil premium to enable childcare providers to offer extra support for disadvantaged children

Given government’s lamentable record of achievement ought not other agents in society, such as voluntary organisations, commerce and industry, be engaged in the task too?

I’d have thought: ‘Yes’.

It would complement all the later-in-life interventions. In the long-run, it would pay higher dividends.

Anybody up for that?

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