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Should England’s schools become 'engines of social mobility'?

Is social mobility the right issue for schools to focus on, or does it offer little more than escape route for the lucky few, leaving wider social inequality untouched?

On becoming Britain’s prime minister in 1868, despite his unlikely background, Benjamin Disraeli was warmly congratulated by his friends. ‘Yes,’ he is said to have declared proudly, ‘I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole.’ Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg recently admitted his ascent to power had been rather less of a struggle. At the launch of the government’s social mobility strategy Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers, he revealed that early in his career, family friend Lord Carrington had arranged for him to take up a position at the European Commission. ‘I’m not the slightest bit ashamed of saying that we all inhabited a system which was wrong,’ he said. Subsequently the coalition has divided over its plans for ‘fairer’ internships, but it remains united in the conviction that social mobility in the UK is unacceptably low, and that education is both a cause of and a solution to the problem. Education secretary Michael Gove chides those who see deprivation as destiny, and promises ‘urgent, focused, radical action’. Schools, he argues, should become ‘engines of social mobility’. The Opening Doors strategy suggests what happens to pupils in their school years will ‘to a great extent, determine their future life chances’. It concludes that social mobility could be improved by raising educational standards, providing extra funding for the disadvantaged, and ensuring better careers advice.

Certainly, the OECD rates the UK very poorly for social mobility compared with other developed countries. But some argue social mobility is just one aspect of a broader problem of inequality or disadvantage, and that a narrow focus on individual opportunities is a distraction from bigger issues, such as the lack of good jobs and general economic dynamism. So should we be focusing on creating better opportunities for all rather than bickering over who gets the few cushy jobs? Or is it a matter of principle that every child should have an equal chance of advancing in any given career?

Initiatives such as the English Baccalaureate, which will encourage state schools to teach traditional high status subjects, are designed to level the playing field. But will positioning schools as ‘engines of social mobility’ just give them yet another set of distracting political objectives that they are ill-equipped to address? Is social mobility the right issue to focus on, or does it offer little more than escape route for the lucky few, leaving wider social inequality untouched?


Christine Blower | talks
Stephen Gorard | talks
Siôn Humphreys | talks
Sally Millard | talks
David Skelton | talks
Toby Marshall | talks | www


Date and Time:

6 October 2011 at 7:00 pm


1 hour 30 minutes



Hamilton House
Mabledon Place

http:// http://www.hamilton-house.org.uk/contacts.htm
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Organised by:

Institute of Ideas
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£7.50 (£5 concessions) per person

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Tickets are available from the Institute of Ideas website.

Additional Information:

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