If political parties really want to gain traction in the longer term, they must do more to address social mobility

Waking up to a hung parliament is a strange experience; feelings of uncertainty mix with a sense of hopefulness for a new direction. Either way, the British electorate has sent a message for this General Election — that all parties need to work harder to gain a unanimous vote of confidence from those they serve. An interesting news report surfaced last week, bearing the headline “Parties must address social mobility problem to win General Election” — which now turns out to be quite apt, as nobody did address it directly, and nobody won.

In an age of austerity, people want to ensure that structural barriers to progress are removed so they can effectively escape being affected by the cuts being made in the first place. However one of the key problems with austerity (where people’s economic wellbeing is concerned) is that it is all stick and no carrot; it became increasingly clear that austerity was actually placing more barriers in ordinary people’s way — whether that be due to making it harder for people to stay in work with long term illness, buy a starter home, or access quality schooling.

What’s worse is that the attainment gap is widening — despite families’ attempts some are stuck on a treadmill where no matter how hard they work and save money, they are standing still and not moving forward. Some university courses are now being seen as not offering value for money. Policies aimed at restoring social mobility such as the introduction of grammar schools were widely criticised; which could have left the electorate with a lesser sense of confidence in government to solve this issue.

So what are we going to do about it?

There has been some visionary thinking on this topic from Sam Freedman of Teach First, whose Education and Social Mobility Manifesto has attracted lots of positive attention. Amongst the highlights are these excellent recommendations:

Expert careers advice in every school — Every school to have a leader dedicated and trained to support young people’s futures.

  • I think these experts should be businesspeople themselves — so young people can get the latest insights on which careers could be for them, the skills they’ll actually need on the job and the kind of working culture they might want to be part of. Organisations like Founders4Schools would be ideal to use here, not least because they could also inspire another equally important career path — that of entrepreneurship.

Help to get to university — UK-wide support for disadvantaged pupils for considering and going to university, starting before age 16. This support needs to be in every part of the country, especially where there are no universities.

  • I agree wholeheartedly that this must start well before 16 years of age. I serve on the board at Villiers Park Educational Trust and we begin our work with children at around age 13 as that’s when the class attainment gap really begins to widen.

Incentivise employers to support students to get jobs — Employers to offer one day of volunteering per year to support schools’ careers advice.

  • This is by far the most important element of the manifesto in my opinion — it must also go further. Not only by attending schools but by co-creating curriculum content as an ongoing initiative. It’s great that we finally have coding on the curriculum, but we also need to start thinking about data analytics, business development skills and also treating creativity in business with the respect that it deserves.

We have entered an age where lifelong learning is becoming compulsory and not a nice to have — we need to get our young people ready for this new reality. Also from a policy perspective, governments need to join the dots a lot more; it is through giving young people the best possible tools to prosper, so that we can collectively encourage the next generation of productive tax payers, which can support GDP and the maintenance of public services.

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