Now the hope for a fresh impetus has also dissipated wne its very light on detail 'Strategy 2019' emerged at the start of this month. Its messages have been critical and counter to what ministers wanted to hear. A report earlier this year, ‘State of the Nation 2018-19: Social Mobility in Great Britain’ comes on the back of similar offerings from the previous SMC. It is a fine example of a scathing assessment of the situation (see TEFS 30th April 2019 ‘The Social Mobility Commission gets out of first gear and gets mobile’). The conclusion that “inequality is entrenched in Britain, from birth to work” is a good summary.
After the ‘car crash’ of an evidence session to the Parliamentary Education Committee in June (see TEFS 18th June 2019 ‘Social Mobility Commission boarding up the windows’), the SMC finally published its report ‘Elitist Britain 2019’ with the Sutton Trust (see TEFS 25th June 2019 ‘Elitist Britain: Holding onto the powerbase’) that showed clearly why a lack social mobility has become so entrenched. Note that it didn't cover the whole of the UK as the SMC has no remit in Northern Ireland.
What are the Social Mobility Commission doing now?
Education is the solution?
The Social Mobility Commission is attached to the department of education for good reason. There is a general acceptance that people can advance through education that opens up opportunities. Indeed, this would be the case if it walked alongside equality of opportunity. Sadly, this is not the case. TEFS has highlighted many of the barriers to equality in higher education for those with a lack of family support and fewer resources. The results of a recent ‘Student Money Survey 2019 from student advice organisation ‘Save the Student’ , ‘ further highlights the inequality that is inherent in the system. It is something that universities try to ignore when assessing attainment. Yet it is real and pressing for many of their students. It seems that financial worries and lack of resources are having a major impact upon many students. The loans and grants are not enough to balance high accommodation and living costs with family often failing to meet the shortfalls. Of the 3,385 students surveyed, 67% said that they have part-time jobs. This figure is much larger than the 36% revealed in the AdvanceHE, HEPI, Youthsight ‘Student Academic Experience Survey’ of 14,072 students earlier this year (see TEFS 19th July 2019 ‘Students working in term-time: Overall pattern across the UK’). It is also higher than student (18-24 year olds in full time education) employment data held by the Office for National Statistics (See TEFS 27th July 2018 ‘The vast majority - one million - of students have no employment when in full-time studies’).
The recent survey results indicate that there are may be many more students employed part-time than has been uncovered to date. This might reflect what has become known as the ‘gig’ economy where casual zero hours contracts are normal for many students with some payments made off the books. There is an urgent need to properly assess the extent of this. Activities such as gambling (8%), drug trials (2%), payday loans (3%), credit cards (14%) and adult work (4%) make up the income sources for too many students. It all adds up to those that have resources advance in their studies. Those with fewer resources must work to make up a shortfall at the expense of studying. Local employers take advantage of the need and exploit the supply of able workers readily at hand with low pay. This does not come anywhere close to meeting an aspiration of equality. If the students affected find that they do less well than better off students, yet are saddled with higher debt, then they can be forgiven for being angry. Add to this a realisation that they are being blocked in the social mobility stakes and it becomes a very volatile and unstable mixture.
Links to the full details of the Social Mobility Commission research project calls published on 26th April 2019.
1. Downward mobility: understanding the glass floor
2. Moving out to move up
3. Apprenticeships and social mobility: fulfilling potential?
4. The road not taken: the drivers of course selection
5. The relationship between mental health and social mobility
6. The relationship between poor health and social mobility
7. Progressing out of low pay
8. Evidence Synthesis in Further Education and Adult Skills
9. Balanced schools - do they make a difference to social mobility?