International Development Secretary, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, has welcomed Sutton Scholars.
In a speech at the launch of the Sutton Scholars programme at the British Academy last night (2 December) Justine Greening said:
I’m really honoured to be part of the launch of this important programme.
In my current role in International Development I spend most of the time talking about important development issues but social mobility is something that has overwhelmingly shaped and preoccupied my own life.
And, if I have to strip everything back about what drives me, social mobility is one of those things.
That’s why I jumped at the chance to be part of this evening.
Social mobility can transform the lives of this country’s young people. It’s also critical for Britain’s future, socially, politically and economically.
The question is this: what’s it going to take to get the step change in social mobility our country needs?
If I draw from my own start in life, I didn’t need anyone to tell me that things were hard in South Yorkshire in the 1980s. I could see it when I walked out of the door, going to school, when I watched the local news every night.
My first, perhaps harshest, economics lesson was the day my father lost his job at British Steel. He was unemployed for a year, before ending up filling vending machines for a living because it was the only job going.
So, I hope I understand the challenges the Sutton Scholars programme is seeking to address.
Firstly, this programme is reaching our young people between the ages of 11 and 14. I think it’s just the right time. It’s just when the right mentor or push of encouragement can have a big impact on someone’s outlook and create some early momentum for them which can carry through much longer-term.
But it’s the time when the road ahead to something better is at its longest and most overwhelming for young people.
Secondly, this programme is giving its scholars the early chance to have a sense of what they might be aiming for – what a good, successful life looks like. It’s helping them set their expectations and aspirations higher from the start.
Thirdly, it’s tapping into developing our best young people’s talents more broadly. One of the biggest challenges we face in having a successful strategy on social mobility is identifying talent, and that’s even harder when we know talent develops at different speeds in different people.
If we are going to make the most of our talented young people, we need to find ways of more systematically “mining” their talent base. This Scholars programme can help us tap the untapped potential.
I ended up being great at economics, my initial untapped talent, but I only took that A-level by chance after a 10 minute meeting in college with a careers advisor who’d never met me before.
As I discovered, without a more joined up, ongoing, systematic approach, its on these sorts of overly random one off discussions, random moments, young lives change, sometimes for the better but sometimes vital forks in the road to realising someone’s potential can be missed.
The Scholars programme is giving young people a broader awareness to help them make better, more informed choices. With awareness, with greater knowledge then comes an ability to assess and get those choices right.
So, this programme is doing the right thing at the right time. It’s trying to bend the arc of opportunity, early, for young people who can do and be so much more, so much faster.
It’s another crucial piece of the jigsaw puzzle that can help us identify and pick out those rough diamonds, talented young people growing up in our country – and then help provide them with a structured approach to nurturing and utilising their talent and potential.
It’s why the work of the Sutton Trust – and of all of you supporting the Sutton Trust – is so important.
All of this matters hugely. It matters that young people get to the stage where they know what they are good at – and so can play to their strengths.
And it matters to Britain, because we will never have an economy that truly performs at its best, if the people in it aren’t performing at their best.
It’s about productivity, an economic term that to me is not just about investment in physical infrastructure, higher tech equipment, but about people who can do more.
Human potential drives earnings potential. Earnings potential drives tax potential. And tax potential drives our country’s ability to keep investing in our national success.
I’m proud of what this government has achieved on social mobility, particularly given the tough economic climate.
The pupil premium. The lowest number of NEETS since records began by creating almost two million apprenticeships and making it easier for businesses to employ young people. More people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university – in England the entry rate has risen from 13.5% in 2009 to 16.9% in 2013 and we’ve also seen increases in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Setting up the National Citizens Service, and in my own department, the International Citizens Service, these schemes are also part of how we bring the vital wider horizons and opportunities to young people. It’s already seen 10,000 young people get the opportunity to work on a placement in a developing country giving them amazing life changing experiences.
All of that work is critical and as a government we will continue on that journey. Social mobility is a key part of our long-term economic plan for Britain. The two go hand-in-hand. I don’t believe you can have one without the other.
So how do we go even further on social mobility, recognizing that a step change doesn’t happen overnight?
Firstly, political consensus: Maybe social mobility has always been political but I think we have to move beyond it being a political football. This matters because social mobility is a long-term challenge that needs long-term solutions, not chopping and changing every Parliament.
We’ve got to move beyond arguing about the problem, just pointing at the statistics that make respective cases. We need to start agreeing what we’re going to do about putting in place that long-term approach. One that has the longevity to deliver on the ground for generations – irrespective of governments changing.
We’ve gone a long way towards that on early intervention for 0-5 year olds, we need to see that on social mobility too.
Secondly, evidence: We need evidence of what works over the long-term. Sutton Trust has, of course, been providing high-quality evidence for years – and I hope it continues for many years to come because we need more. Good data can cut through the rhetoric and drive action.
Thirdly, collaboration: This effort needs to be a collaboration on behalf of future generations – from central and local government, private sector big and small, civil society, schools, community leaders – great organisations like the Sutton Trust. Everyone pulling in the same direction at the same time with the same ethos.
Added together, these three elements can help create the long-term, sustained, culture change we need, the collective mindset change across our country, politically, socially, and economically, so we can pride ourselves on our ability as a nation to take the best of all of our talents and use them.
And the Sutton Trust Scholars Programme is part of how we can do this.
We often talk about social mobility as being about a ladder. I want to see that ladder turn into a conveyor belt, a conveyor belt of talent. Where young people can walk along it, where it’s already innately set up or designed to get them somewhere in the first place – to allow them to fulfil their potential, and in so doing, to fulfil Britain’s potential.
Nothing less, should be acceptable to us.