The Sutton Trust is calling on the major political parties to place social mobility at the heart of their election pledges for a divided Britain. In a Mobility Manifesto published today (Thursday), the Trust sets out a series of practical and evidence-based policies designed to address issues affecting Britain’s low levels of mobility and widen access to education opportunities. These include ending social segregation in the best schools, banning unpaid internships and overhauling the university admissions system.

The manifesto urges the major political parties to make admissions to all types of schools -including grammars, comprehensives and independents – fairer. Research by the Sutton Trust has found that across England, Scotland and Wales, the highest performing comprehensives take just half the rate of pupils eligible for Free School Meals compared to the average comprehensive. Less than 3% of grammar school intakes are eligible for free school meals, five times lower than the national average.

According to the report, “social segregation in our schools system is a major barrier to improving social mobility. A fairer system, where access to schools is not linked to family income, would have benefits in terms of overall attainment, teacher recruitment and retention and social cohesion.” To make this a reality, the Sutton Trust would like to see:

  • State school admissions ensuring a better social mix across the system, with consideration given to ballots and priority for disadvantaged students, particularly to open up high performing comprehensive and grammar schools.
  • The opening up of Independent schools, on a voluntary basis, to pupils from all backgrounds. Entry to 100 leading independent day schools should be democratised through the implementation of the Open Access Scheme, where places are allocated based on academic merit alone, not money and parents pay a sliding scale of fees on what they can afford.

The Manifesto also calls for changes to the university admissions system, to reduce the gap at the most selective institutions between low income students and their better of peers. The Trust is calling on the next government to consider moving to a Post Qualification Applications (PQA) system, where young people apply to universities after they have received their grades. This would allow students to make an informed choice based on their achieved rather than predicted grades. A PQA system would also get rid of the increasing practice of unconditional offers.  Contextual admissions should be used by more highly-selective universities to open up access to students from less privileged backgrounds.

Other recommendations, which range from the early years to access to the workplace, include:

  • Better access to the best early years’ education for disadvantaged pupils by ensuring that early years’ practitioners are well-qualified.
  • An evidence-led fund to support young people with high academic potential in state schools, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds;
  • A greater focus on supporting the development of essential life skills in young people, both in and out of the classroom, with time and funding allocated for their development, through the curriculum and extracurricular activities.
  • A significant increase in the number of degree and higher-level apprenticeships available as an alternative to university, and a focus on ensuring young people from low and moderate income backgrounds can access them.
  • The restoration of maintenance grants for students to at least pre-2016 levels to provide support for those who need it most and reduce the debt burden of the least well-off.
  • A ban on unpaid internships that are over four weeks long so that young people who can’t afford to work for free aren’t excluded from the most competitive career paths.

In the foreword to the report, Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), writes:

“As we face a Winter election campaign, Britain’s exit from the European Union continues to preoccupy both politics and the media. But this general election will be about much more than that. It is essential we do not lose focus on the bigger picture this country faces, and social mobility is one of our greatest challenges, inside or outside Europe. In fact, our volatile political climate is partially a consequence of Britain’s educational divide.

“To make sure we make use of our best talents, we need to see our most successful educational institutions open their doors to everyone regardless of background. Our independent schools, which have long been a source of educational excellence, should enable access for all, not just the 7% who can afford them. The Trust’s ‘Open Access’ programme provides the blueprint for achieving this.

“But to harness the UK’s education system to drive social mobility and end the waste of talent, we need change at a national level.

“Here, the Sutton Trust launches its ambitious ‘Mobility Manifesto’, putting educational opportunity and social mobility front and centre. It contains wide-ranging policies covering everything from Open Access, to early education, fair access to university and pathways to the most sought-after jobs.”


  • The Sutton Trust is committed to improving social mobility from birth to the workplace. Founded by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997, the Trust has supported over 30,000 young people through evidence-led programmes and published over 200 pieces of agenda-setting research, many of which have influenced government policy.

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