To commemorate its twentieth anniversary, the Sutton Trust is hosting a summit, ‘Social Mobility 2017’, on the 12th July. Launched at the Summit are three new research reports; “The State of Social Mobility in the UK” produced by Boston Consulting Group, “Social Mobility and Economic Success” produced by Oxera Consulting, and finally “What the Polling Says” with new survey data commissioned from Ipsos MORI.
Together they paint a picture of how social mobility in the UK has evolved through the twenty year history of the Trust, where we stand today, and where it is likely to go in the future. Survey data compiled since 1987 indicates a growing pessimism about social mobility and equal opportunities. Self-perceived mobility has been declining or stagnant throughout that period, belief that people have an equal opportunity to get ahead is on the decline, as is optimism about the prospects of the next generation compared to their parents. While this is concerning, it is indicative of how issues of mobility and fairness are increasingly to the forefront of people’s minds.
Boston Consulting Group’s report looks at the drivers of social mobility and future of work, providing an analysis of how trends in the labour market, including automation, are likely to impact on social mobility. While the automation of many routine and paraprofessional occupations poses a clear threat to mobility, increasing demand for STEM skills, a sector less dominated by the privileged than other more traditional professions, offers a clear opportunity to improve the life chances of those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Furthermore, Oxera’s analysis shows the economic imperative of working to improve social mobility, showing that raising mobility in the UK by even a modest amount would lead to substantial gains to productivity, via improved matching between jobs and skills. Taken together, the research serves to further demonstrate how vital improving social mobility is to the nation’s future.
- Interventions that tackle inequalities while children are young have potential for the most lasting impact. Early interventions are key given that most of the gap in educational attainment is created by age five. Recommendations include a national definition of school readiness and an innovation fund to support those with effective local parenting initiatives (such as The Sutton Trust’s Parental Engagement Fund).
- Teaching quality must be improved, particularly in disadvantaged schools. Teachers in the UK currently experience lower wages, longer working hours and have a less prestigious career than their peers in other developed countries. This needs to be reversed to attract and retain the most talented graduates into teaching.
- State schools must do more to develop “soft” or “essential life skills” in less advantaged pupils, through a richer programme of extra-curricular activities.
- Promotion of the apprenticeship model and vocational tracks, including the new ‘T-levels’ will be needed to ensure the supply of skills meets the demand in the labour market. Apprenticeships should combine workplace training with off-site study, and lead to a professional accreditation. There should be a focus on higher and advanced apprenticeships, along with automatic progression.
- More should be done to increase the study of STEM subjects (particularly among women) to ensure young people are equipped for the changing world of work. Initiatives such as teaching coding in schools are welcomed.
- In addition, government policy should support greater geographic distribution of opportunity. Incentives can encourage companies to establish outside London and the South.