My Lords, I am delighted to open this debate on social mobility and by the level of interest it has generated among noble Lords whose contributions I look forward to hearing, particularly the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Choudrey.
I start by declaring an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility. It has been a privilege to have served as an officer of this APPG since 2011. A general debate on social mobility is long overdue. To be frank, it feels as if there has been something of a deafening silence on this issue of late. There were scant references to social mobility in the recent party election manifestos, and the few there were felt less than positive in places. I feel sure that I am not alone in your Lordships’ House in viewing taking action to improve the life chances of all our citizens, whatever their background or the circumstances of their birth, as a primary responsibility of any Government.
How do we get this subject high up on the political agenda where it should be? Let us hope that this debate helps. As a starting point, I do not think we could do much better than looking at the Sutton Trust’s Mobility Manifesto, which was published last November, and the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation 2018-19. Both reports contains important recommendations which must not be lost simply because of the political machinations we have been living through. I look forward to hearing how the Government plan to respond to them and about their overall thinking on boosting social mobility.
I shall first say a few words about why I think social mobility is such a pressing issue. I shall try to go easy on the stats, but a little theme-setting is required. The stark reality is that it is becoming harder to be socially mobile. A recent study of ONS data found that only one in eight men in professional jobs who was born in the late 1970s and early 1980s was highly socially mobile, compared to one in five in the late 1950s.
Let us next look at the economic case. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Social Mobility Report, which was published this month—so it is hot off the press—the UK ranks 21st out of 82 countries. It is the third-lowest G7 economy and is followed by the United States and Italy, so there is no room for complacency. Low social mobility is estimated to cost the UK many billions a year, not least in terms of low productivity. It has been estimated that even modest increases in social mobility could increase GDP growth by 2% to 4% a year, so it matters for economic prosperity as well as for social justice.
It is also highly instructive to look at public attitudes to social mobility. We are lucky to have the Social Mobility Barometer, which was published earlier this month. It found that 77% of people in the UK feel that there is a large gap between the social classes. This is unchanged from previous years and suggests that people feel the gap is not closing. Almost half of people feel that where you end up in British society is still mainly determined by your background and who your parents were. Tellingly, more than half of those questioned felt that the Government should do more to help the least well off, and 76% of people felt that there were large differences in opportunity across the country, with the greatest difference being between London and the north-east.
All this is reinforced by recent polling commissioned by the Sutton Trust, which shows that people have become considerably more pessimistic about opportunities to be successful in life, with just 35% of respondents agreeing that people had equal opportunities to get ahead.
In short, this stuff really matters. So what do we need to do? The Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation report found that social mobility had “stagnated” over the last four years, at
“virtually all stages from birth to work”.
It contained a wide range of recommendations, including on childcare, the pupil premium in schools, support for disadvantaged 16 to 19 year-olds, financial support for undergraduates, university-contextualised offers, and government investment in skills and jobs in areas of low social mobility and low pay.
The Sutton Trust manifesto was equally wide ranging, covering early education and childcare, school admissions, open access to independent schools, support for the highly able from disadvantaged backgrounds, essential life skills, apprenticeships, university contextual admissions and post-qualification applications, and student maintenance grants and internships. There is no shortage of ideas. I am sure that other contributors to this debate will cover many of these specific areas, although the acute time constraint—I fully understand the frustration that many noble Lords feel—is going to make it tricky. Of course, we heard only today on the news about the need for the top universities to increase places for disadvantaged youngsters.
In big-picture terms, what both reports clearly demonstrate, and my main message today, is that improving social mobility requires the Government to take action across the life course: early years, primary and secondary school, careers education, further education, universities, apprenticeships, access to good employment opportunities—and so it goes. It requires a sustained cross-government approach, with strong political will and clear delivery mechanisms.
Let me pick up briefly on a couple of these issues. There is abundant evidence that a child’s first years play a major role in determining their chances later in life, and that good early years education is critical to reducing the gap in school readiness between disadvantaged children and their better-off peers at the age of five. In summing up, could the Minister say what plans the Government have to review their 30 hours of free childcare to shift the entitlement from high-income families to those on low incomes? Could she also say what plans the Government have to give early years teachers qualified teacher status, with the increase in pay and status that that would entail?
Moving up the age range, countless reports highlight the potential of further education and apprenticeships to be effective vehicles for social mobility, with disadvantaged students significantly more likely to enter FE than their more advantaged counterparts. However, this route has suffered from years of historic underfunding. Funding per student for 16 to 19 year-olds fell by 12% between 2011-19 and was 8% lower than for secondary schools. The Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility, which reported in 2016—and on which both the Minister and I were lucky enough to serve—also pointed out the simply huge disparities in funding levels between universities and further education colleges, meaning that those studying at FE colleges were getting a raw deal.
Last August, building on the two key reports of the APPG on Social Mobility—The Class Ceiling and Closing the Regional Attainment Gap—as co-chairs we wrote to the Chancellor asking him to prioritise social mobility in the spending review, and particularly to increase spending for further education. Of course, we welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement last September on increasing FE funding by £400 million, but this was only a one-year package and focused on some very specific areas of funding. Therefore, I am calling on the Government again today to prioritise long-term sustainable increases for further education in this year’s spending review.
Allied to this, the APPG, along with others, also called on the Government to introduce a student premium of at least £500 per year for disadvantaged 16 to 19 year-olds. This premium would mirror the current pupil premium funding in schools and would be used to raise the attainment of disadvantaged students. Today, again, I call on the Government to introduce a student premium for 16 to 19 year-olds.
I have one final question for the Minister. I am aware that I have asked a lot of questions and would be very happy for him to write, setting out the Government’s full response. What is happening to the socioeconomic duty introduced in Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010? It is described as requiring public bodies to adopt
“transparent and effective measures to address the inequalities that result from differences in occupation, education, place of residence or social class.”
As I understand it, it currently sits idly on the statute book and has yet to be enacted. What plans do the Government have to bring this duty into force?
I would be delighted if the Minister would agree to meet me to discuss the next steps on these and many other issues, including how to turbocharge this whole agenda—something that I know that she, like me, feels passionate about.
To conclude, from birth to the workplace a young person’s life chances are heavily shaped by how much their parents earn and where they grow up. It is critical that this new Government act now to put a stop to this tragic waste of talents that blights both our economy and our sense of fairness. Although the main levers for improving social mobility lie within the education system, we cannot just look at schools in isolation; we need a cross-departmental strategy that combines big-picture thinking with genuine local understanding. I very much look forward to hearing the contributions of other noble Lords.
My Lords, I should like to say a word about this very important and very heavily subscribed debate. As has been mentioned, there is a tight constraint of two minutes on speaking times. I ask all noble Lords to stick to that time. There is a maiden speech, and the time limit will not apply to the noble Lord following that.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for her noble championing of social mobility. I also pay tribute to the Sutton Trust, which has worked very closely with her. In the short amount of time available, I want to raise two general points and then three policy points that I ask the Minister to consider bringing back for further discussion. I do not think that there is unanimity on them and we need to debate them before coming to conclusions.
Turning to my general points, first, I worry that, when we talk about social mobility, we overfocus on the bright disadvantaged child. Social mobility is about every child, no matter their level of attainment. I worry most about the underperforming child from a socially deprived background. Secondly, the Government could act now on some of these recommendations. All they need is the political will.
I now turn to the three points that I ask the Government to come back on in a further debate. First, I am not sure that we understand the causes of a lack of social mobility. They are not the same as they were in the 1950s and 1960s. Part of our failure to solve the problem is that our analysis is probably not accurate. We talk a lot about the solutions, but might it be a good idea to talk about the causes as well?
Secondly, I worry about the idea that these children should go to good schools. Some of those schools would not be good by the measurements that we use if they had to teach the underperforming children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Therefore, I should like to invite a debate on what we mean by “good schools” and why we think that somehow the schools teaching these children are not good, because I do not agree with that.
Thirdly, I am really interested in the debate on contextualised admissions to higher education. It is a very brave debate and one that we ought to have, although it is quite tricky for politicians. I would like to look at the advantages, of which there are many, but I know that it is a policy that is not without consequences for other groups.
If we could debate those three issues, we might then more successfully take forward our debate on the solutions.
Opportunity, aspiration and education are critical to all having the best chance of being socially mobile. Giving children the best start in life is paramount, so we need more health visitors, better-targeted childcare for those least able to afford it and renewed opportunities for parents to interact with others. Will Her Majesty’s Government commit to a proper national early years strategy with an increased share of future spending?
Church of England schools in my diocese have found it difficult to implement our motto that “no child is left behind” because social mobility is a great challenge exacerbated by a poverty of aspiration. According to the Social Mobility Commission’s survey, less than a third of people living in the north-east think that there are good opportunities in our region. Teachers can be catalysts for widening the aspirations of not only their students but their communities too. So, to address poor social mobility, the Church of England is looking to develop a “teach rural” programme, focusing on recruitment and retention of high-quality teaching staff in rural schools. Will the Government support programmes aiming to attract teachers to disadvantaged, socially immobile, rural communities?
Aspiration is raised by presenting to all real choices throughout life. Will Her Majesty’s Government commit to ensuring that social care, nursing, farming and public service work are presented as of equal value to what are referred to as high-skilled posts? Will they ensure apprenticeships are regarded as of equal importance to higher degrees by adequately funding FE as much as HE?
Finally, the Social Mobility Commission’s research found that families’ incomes affect their children’s social mobility. According to the Education Policy Institute, children eligible for free school meals are developmentally four and a half months behind their peers between the ages of nought and five. Yet child poverty is increasing; by 2023-24, the two-child limit is expected to drive a further 300,000 children into poverty. What are the Government’s plans to curb increasing levels of child poverty?
My Lords, it is with a sense of honour and humility that I rise to speak in your Lordships’ House for the first time. I would like to place on record my profound gratitude to my sponsors, my noble friends Lady Evans of Bowes Park and Lord Marland, for all their help and encouragement. I would also like to thank your Lordships and all the staff here—especially the doorkeepers—for the warm welcome that I have received.
I confess to a degree of trepidation in participating in this debate on social mobility, which has characterised my own life and matters to me personally. Hailing from a small farming village in Pakistan, my father, a Second World War veteran, moved to the UK in the hope of better fortunes. I joined him aged 12 specifically to attain the social mobility that was lacking in our motherland. Our move to the UK provided us with access to education, healthcare and work opportunities.
After five decades in the UK, and a great deal of hard work and perseverance, I stand before you today as the CEO of one of the UK’s largest family-owned businesses. We are a socially responsible business that has always given back to the communities in which we operate. We have provided vital support to local hospitals and helped transform inner-city schools across the UK. Our businesses have invested in economically deprived parts of the country, created jobs and invested in training programmes for staff and customers.
Social mobility is a complex and multi-faceted issue. However, in my opinion, education, healthcare and fair work opportunities are the key levers that need to be addressed to tackle it, with clear links between education and tangible work opportunities. Although the findings of the Social Mobility Commission’s report paint a bleak picture, I am confident that these issues are solvable, and this Government have already announced policy initiatives to address them.
The current Government are quite correctly channelling greater resources towards regional economies, particularly the Midlands and the north-east, which are primed to be engines of growth and job opportunities. An ambitious domestic reform agenda for healthcare has been put in place, with the NHS receiving a multi-year funding settlement last year. School funding is set to increase by £14 billion, with historically underfunded areas receiving the greatest increase. A new national skills fund worth £3 billion has also been announced.
This Government have been given a historic mandate by some of the most economically deprived parts of the country. They will target their efforts and resources at the people and places that need them the most. These policy measures are no panacea in themselves, as social mobility cannot be tackled by the state alone. All stakeholders, including schools, LEAs, businesses and civil society, need to work together in harmony to achieve this objective.
I thank your Lordships for giving me the opportunity to participate in this important debate.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Choudrey’s excellent speech. He is a living embodiment of the truth that if you want to make it in modern Britain, you can. I pay tribute to his courage, and perhaps his wisdom, in selecting a debate with a two-minute time limit in which to make his maiden speech. His credentials speak for themselves but he has not mentioned his generosity to various charitable causes that have sought to advance the social mobility of others. He has a wealth of experience and expertise to benefit your Lordships’ House and I am sure we all look forward to his future contributions, perhaps at even greater length than we heard today.
I grew up in Gateshead when it was one of the most socially deprived towns in the country. I failed all my O-levels and left school at 16, an outcome that was the norm rather than the exception at the time, but I was blessed with having wonderful parents who still encouraged me. I started running a youth club at my local church and then worked with others to establish a new non-selective state school for the town that would promote academic excellence by transforming the expectations of teachers and parents and, most importantly, of students themselves regarding what they could achieve. Today it continues to produce the best academic results among state schools in the north-east of England. Great achievements stem from great expectations and are delivered by great efforts.
That combination of experiences leads me to believe that too often young people from economically poor communities are portrayed as victims of circumstance to be pitied rather than equipped to be victors over circumstance to be admired. Telling people that somehow the cards have been stacked against them from the start and that other people are to blame is not only factually wrong but erodes self-esteem, breeds resentment and corrodes personal responsibility in the very people we are seeking to help. On
“power of the human spirit … This is far more important than any of the facilities we don’t have, so we always find a way. We don’t believe in excuses or talking about what might make us fail, we are too busy identifying our ambitions and making them happen.”
So, if you want more social mobility, start raising expectations and aspirations and stop raising excuses. Change attitudes and you will change altitudes. Tell people to pick up their ambitions and their dreams and to work hard. As Ayn Rand said, the question is not who is going to let me; it is who is going to stop me.
“the need to close the opportunity gap and maintain business engagement with young people is imperative to social mobility.”
So I will focus on access to the workplace. The Sutton Trust’s Mobility Manifesto emphasises the importance of high-quality careers education. When I ran a business preparing at-risk young people for employment, many had few friends or family in work and little idea of the opportunities available or how to pursue them. We give them what the trust calls essential life skills, covering things such as appearance, punctuality, confidence, communication, team-working, problem-solving and resilience. Would it not be better to teach these skills in school, starting at primary level? Children’s ideas about careers begin to form between the ages of six and eight, yet only a few primary schools have careers-related learning strategies. Will the Government encourage more to do so, preferably involving parents?
The Government’s laudable careers strategy requires pupils to have seven employer encounters between years 7 and 13 and two workplace experiences by the age of 18. How will they ensure that enough employers, especially SMEs, step up to meet this need? According to the Youth Parliament, work experience is one of the top concerns of 11 to 18 year-olds, so a group of young British Youth Council members recently produced a toolkit for SMEs interested in offering placements. How will the Minister promulgate good advice like that to the SMEs that need it?
The manifesto rightly promotes apprenticeships, especially for disadvantaged young people. How will the Minister make teachers and parents more aware and more supportive of the opportunities and benefits of apprenticeships, and will she take up the idea of a UCAS-style portal for apprenticeships? I hope she will acknowledge that issues relating to career aspirations and skills are central to any successful strategy for improving social mobility.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this debate and pay tribute to all the work she does to encourage social mobility. I also thank the Library for the helpful briefing notes.
Once upon a time, grammar schools and direct grant schools were great engineers of social mobility. My parents, from modest backgrounds, went from grammar school to Cambridge, where they both got firsts. My late husband was a scholarship boy at a direct grant school, another avenue to social mobility in education that has now been cut off. That took him to Oxford and high rank in the RAF.
In a debate on cadets on Monday, I reflected on how much the cadet forces contribute to social mobility. Young people, often from very disadvantaged backgrounds, learn about leadership, self-respect and social responsibility. They learn skills for life through the challenges they are required to face, which opens up opportunity and aspiration.
I have a perpetual concern that the current Government’s obsession with academic achievement at school marginalises many young people whose skills and interests lie in practical, work-based fields. I declare an interest as a vice-president of City & Guilds, which does so much to encourage learning in non-academic careers. What are the Government doing to encourage aspiration in work-based skills in the compulsory years of education at school? For young people to have social mobility, they must first have confidence in their ability to be worthwhile citizens.
UK universities engage in a wide variety of outreach programmes and initiatives, but do not have access to verified data on free school meals or pupil premium eligibility at the time of application. Why is this information not available to admission tutors?
The Sutton Trust summer schools do a wonderful job in breaking down barriers and the Open University is a great engine of social mobility. However, loan restrictions and fee increases have seen a very unwelcome decline in disadvantaged students being able to study. What plans do the Government have to help these students with grants and fee reductions? In this race against time, I hope the Minister will be able to offer some solutions to the many hurdles that prevent social mobility.
My Lords, I failed my A-levels too, but somehow I struggled into your Lordships’ House. The Sutton Trust’s manifesto is admirable and I fully endorse its proposals. However, the changes sweeping through the economy are just huge. At this point, the Government must face up to three hard truths and I should like the Minister to comment on these.
Hard truth one: as the guru of mobility research, John Goldthorpe, has shown, upward mobility in the UK is falling, while downward mobility is rising. It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of this finding. It is the expansion of the gig economy, with all its insecurities, that stands in the way here. Do the Government recognise that improving mobility chances will be impossible without active and quite radical intervention into labour markets? Education is not the great leveller.
Hard truth two: further profound changes are affecting the future of work, which will deeply shape the prospects of the up-and-coming generation. Only 8% of the labour force works in manufacturing today, down from three times that number only a generation ago. White-collar and professional jobs are next in line. AI is already transforming a whole range of such occupations, in law, medicine and elsewhere. The implications for social mobility for the younger generation are far-reaching indeed. They are not for the distant future but are happening in the here and now, and we need action now.
Hard truth three: the Government embrace the idea of social mobility, I think, because it sounds less threatening than confronting inequality. Yet you absolutely cannot deal with the one without confronting the other. The UK is one of the most unequal of all the industrialised countries. There simply must be substantial redistribution, including between the generations, if the trends dislocating our society are to be confronted.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, on securing this debate. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Choudrey on his excellent maiden speech. I am delighted to take part, not least because I think I may be the only Member of this House to have served on the Social Mobility Commission between 2012 and 2017. Very briefly, here are some of the lessons we learned, in the hope that they might be helpful.
First, at that time the term “social mobility”—perhaps even the concept—was not universally familiar. We sought, I think with some success, to raise awareness of the issues concerned.
Secondly, we worked to achieve acceptance that social mobility, involving educational, social and regional disadvantage, is a matter for the whole nation in every field: national and local government, early stages to postgraduate education, the private and voluntary sectors, public services and the professions. Government must lead and set an example through funding and policy but it is everyone’s responsibility.
Thirdly, there are no quick fixes. It takes dedicated knowledge and time to improve social mobility in any field. For example, it takes 10 years to raise a failing primary school to outstanding Ofsted status, thereby transforming its pupils’ life chances and those of its neighbourhood.
Fourthly, initiatives in any area must be sustained and sustainable. For example, there is Lincoln University’s collaboration with aspirational employers such as Siemens, which provides new job openings for local ambitions.
Fifthly, the voluntary sector already plays a huge role and will continue to do so. The Social Mobility Foundation, funded entirely by business, has since 2005 provided bursaries and training for disadvantaged young people, and now provides a social mobility index for employers—a powerful incentive. There is much more to do but it needs us all to do it.
My Lords, we all like a good example of a socially mobile person because we are always looking for the exception that proves the rule. Unfortunately, the socially immobile have normally failed at school. I am one of those persons; I relied on the prison system to get my education, but you cannot rely on that system any more to give you your education. You cannot rely on being wrong at some stage in your life, then somebody coming along, putting you together and moving you on so that you end up in the House of Lords. That does not happen.
I am an ambassador for a very grown-up thing to do: taking the social mobility pledge. Four hundred businesses have pledged to use social mobility and to be fair in how they take people on at work. That represents 3 million workers in the United Kingdom. We should have more businesses doing that. Unfortunately, if we fail 35% of our children at school and they make up 90% of our prison population—and if they make up the people stuck in our hospital A&Es—we are going to have social immobility. We really have to look at what our education system is doing because it is not providing the opportunity. What is happening is that people like me are now going in bad and coming out worse.
My Lords, many years ago, when I was training to be a teacher, I had to spend a week observing in a primary school even though I was preparing to be a secondary teacher. One particular moment has always remained in my memory. It was in the reception class when the teacher said to me, “When they come to us, some of the children are bright and inquisitive but some of them have a dull look in the eye. They can hardly put a sentence together and lack energy. Some are not even toilet-trained and some are obviously undernourished. What can our school do to make up for all these disadvantages?”
Today, there is absolutely no excuse for this. We know about the importance of the first thousand days. We know that a child’s life course is fundamentally affected by what happens to them in their first three years, and that babies from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be born with low birthweight, which leads to poor health. We know that the poorest children are 11 months behind when starting school. High-quality early years provision is vital for all children but particularly those whose family is unable to provide the richness of experience that allows the child to develop fully. However, 33% of staff working in early years settings lack either English or maths GCSE, or both, and are unable to provide that high quality. They are not trained to observe children and intervene appropriately to provide personalised development activities. Of course, staff with higher qualifications cost money, but it is money well spent because it produces better results for children and could be a major contributor to their social mobility.
I support the Sutton Trust’s recommendation that priority be given to ensuring that more early years teachers gain qualified teacher status. The Government should also invest in improving qualifications for all practitioners in the sector. It really matters.
My Lords, so many important points have already been made in such brief speeches. I have two quick observations. First, higher education is the only stage of education where disadvantaged students outperform. Will the Minister confirm that only 20% of people from poor backgrounds go to university and 60% of young people from advantaged backgrounds go to university? Will she confirm that it is the Government’s objective that more people from disadvantaged backgrounds should go to university and, therefore, as a matter of arithmetic, that either more people in total will go to university or fewer people from advantaged backgrounds would need to go to university?
Secondly, we have focused a lot in this debate on education, but social mobility is not just about education. The most important single change in the structure of the British economy is the rise in the value of assets and property such as housing relative to GDP and earnings. Wealth used to be three times GDP; it is now seven times GDP. That means that acquiring property, acquiring wealth, out of earnings has become harder. It means that inheritance is more important. It means that family assets are more important. Will the Minister therefore confirm that, as part of tackling social mobility, it is important that our party stand true to our principle of spreading the property-owning democracy and make it possible for people, especially younger people, to build up property in the form of housing and pensions?
My Lords, my remarks will be confined to early years. I want to draw attention particularly to the literacy skills gap, which starts at the age of five, and its long-term implications for and impact on social mobility.
Children from the most disadvantaged communities start primary school up to 19 months behind their better-off peers. This is a deficit from which most never recover and one that is predicted to take 40 years to close at the current rate of change. The number of children living in poverty is expected to reach 5.2 million by 2022, so this is a problem we cannot afford to ignore.
Last year, 180,000 five year-olds in England started school without literacy, language and communication skills, and disadvantage continues to hold them back throughout their life. For example, children with poor vocabulary at the age of five are more than twice as likely to be unemployed when they are 34. For language development at an early age, parental influence, home environment and skills for the early years workforce are significant factors, as has already been mentioned. Both the reports we are debating recommend extension of the eligibility for the 30 hours offer by lowering the lower-income limit to earnings equivalent to eight hours per week, taking steps to promote the revised offer and targeting low-income families.
The Sutton Trust report and the State of the Nation report also recommend tackling the decline in children’s centres, speeding up the review of children’s centres and ensuring that investment in the home learning environment reaches disadvantaged and vulnerable families. Furthermore, excellent programmes for training early years staff and volunteers to work with families are run by the National Literacy Trust and other voluntary organisations. They need support and scaling-up. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister what progress is being made in response to these recommendations and how effectively the Government are working with local authorities and voluntary organisations to respond to these urgent issues.
My Lords, much has been promised by the new Government to level up Britain. That levelling up seems to prioritise infrastructure investment, but it must surely also include investment in education and training, given that recent cuts in public spending have impacted negatively at all stages of education.
There is evidence in some parts of England that, whereas primary schools in general perform very well, secondary schools perform less well. That clearly makes social mobility more difficult for young people, and we need to understand far better than we do why that is. Aspiration may be a factor. For that reason, the private sector has a key role in those areas in providing higher-grade jobs than just those paying the minimum wage and in providing progression opportunities. Deep cuts in FE budgets have been a source of concern, and for that reason a 16 to 19 student premium would be a boost to help young people who do not follow the traditional academic route into university. It would also help employers to recruit better-skilled employees.
I spent over 30 years of my professional life working for the Open University. I saw with my own eyes what could be achieved by those who took up higher education later in life. Yet, since 2011, the number of university entrants in England from low-participation areas of the country has fallen by a sixth. Crucially, this drop has been caused by a 50% fall in the number of part-time HE students from low-participation areas. Only a small proportion of those transferred to full-time higher education. The majority are not participating at all, and those most deterred from entering higher education are the older students who cannot afford to carry debt. They need financial help.
Finally, we must try to stem the migration of those who feel they must leave their communities to study by increasing opportunities locally that are affordable.
My Lords, these two reports have pointed all their recommendations, almost without exception, at government. However, government is not the only body responsible for promoting social equality and growth.
Two bodies in particular spring to mind. The first is the importance of the teaching profession taking a positive attitude towards young people’s aspirations to get into our top universities and not saying, “This is not for you; it’s not for people from your background or region.” I believe that teaching’s professional bodies—teachers’ trade unions, teacher training colleges and others—must be much more positive in their attitude to promoting aspiration in young people. That is not in government’s hands. The right reverend Prelate I think mentioned the only example of that, from Durham.
Secondly, the Civil Service is often criticised for being one of the last bastions of Oxbridge—or, as I prefer to call it, Camford—privilege. The upper mandarinate is littered with people from Oxford and Cambridge. But it is not government’s job, and government should not be involved, in deciding who is to be employed in the Civil Service. It has traditionally been independent and has had independent advice. The Civil Service promotes and recruits its own. There is unfortunately no one from the upper mandarinate of the Civil Service on these Benches to hear my strictures this afternoon, but it is clearly a failure on the part of the Civil Service itself not to have developed young people at greater pace who come from backgrounds other than the traditional backgrounds that are pointed out in statistics in these two reports.
Lastly, I am an admirer of the work that is being done in your Lordships’ House by the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk Assistant in promoting diversity among those we recruit to your Lordships’ House to help us.
My Lords, I will focus on one aspect of the use of the pupil premium. It was brought in specifically to help the disadvantaged across the board, including enabling bright and able pupils to compete on equal terms with their middle-class classmates. It was targeted at those pupils whose parental aspirations and expectations were low and whose financial means were even lower—a physical, tangible means of levelling the playing field and facilitating upward mobility.
However, last year a Department for Education report on school funding found that the majority of schools were using their pupil premium to prop up their existing school budgets—something that we should be very concerned about. In particular, it was being used to employ teaching assistants, perhaps understandably.
However, a working-class youngster might need not a smaller class or a teaching assistant to improve their school achievements, but perhaps a vital piece of equipment: an iPad, music lessons or funding for cultural or educational trips and activities, or, in an area where public transport is poor and there is no mum’s taxi, the taxi fare to get home after an enriching after-school activity, the money to attend a university open day, or even a mentor/counsellor to support, guide and encourage them to believe that admission to an elite university is really “for the likes of you”. My school did that for me—#MeToo.
From my research, it is clear that the Government are coming under mounting pressure to be more “flexible” in the use of the pupil premium. Can the Minister assure us that it will still be used for this aspect of its primary purpose and will not be subsumed into the substantive schools budget? On that subject, why do maintained schools have to publish their strategy for the use of the pupil premium on their website, yet academies do not?
We are debating the 10 points made by the Sutton Trust. I have no argument with any of them—except, perhaps, the Open Access scheme. I not sure that using that great engine of inequality in our society to try to tackle these problems is a way forward. However, I particularly applaud the call for a ban on unpaid internships and the return of maintenance grants for students—something for which our young Greens in particular have campaigned—and the contextual admissions to our highly selective universities.
However, we need to think about our terminology here. We are talking about individual social mobility—potentially lifting a few people up and leaving everyone else behind. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, made that point clearly, expressing concern that the focus very often is on a few bright children. This is a small plaster stretched across the gaping wounds of inequality, poverty and desperation in our society. All this is a tragedy, because it is a waste of human potential. In our previous debate we discussed the climate emergency, the nature crisis and the scourge of poverty in our society. To get to grips with these problems, we need the full capability of every person in our society to develop as much as possible, for all our sakes.
So I urge your Lordships’ House to think about structural mobility instead: lifting up whole communities; a just transition; and a green new deal. But, more than that, I urge your Lordships and the Government to think about a society in which we do not need to think about social mobility at all. We need street sweepers, sewer cleaners and carers—boy, do we need lots of carers. Those jobs need to be respected and properly paid. The New Economics Foundation did a study that showed that cleaners contribute more to our society than bankers. Would the Minister encourage any young member of your family to become a cleaner? If not, why not?
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for this important debate on social mobility—two words that flow right through the veins of communities up and down the country, like a stick of Blackpool rock.
Last May, after seven years, I stood down as Victims’ Commissioner, having met hundreds of vulnerable people. Now, in my new role as pro vice-chancellor of the University of Bolton, as set out in the register, I have yet again seen for myself the divide and the degradation of our young people and the communities they live in. However, I am very proud to say that our university is in the 2020 top five in the UK for student satisfaction. For me, that says everything.
While we are talking about these two reports, which are very qualified and raise important societal issues, I am more of a people person than a policy person. That was especially the case on a visit to the Wise Owl Trust academy in Manchester. The executive principal, Sophie Murfin, and her team explained to me that their programmes build resilience for three year-olds—yes, three year-olds. The level of need in schools is now affecting our very young, from living in poverty to mental health. A father hanged himself on scaffolding near the school while his child watched. Five year-olds attended in nappies and five year-olds were self-harming.
I say this to my noble friend the Minister: please can we stop the talking and do more walking? We are at a crisis point. The time has come to prepare our children for the tests of life, not a life full of tests. We are talking about human lives—but, as we speak, children are leading a life in which they are at their most vulnerable. We need to protect them now.
My Lords, my remarks will focus on the need for greater flexibility in higher education.
We should abandon the view that a standard three-year residential degree is the minimum worthwhile goal. Students who realise that the course they embarked on is not right for them or who have personal hardship should be enabled to leave early with dignity, with a certificate to mark what they have accomplished. They should say, “I had two years of college.” They should not be disparaged as wastage. Universities should not be pressured to entice them to stay, least of all by lowering degree standards, but they should have the chance to come back later.
Some 18 year-olds of very high intellectual potential who have had poor schooling do not have a fair chance of admission at 18 to the most competitive universities. Even if they are given contextual offers, they may still struggle with the most demanding courses. That is why I urge that Oxbridge, and other universities whose entry bar is dauntingly high, should reserve a fraction of their places for students who do not come straight from school but have caught up despite their disadvantaged backgrounds through earning two years’ worth of credits online, at another institution or via the Open University. Such students could then advance to degree level in perhaps just two further years.
These reforms could be implemented routinely if the Government were to follow the Augar report and formalise some system of transferable credits across the whole higher and further education system. Moreover, another of that report’s welcome suggestions is that everyone should be entitled to a total of three years of support that can be taken à la carte, as it were, at any stage in life.
Finally, despite what I have said, the most intractable causes of inequality are imprinted before the age of five on those brought up in stress and poverty. These concerns should be at the top of our agenda.
My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Independent Schools Association, which has nearly 550 members. I speak on their behalf. They are good schools. In no way are they grand schools. They do not retard social mobility; they assist it. People who proclaim their opposition to independent education because it provides only for a wealthy elite should visit some of them. Drop in on the Old Vicarage School at Darley Abbey in Derbyshire, a co-ed preparing 160 pupils for education post 13 and charging extremely modest fees. Or call in at Maple Hayes Hall school near Lichfield, which, year by year, achieves spectacular results for around 100 children with severe dyslexia, yet has to fight local authorities that try to stop families choosing state-funded places there, to which they are entitled.
It is tragic that these schools, firmly based in their local communities, should have to listen to pundits and politicians calling for their abolition. For them, for the independent sector as a whole and for our country, the right route to greater social mobility is through widening access to them, on which the Independent Schools Council has made major proposals to the Government—I am sorry to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, is not in favour of such a course—and through ever closer association with state schools. There are now nearly 11,500 partnership schemes bringing schools together in a two-way process for joint music lessons, joint teaching of STEM subjects and much else besides.
In 2011, just three students from the London Borough of Newham went to Oxbridge. In 2019, the London Academy of Excellence in Newham, sponsored by six independent schools, sent 25 pupils to Oxbridge. Such initiatives highlight what the independent/state school partnership can achieve in assisting social mobility.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for securing this debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Choudrey on a marvellous maiden speech, and I thank the Sutton Trust, the Social Mobility Commission, Intern Aware and many others for their excellent work in this area. I should like to address my comments to step 10 of the Mobility Manifesto on unpaid internships.
In 2020 we have high employment and low unemployment, which is good, but we also have a boom in unpaid internships in this country. Tens of thousands of young people are asked to give their labour for free, with an increase of 50% since 2010. The current law is clearly inadequate, not least because it puts the onus on the individual to bring a claim. Hence the need for my Private Member’s Bill, which would put a prohibition on all unpaid work experience exceeding four weeks. High-quality work experience of up to four weeks is good but unpaid internships are bad and illegal from day one.
Some 66% of businesses support this change, as do 75% of the public. Step 10 of the Sutton Trust Mobility Manifesto is supported by No. 10, as demonstrated in an answer from the Prime Minister to a question asked last July by my right honourable friend Alec Shelbrooke. What is my noble friend the Minister’s understanding of how many unpaid internships there are currently, how many successful prosecutions has HMRC brought in this space, and will she support the Prime Minister and meet me and others at her earliest convenience to seek a swift solution to the pernicious practice of unpaid internships, thus ensuring that they can be truly condemned to the dustbin of history?
My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness on introducing this critically important debate. The questions around social mobility have permeated my entire career. I was representing the Child Poverty Action Group in 1972, and I was there at Church House when Keith Joseph made his great speech about the cycle of deprivation: low-income families, poor housing, lack of education and early childbirth all lead to a vicious cycle.
But then I thought that that was too deterministic. Interestingly, in my present career I meet any number of people who have succeeded against the odds, so there is a danger that social determinism can be too negative and patronising because it fails to bring out ambition.
When working in Brixton, I decided that the one thing those from a very poor family needed was somewhere to do their homework because they had no space. They also needed a bit of coaching. Failing to persuade Margaret Thatcher or Ken Baker, I did persuade the Prince of Wales that swot shops or homework havens were the answer. He introduced 200 swot shops up and down the country through the Prince’s Trust. On the question of social mobility, rather like on climate change, the Prince of Wales has become a great pioneer for current thought.
I believe in the effect of the Social Mobility Foundation and the Sutton Trust, along with Conservative Government policies. The work of my colleague Justine Greening set a wonderful example in her paper Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential, in which she covered all those areas. We need to see how employers can really work with local people, and the university technical colleges are wonderful.
Most particularly, Bernadette Kelly, the champion for social mobility in the Civil Service—who went to the University of Hull—is challenging all the issues addressed by my noble friend Lord Patten in his speech, and I commend her work. I wish that I had an hour and a half to speak, but it is hopeless.
I agree with what my noble friend Lady Tyler said about the student premium, the socioeconomic duty and a cross-departmental strategy.
Virtually every Member has mentioned education. I want to highlight again the importance of early years. It is about not just the hours but the quality of early years. We need well-paid, well-trained, quality staff. It is also about the parents themselves. We need to make sure that parents are supported in early years. All the statistics show that, if we do not get numeracy and literacy right at the age of 7, that gap gets wider and wider. That is why we have a problem with social mobility.
I like the idea of a cross-party strategy. The Government need to look at everything they do to see its effect on social mobility. I was going to mention internships, but I will give your Lordships another example. Instead of the legal practice certificate, the new solicitors qualifying exam is going to be introduced. It costs about £10,000, yet the Government have decided that students cannot access a higher education loan. Imagine the effect that will have on people from deprived communities entering the legal profession.
Only one person in your Lordships’ House has mentioned the word “poverty”. Poverty is important to social mobility. If we rid our nation of poverty and take steps to deal with it, that does something about social mobility. Social mobility is about levelling up. I am pleased that the Government believe in levelling up, and if we all work together we can do something to achieve that.
Education is one of the most powerful means we have to overcome disadvantage; it is therefore vital that access to the very best education is open to students from less privileged backgrounds. At present, the gap between poor students and the well-off remains enormous, particularly at the most selective universities. In addition to tackling the financial barriers to accessing higher education, we must move towards a system that tackles the structural disadvantage that holds young people back.
I welcome the Sutton Trust’s recommendation that universities move to a system of post-qualification admissions, where students apply after receiving their A-level results. Given that many disadvantaged students have their grades underpredicted, this could play a key role in the drive to widen access to universities by reflecting an applicant’s true potential.
Labour has pledged to work with universities on better using contextual admissions across the sector to ensure that admissions teams are able to recognise a student’s achievements in the context of their background and experience, and therefore identify their potential. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will support this approach—also advocated by the Office for Students—by making key individual indicators, such as eligibility for free school meals, available to universities through UCAS?
Many may be aware that the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents many of the country’s most expensive independent schools, has challenged the greater use of contextual admissions, complaining that they could lead to a form of reverse discrimination. I hope the Minister will send a clear message to the HMC that the Government will support the OfS to take appropriate action and ensure that we have fair access to our best universities for people from all income levels and all parts of our society.
My Lords, as a beneficiary of social mobility, I am honoured to answer this debate on behalf of the Government. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for raising these issues and for securing so many speakers to ask questions of me at the Dispatch Box. I first commend the excellent maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Choudrey and applaud his community support and leadership as an employer on social mobility. I agree with my noble friend Lord Bates that he is a living embodiment of social mobility, and we look forward to hearing from him in your Lordships’ House.
I particularly want to mention at the beginning that I think the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, might have been a fly on the wall at my first meeting with the officials about this debate, because my question was about the causes. These are complex and, following that question, I will go back to the department to ask more about what evidence we have. I do not think anybody has a silver bullet for the causes or solutions, but I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that it is not just about academic achievement. Social mobility is about every child in this country being able to make the most of their innate gifts and talents.
I welcome the thoughtful insights of the Social Mobility Commission and the Sutton Trust, which focus on education and work—both important pathways to spreading opportunities. I assure noble Lords that that is a priority across the department.
Many noble Lords mentioned the importance of early years and childcare. The reports highlight that the evidence supports the view that high-quality childcare prepares children for school and enables parents to balance work and family. The Government are committed to making childcare more accessible, saving families up to £5,000 a year. All three and four year-olds and disadvantaged two year-olds can now access at least 15 hours of free childcare each week. There is evidence that that amount of childcare makes a difference to those children.
On the many questions relating to staff and statistics about staff qualifications, the Government are investing £20 million to provide professional development for early years practitioners. The department has a fund of £100 million focused on social mobility and those who are disadvantaged.
In response to the questions from my noble friends Lady Newlove and Lady Shephard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the department has a 10-year target to halve the number of children leaving reception class without the communication, language and developmental skills to access education. The many comments go to show that we are aiming at a 10-year target.
Moving on to schools, the Sutton Trust manifesto calls on the Government to ensure that admissions to state schools allow for a better social mix. We are committed to ensuring that every child has fair access to a good school place and the School Admissions Code allows admission authorities to prioritise disadvantaged children. I need to state, however, that the attainment gap has narrowed and there is some good news in this space. At key stage 3, the attainment gap has narrowed by 14% and at key stage 4 by 9.5%.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham asked about teachers in more disadvantaged areas. I know that the Church of England has looked at this issue, with clergy going to what we call the outer estates. There is an emphasis in the opportunity areas programme on teachers going to the more disadvantaged areas of the country.
On the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, it is up to schools how they spend the £2.4 billion pupil premium. The department has also given them some ground-breaking research from the Education Endowment Foundation. We want to spread best practice, but we have given schools and head teachers the freedom to know where best to spend that money in their particular location.
The Sutton Trust recommends opening up independent schools to pupils of all backgrounds. As my noble friend Lord Lexden outlined, we have encouraged partnerships between independent and state schools, and we have agreed a joint understanding with the Independent Schools Council. I hope it is good news for the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and my noble friend Lord Lexden that we have these 11,000 partnerships and that they are two-way: there is much to be learned from the success of the state sector. On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, we will not be supporting the Sutton Trust’s open access proposal.
The Sutton Trust also recommends that the Government establish an evidence-led fund to support young people with high academic potential from disadvantaged backgrounds. As I mentioned, we spend £2.4 billion on the pupil premium and there is internationally recognised research. We are pleased that the Social Mobility Commission has recognised the importance of the opportunity areas, which are promoting social mobility in 12 deprived parts of the country. There will be a one-year extension to that programme, with £18 million of funding. My noble friend Lord Bates will be pleased to hear that Opportunity North East is a £24 million investment with local partners to tackle the specific issues holding back young people in that region.
On a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, I should say that it is evidence-based that the 15-hour offer makes a difference to children. Yes, there is the additional 30-hour offer, but that is more to do with helping working families. We are basing that universal offer on our current evidence base. To give an example to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the North Yorkshire opportunity area has launched an innovative programme where teacher recruitment is centralised to a single agency, which is helping.
The Sutton Trust has called on the Government to incentivise schools in relation to essential life skills, a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. There has been a £22 million investment within the opportunity areas in essential life skills, so that those areas can benefit from the extra-curricular activities which the evidence shows are often the added value that children need to succeed and make the most of their opportunities.
In relation to much of what has been funded on those programmes, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, mentioned that children need resilience. Those programmes have found that team-building and working together are building resilience for children who are in some of the most vulnerable and heart-breaking situations.
We agree with the Social Mobility Commission. It was a pleasure to serve with the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, on a Select Committee looking at further education as a drive to social mobility. We have already done many of the things mentioned in State of the Nation, such as: increasing 16 to 19 funding by £400 million; investing in adult learning through a national skills fund; changing how we allocate discretionary bursaries to meet student needs, as recommended by one of these reports; and reviewing qualifications at level 3 and below to ensure that the reforms work for all students. Pupil Premium Plus, which is for looked-after children and children under a care order, already travels into the 16 to 19 zone. However, I recognise that there is a strength of feeling that we should look at that further.
We have long recognised the role that high-quality apprenticeships play in spreading opportunity, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. I welcome the comment about the Civil Service made by the noble Lord, Lord Patten but, in preparation for a Question yesterday, I requested to meet an apprentice. Zach Lloyd from the Department for Education has taken the opportunity to come to London from Wales—he is planning to return there—and has a placement in the private office of the Secretary of State. The Civil Service is leading the way in opening up diversity. Apprenticeships are some of the best opportunities.
Degree apprenticeships offer people of all ages and from all backgrounds the chance to earn while they learn, which is attractive to many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We also encourage apprenticeship starts among underrepresented groups through projects such as Opportunities Through Apprenticeships, and our Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network. Regarding the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, about the radical changes in the labour market, we are already pre-empting that in developing the national retraining scheme with £100 million, and an additional £3 billion under the course of this Parliament to pre-empt those workers who will potentially be unemployed due to changes in their sector.
I am limited for time so will move on to higher education. We expect universities to increase access across all ages. I welcome this morning’s announcement from the Office for Students of the bold target for our most selective universities to close the access gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, halving it within five years, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. I will have to write to him regarding the statistics.
We welcome the fact that the Office for Students has instituted a wide-ranging review of admissions practices, including of the post-qualifications admissions system. One reason why this was not successful in previous reviews was that students from disadvantaged backgrounds did not have the in-school support that they often needed the most in order to make the best applications. I am sure that that matter will be taken into account in the review. We are considering the recommendations of the Augar review but, unfortunately, I am not able to give a precise time when noble Lords will receive our response to that.
On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, we welcome properly used contextualised offers by our universities that take into account the school and the particular background from which people have come. I am aware from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that there is an issue about the uptake of part-time higher education.
On the final issue of unpaid internships, the law is clear; it is a matter of enforcement. The main enforcer is not the employee but HMRC—which has had its budget doubled in order to bring employers to book—and there have even been website-scraping adverts and writing to employers in the sector where there is the most abuse. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, that I am sure that those employers would welcome contact on the social mobility pledge, which sounds like a very good idea.
In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I hope I have outlined some of what the Government are doing. To echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Patten, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, achieving social mobility is everyone’s responsibility. I personally have reflected on what I have done and what more I can do to open up opportunities for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that I would recommend that somebody should be a cleaner. It was my privilege this morning to get in here early and meet those who clean the Palace of Westminster. There are few more important priorities for any of us and any Government than social mobility.
House adjourned at 6.56 pm.