It’s World Kindness Day and yet 2.5 million children across the UK would not have to endure the crippling effects of poverty if we, as members of society, really cared about social justice.
The ‘kindness’ is not about pity. It is about valuing every segment of society and ending the obsession that those experiencing challenge or disadvantage can succeed by becoming ‘more like them’. Social mobility is about changing the way people think, act and engage and understanding there is an alternative way to live to ensure everyone can succeed, it is about mutuality.
We are in a place and at a time when there has to be a new way of thinking, there has to be both a recognition of the great things that have come out of initiatives (in health, social care, and education), and indeed, recognise what hasn’t worked and what isn’t working. Rather than repeating mistakes, or exacerbating them, we need the will to change. That will have to come from us all, and is about mutuality and mutual gain.
Owning mutual gain across communities
Mutual gain happens when people, on all sides of the social spectrum, across all classes and cultures, own the change and have a role to play. How would it work in education, if everyone demonstrated kindness and owned the benefits of mutuality across class and community?
However, mutuality is not middle class professional people dipping their toe into a life of disadvantage and then going away feeling they understand enough to call the shots. It is about giving the other party a voice, so they can engage – in a long-term way – in what happens next by working in partnership with others.
This isn’t about rescuing people. It’s about valuing them and allowing them to develop in their own way, where they are now, or where they want to be. Mutuality is, I believe, social justice and the key to social mobility.
Mutuality isn’t pouring money into certain areas of the country without asking the people who live there how they’d like to see money spent – without properly exploring what they need, rather than what others decide they need. And it isn’t about reshaping those areas in the image of the people giving the money. Nor is it about telling everyone they should get better exam results and aim for university, we should be resist the urge to make those numbers a test of our social mobility.
Instead, mutuality is about ensuring everyone has the chance to read, write and engage in maths so they have choices – about what they learn, and what they do with that learning. That might be to learn more by going to university, or it might be to learn a trade or to travel the world. Mutuality is about schools and a curriculum that is relevant to their lives and which engages with them, so they can engage with larger society.
We know that when children and young people don’t achieve what they’re capable of achieving, it has a long-term legacy effect on society. In 2014, Impetus reported that 120,000 13-year-olds were at risk of becoming NEETs, this group collectively stand to lose £6.4 billion over their lifetimes. These are young people we risk losing track of completely.
Kindness in action
Schools – some in the most difficult of environments – have embraced kindness and mutuality in really exciting ways. This teaches me and teaches us all what social mobility could really look like for everyone in the future. Those schools have taught me about the things that matter.
I have witnessed life-changing acts of kindness demonstrating the impact that an inclusive approach in education can make such as:
The parent who was taught by his daughter’s teacher to read so that he can better support her education – and has since become a teaching assistant; the school gardener who spent every morning with a pupil who was afraid of school, teaching him maths as they planted bulbs and fixed fences until his confidence flourished and he went back into the classroom; and the power of sport and extra-curricular activities in building much-needed self-confidence and resilience.
As the social commentator Tawney stated in 1920: “The continuance of social evils is not due to the fact that we do not know what is right, but that we prefer to continue doing what is wrong. Those who have the power to remove them do not have the will, and those who have the will have not, as yet, the power.”
The power rests within us all. With new thinking, mutuality, respect and collaboration all children can achieve. Ultimately, it is about taking responsibility, owning a shared moral purpose and shared ambition and integrity that can provide the opportunities and resources needed for all children and their families to achieve. This is social justice in action, and possibly, social mobility that really works. This is kindness in action.
Professor Sonia Blandford is Founder and Chief Executive of Achievement for All and author of and ‘Born to Fail? Social Mobility: A Working Class View’
Sonia is Professor of Education (UCL) and Chief Executive of Achievement for All. Sonia is frequently featured as one of the country’s foremost experts on improving outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. She is an advisor to the Government, European Commission and several international governments. Outside of politics Sonia is an Honorary Professor of Education at the University of Warwick and is also Pro-Vice Chancellor and Dean of Education at Canterbury Christchurch University.
Sonia is a Founding Trustee and Vice Chair of the Chartered College of Teaching, Founding Ambassador of Teach First, and Founder of The Pound Arts Centre. She was among the 2016 Women of the Year and a finalist for the ‘Outstanding Achievement Award’ in the 2017 inaugural UK Social Mobility Awards. Sonia was named in Debrett’s 2015 and 2016 list of the Top 500 Most Influential People in the UK.
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