Alan Milburn, the chairman of the Social Mobility Commission, has urged ministers see that education is key in helping those from disadvantaged backgrounds to get ahead in life.
Mr. Milburn was speaking at the Teach First Impact Conference when he called for a target of at least half of all children from poor homes should be achieving 5 good GCSEs by 2020.
He was speaking about how those from poorer backgrounds were being left behind, saying, “The truth about our country is that over decades Britain has become wealthier but we have struggled to become fairer,” adding, “The introduction of the pupil premium and other reforms are positive steps in the right direction.”
Milburn went on, “We should no longer tolerate an education system that produces a cohort of youngsters who simply lack the skills to compete in the modern labour market. It will be impossible to make progress in improving social mobility until the educational attainment gap between less well-off and better-off children is closed,” concluding, “Our future success in a globally competitive economy relies on using all of our country’s talent not just some of it.”
Education & Opportunity
Mr. Milburn made a strong point with his comments, as there certainly seems to be a correlation between education and achievement in later life. Those from the most advantageous backgrounds often get a boost by being able to afford to attend the best schools, while the prospect of university tuition fees is also less daunting for the wealthiest families. However, by contrast, those from disadvantaged backgrounds may be prevented from achieving their potential because of poor facilities, a lack of opportunity, and concern over the cost of higher education.
Under the current rate of progress, Mr. Milburn argued that it would take at least 30 years to halve the educational attainment gap in schools between poorer and better-off children, while the gap in attainment at university level would take 50 years to close.
Closing The Attainment Gap
Mr. Milburn called for the scrapping of tuition fees for teacher training and the offering of housing support for existing teachers working in the most disadvantaged areas. He also wanted to see intensive support for the lowest performing 20% of schools, and a performance measure to track what happens to pupils when they leave school.
By creating an environment that better supported the worst schools while also encouraging teachers to work in the most disadvantaged areas, it is hoped that the gap in attainment can be closed to create a fairer society.
Equality Of Opportunity
We all like to believe that if you work hard enough you can achieve anything and be whatever you want to be, but Brett Wigdortz, founder and chief executive of Teach First, asserted, “Educational inequality is a slow burning injustice that goes unnoticed, but threatens the very fabric and foundations of a fair society.”
He continued, “The fact that a child from a poorer background is less likely to succeed at school and life is totally at odds with a British sense of fair play. Following Brexit, it’s clear we need to invest in education, the communities and young people that have been left behind if we are to build a better Britain.”
Inequality of opportunity doesn’t just harm those who are left behind, but it also has an impact on Britain as a whole. By not recognising and supporting capable young people just because of their background leaves us poorer for losing out on their skills, experience, knowledge and ability.
A wealthy background does not automatically make you more capable, just as a poorer background doesn’t make you less capable. However, in the long term, a lack of opportunity will.
A Country That Works For Everyone?
A spokesman from the Department for Education stated that “This government is focused on making Britain a country that works for everyone. We are determined that every child, regardless of background, gender or ability, has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential,” noting, “The pupil premium, now worth £2.5bn a year, is being spent to improve the education provided to children from the poorest backgrounds.”
Certainly, any measures to help improve social mobility are to be applauded, but could we be doing more? And what about the potential effect of raising university tuition fees alongside the recent scrapping of the maintenance grant in favour of a loan system?
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