Our Alumni Leadership Board member, Maisie, offers her take on what the next government needs to do to improve social mobility and reduce educational inequality.

Although education pledges have captured attention in the general election campaign, the absence of social mobility in these discussions has been concerning for me. Neither of the two main parties have committed to increasing school funding or made specific pledges to support disadvantaged young people, despite a rising need for urgent action following the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.

The impacts of these crises on pupils’ attainment affect disadvantaged young people much more significantly, and with studies predicting the worsening of GCSE results up until 2030, for instance, it is vital now more than ever to prioritise social mobility in education. A new government should be an opportunity to introduce changes that will improve the lives of disadvantaged young people and benefit the future economy.

It is refreshing, then, that the polling published alongside The Sutton Trust’s roadmap for the next government, Fair Opportunity for All, suggests the public would welcome policies that will improve opportunities for young people, regardless of their background.

Surely then political parties should be clearer on how they will tackle the widening gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their wealthier peers? There is a workforce, funding, and inequality problem in our education system at every level, often driven by rising poverty levels and the withdrawal of government support, such as the National Tutoring Programme.

Attainment disparities between the North and the South of England are also worsening, with the pandemic’s impact being felt more acutely by pupils in the north. I’ve only been educated in the North, and at every stage have noticed inequality. At university, you can’t help but feel outnumbered and often when I’ve raised regional inequality it’s not taken seriously amongst peers.

Therefore, there is a pressing need to specifically unpack and address the correlation between socioeconomic inequality and the regional attainment gap. Illuminating this issue, not just as a footnote or second thought, could push the new government to adequately address the regional aspect of educational equality.

Importantly, though, there are widening disadvantage gaps across the entire country. To paint each region with one brush and not consider variation between local authorities would potentially sideline disadvantaged young people in regions that have relatively high attainment rates. Socioeconomic differences amongst students in a singular cohort, for example, can have an impact on attainment.

I remember being frustrated at my own school when I offered to speak about the Sutton Trust to the year below, I was met with the argument that not enough students needed that support. I felt there was always a polarisation that I was very middling, but retrospectively I was quite a high achiever. The point, though, is that from my experience it is easy for people in need of support to almost ‘slip through the net’ in a high achieving school or region.

This is why I welcome the Sutton Trust’s suggestions on more targeted and specific support, as their manifesto, outlines, delving into underfunding, tutoring, apprenticeship reforms, and more factors that contribute to the attainment gap.

Targeted regional support must also be a priority, though, and with most ‘levelling up’ promises falling short or being axed (such as HS2), I agree with the Sutton Trust’s conclusion that these education reforms require a shift in national priorities and deep social change.

I’m hopeful there will be such a change, as polling shows that there is public support behind reforms that provide equal opportunities for all, regardless of their backgrounds. I would like to be optimistic that the next government will prioritise social mobility in education, listen to public opinion, and the Sutton Trust’s recommendations. However, I think more attention must be paid to regional inequalities and momentum must be kept up to influence government’s educational priorities in favour of social mobility given the fiscal challenges they will face.

The opinions of guest authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Sutton Trust.

Media enquiries

If you're a journalist with a question about our work, get in touch with Sam or Rocky on the number below. The number is also monitored out of hours.

E: [email protected] T: 0204 536 4642

Keep up to date with the latest news