New report highlights social mobility 'coldspots'

By agency reporter
February 28, 2019

Social mobility ‘coldspots’ – areas in England where social mobility is low – are likely to fall back even further from the rest of the country.  This has serious economic and social repercussions for those living there, according to a new report of a cross-party MPs and peers inquiry into the regional attainment gap.

Closing the regional attainment gap, the report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on social mobility, highlights how the attainment gap – the gap in school exam results between pupils from different social backgrounds – is one of the key factors leading to social mobility ‘coldspots’. It warns that the emergence of large areas of low educational attainment and few opportunities have contributed to the deep social divisions we see in Britain today, and highlights the importance of interventions to address inequalities.

The report also highlights the power of high quality teaching for disadvantaged pupils.  It recommends a repurposing of the Pupil Premium into a new ‘Social Mobility Premium’, which can be used for professional development and extra support for teachers in deprived areas and to help incentivise greater local collaboration between schools and other key local partners.

The APPG inquiry followed a substantial body of research which shows how differences in school achievement act as a block on social mobility.  These differences have real consequences for the life chances of those from disadvantaged backgrounds. For example, research has found that children with poor vocabulary at the age of five are more than twice as likely to be unemployed at 34.

According to the report, most recent data shows that the progress of disadvantaged pupils in England lags behind their classmates by around half a grade per subject at GCSE. While poorer pupils in London perform about the same as the average student nationally, disadvantaged pupils in the North East have the lowest scores, with the South East and South West both performing poorly for their disadvantaged pupils. Despite its proximity, the South East has an attainment gap twice the size of Inner London.

The inquiry heard how these differences in attainment for disadvantaged pupils are driving social mobility ‘coldspots’ in areas like Norfolk, Somerset and Blackpool. And without serious efforts to close the attainment gap, social mobility prospects in these areas are likely to fall back even further.

This has serious implications for individuals growing up in such areas, but also for the prosperity of wider society. Research by Oxera for the Sutton Trust has shown that even a modest increase in the UK’s social mobility (so that it is in line with average levels across Western Europe) would result in an increase in annual GDP of approximately two per cent, the equivalent to £590 per person or £39 billion to the UK economy as a whole.

Over three sessions, the inquiry explored what is driving the regional attainment gap and looked at effective solutions for closing it. Parliamentarians heard evidence and received submissions from 30 figures and organisations.  Those making submissions included former Education Secretary Justine Greening, representatives from the successful London Challenge, and headteachers from across the country.

The report draws on their evidence to outline how breaking the link between social background, geography and educational success will require more collaboration between schools, local authorities and universities. It calls for a focus on providing high-quality early years provision for the most disadvantaged children, and ringfenced funding for children’s centres to address their recent decline.

A separate recommendation calls on the Government to build on the new recruitment and retention strategy and deliver on reforms that would reduce teacher stress and workload, particularly for those in more challenging schools. It suggests offering a more generous financial incentive, combined with a strong offer of additional professional development to teachers to encourage them to take up positions there.

Justin Madders (Labour) , chair of the APPG on social mobility, said: “Social background and geography are still huge influences on educational success and it will require a combination of big picture thinking and local understanding to change that. Each area has its own challenges so we would like to see more focus on local collaboration between schools, local authorities and universities, harnessing the successes of the London Challenge, and with a focus on social mobility cold-spots.”

“But equally, we need to see policy change at a national level, such as repurposing the Pupil Premium into a new ‘Social Mobility Premium’. This would send a strong signal that there is Government determination, backed by resources, to deliver real improvements in social mobility.”

Baroness Tyler (Liberal Democrat), co-chair of the APPG on social mobility said: “While indications are that the attainment gap is narrowing, at its current rate, we are still over 40 years away from closing the gap between disadvantaged five-year-olds and their more advantaged counterparts. Progress is also spread unevenly across the country. London has been significantly ahead of the rest in raising the attainment of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“If we are to improve social mobility in this country, it is key that we tackle the issues addressed during our inquiry. A focus on the early years is essential and we’d like the Government to publish a re-invigorated strategy for children’s centres with a much stronger focus on social mobility. We hope that the Prime Minister, and her government, will look closely at all the findings and recommendations of this report.”

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “We find ourselves an increasingly divided country; divided by politics, by life prospects, and also divided geographically. There are big differences in educational outcomes for disadvantaged pupils in different areas. This regional attainment gap acts as a major roadblock to social mobility, creating social mobility ‘coldspots’ where your chances of getting on in life are slim. To improve overall social mobility we need to focus on these ‘coldspots’ by means of interventions to address inequalities.”

* Read the report Closing the regional attainment gap here

* Sutton Trust https://www.suttontrust.com/

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