To boost social mobility, we need to make education this country’s top priority

Writing in the Telegraph, and in the wake of last month’s OECD report, Labour MP Ian Austin says innovation, specialisation and selection on merit can make Britain’s education system great again…

…The truth is that we have not valued education highly enough and standards in far too many schools are not good enough.

To achieve dramatic improvements, schools need great leadership. At Ellowes Hall in my constituency, results have doubled and more than eight out of 10 pupils now get good grades, because a brilliant new head, Andy Griffiths, has introduced a relentless focus on discipline and standards. He’s recruited good teachers, motivated them, set high aspirations and tough targets and made the pupils believe in themselves.

According to the Sutton Trust, “bringing the lowest-performing 10 per cent of teachers in the UK up to the average would in five years bring the UK’s rank amongst OECD countries from 21st in Reading to as high as 7th, and from 22nd in Maths to as high as 12th.”

We need a targeted approach with tough targets, the best heads and the brightest teachers for areas like the Black Country where standards lag stubbornly behind the rest of the country.

The London Challenge transformed education in the capital and we should be introducing or bringing back similar programmes elsewhere.

Next, we should expand Lord Baker’s brilliant work on University Technical Colleges through the Baker Dearing Trust.

These schools, which are partnerships between universities and businesses, enable children in the second half of their secondary education to acquire high-level technical and vocational skills, although this must accompany rigorous maths and English to age 18.

We should go further and specialise more at 14 and above, not just in relation to technical subjects such as engineering, electronics or advanced manufacturing as with UTCs, but in straightforward academic subjects too.

Sutton Trust research shows that just 7 per cent of pupils attend independent schools, but represent seven out of 10 high court judges, more than half our leading journalists and doctors, and more than a third of MPs. Just five public schools send more pupils to Oxbridge than 2000 state schools, or two-thirds of the entire sector.

The Sutton Trust proposes opening access to the country’s leading independent day schools by selecting pupils for all places purely on merit. Parents would pay a sliding scale of fees according to means.

When piloted at the Belvedere School in Liverpool, this Open Access scheme saw academic standards improve and the social mix of the school become more diverse, with 30 per cent of pupils on free places, 40 per cent paying partial fees and the rest paid full fees.

Extending that to 100 or more leading academic day schools, with state funding, would boost mobility and give our best universities and top professions access to Britain’s brightest young people irrespective of background.

Sharing costs with parents means the cost per head to the state for Open Access would actually be less than the cost of the average state school place…

More at:  To boost social mobility, we need to make education this country’s top priority

Ian Austin recommends a lot of actions here to improve social mobility – which ones do you agree with and why/why not? Please share in the comments or on twitter… 

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Categories: Policy.


  1. jay__ell

    SchoolsImprove poverty reduces chances of social mobility; current government policies are pushing more people into poverty.

  2. BramRaider

    SchoolsImprove Sounds a lot like Grammar schools via the backdoor. So why not just demand such schools? Too conservative for a Labour MP?

  3. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Once again an MP with no experience of school other than attendance to 18, making sweeping statements based on research

  4. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove MPs do see education as priority. If you can tinker & produce data to give impression that tinkering worked, votes are yours

  5. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove All problems in education currently are caused by politicians or political bodies. Exactly this sort of speech is the issue

  6. inwte

    SchoolsImprove school tie and wealth makes people richer mostly in this country you just need to look at our government

  7. Janet2

    Why do politicians continue to think that pushing a few bright children into independent schools will increase social mobility?
    First, the reasons for social mobility are complex: lifting people out of poverty, full employment, decent wages have more effect that education.
    Second, the OECD found the UK state schols OUTPERFORM independent ones when social background is factored in. 
    Third, the Sutton Trust found that comprehensive school pupils OUTPERFORMED their equally-qualified peers from independent and grammar schools at university.
    Fourth, the Belevedere Academy, supposedly comprehensive, nevertheless has only 1% (one pupil) previously low-attaining pupils and 65% previously high-attaining ones in its 2012 GCSE cohort.  The cohort had 22% FSM pupils – the national average is 25.3% and the Liverpool average is 41.6%.

  8. acet2001

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove More cherry-picking from all over. If all clubs could improve like Southampton then no-one would be relegated.

  9. andylutwyche

    acet2001 SchoolsImprove Quite – the term “average” seems to be too tough a concept for ministers. Great football analogy by the way

  10. TahliaDysart

    SchoolsImprove The changes seem to have been made with the idea that everyone is academic! No room is made for those with vocational skills

  11. Jperry145

    SchoolsImprove As long as we’re happy to remember that mobility means some going down while others go up – it’s two way traffic.

  12. Dyslexia2gether

    SchoolsImprove They are the worst scenario for those with #dyslexia & other #SpLD – a return to old O Level system that failed dyslexics 🙁

  13. AlanGurbutt

    SchoolsImprove State education is one aspect of social mobility. Social conditions impact upon learning – need to support the whole child.

  14. biscuitsarenice

    SchoolsImprove where to start? Value the pupils and the teachers as well as the process of education? Good jobs to look forward to?..

  15. biscuitsarenice

    SchoolsImprove living wages for all workers. Qualifications reflected in wages? It doesn’t start and stop with school. Social mobility is..

  16. biscuitsarenice

    SchoolsImprove society’s issue. If the rich poor divide continues to increase what education is only part of the solution.

  17. biscuitsarenice

    SchoolsImprove this government doesn’t value those who have worked hard and gained qualifications. What example does that set?

  18. JMCowey

    Jperry145 SchoolsImprove Partly true. History shows that it is possible to improve the lot of a whole nation, although not equally

  19. changepatriot

    SchoolsImprove Sadly Gove lovesTTTT&PBR & neither result in education which demands indepth understanding of childhood & learning process

  20. Liberal4Xt

    TahliaDysart SchoolsImprove Nor any consideration that in everyday life and work we pass or fail on continuous assessment.

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