Birbalsingh launches ambitious framework to map out steps to success

The Social Mobility Commission has developed a new index, which will monitor actual mobility for the first time by comparing a person’s situation at birth with their outcomes in their 30s and 50s. The index provides a richer, systematic and more consistent view of how people are progressing in school, work and financially relative to their parents and peers.

The State of the Nation 2022 – A New Approach to Social Mobility incorporates findings from the first phase and shows a mixed picture with both cause for celebration and cause for concern. There are, for example, clear signs that some gaps in educational attainment are closing between disadvantaged and advantaged children, particularly at key stages 2 and 4 (11 and 16). However, analysis of the 150-page report also shows that two-thirds of disadvantaged pupils and more than a third of all other pupils do not perform well in English and maths at GCSEs.

More measures will be added next year, including a regional breakdown and data on other characteristics such as gender, ethnicity and disability. This will allow the SMC to analyze the effects of personal characteristics and geographic location on where people end up in terms of the work they do and how much they earn – which is invaluable in helping to think about solutions early. policies.

Katharine Birbalsingh, president of the SMC, and her deputy, Alun Francis, want any future policy on social mobility to be firmly based on solid evidence. “We want to understand why social mobility happens, when it happens, and why some people go against the trend,” says Birbalsingh.

This is why we want to see government, both local and national, put social mobility at the heart of upgrading by using the results of our index to inform and assess success, and to ensure that their benefits benefit those who need it most. .

The Commission’s aim is consistency over time so that data can be compared annually – and at longer intervals of 5 or 10 years – to show trends in social mobility. The new measures have been carefully selected with input from experts in economics, sociology and education as well as other stakeholders from government, business and the charitable sector.

“The new Social Mobility Index draws on cutting-edge international research to provide a groundbreaking framework for tracking and understanding the changing mobility chances of young people,” said Anthony Heath, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Oxford, which helped develop the index. “It will provide early signs of hurdles that need to be overcome so that we can move towards a level playing field for all.”

So far, the focus has been more on factors that can help or hinder social mobility (called ‘drivers’ in the report), such as education and job opportunities for young people. Birbalsingh and Francis argue that there has been far less data on actual outcomes later in life, such as what occupation someone is in, where they live and what they earn in middle age. compared to his parents.

But they point out that there are also other important areas that impact social mobility that are less explored: talent diversity, family values ​​and culture. They’re difficult to measure, so they’re often not given enough weight, says Birbalsingh. “When we can, we want to find ways to measure them.”

Public opinion also counts for the Commission. “We plan to undertake research to better understand what real people really think about social mobility, so that we can ensure that the Commission’s work is aligned with their needs and desires,” says Birbalsingh.

The State of the Nation also sets out the main priorities on which the Commission intends to focus in the coming years. These include:

Education – covering early childhood, schools and universities, but also other pathways to employment such as continuing education and apprenticeship. SMC is also interested in learning more about how it can help families and parents.

Use – SMC will go beyond the city’s large professional businesses, many of which already have plans for a more diverse workforce, to look at how small businesses of all types can generate opportunity. It will also look at the impact that certain qualifications – notably diplomas and technical qualifications – can have on social mobility.

business and the economy – The Commission will examine the creation of opportunities, their geographical distribution and the role of business in sometimes difficult hierarchies of social mobility – all of which are at the heart of the government’s upgrading programme. It will focus on local neighborhoods where educational and economic opportunities are low across generations.

The Commission has made the new index one of its top priorities – to better inform policy advice. But he acknowledges that there are still many gaps in the data held by Whitehall and a lack of coordination between departments. He argues that without better data, policy advice often has to rely on elaborate guesswork.

“The government’s equality data program is a good start, but we believe there are areas where the government can go even further,” says Birbalsingh. “For example, in the UK the tax records of parents and children are not linked, as they are in other countries like the US, which makes measuring income mobility much more difficult. .” The SMC will present more specific recommendations for clearer and more consistent data in the near future.

Other report findings:

  • There are even more people who go up to a professional level higher than that of their parents than people who go down. But this surplus is less important than before. This is largely because the professional class has grown over the last 70 years, so there are more people already starting at the top, where no further progress is possible.
  • The relative chances of people from different occupational backgrounds getting into higher-level jobs have not gotten worse over the decades, and may even have gotten better.
  • The gap in school performance between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged 11-year-olds was around 13% smaller in 2019 than in 2011. We will have to watch how the impact of Covid-19 might affect this in the years to come. come.
  • However, significant gaps remain. In the 2020 to 2021 school year, only 31.7% of disadvantaged pupils achieved a grade of 5 or above in English and GCSE maths, compared to 59.2% of all other pupils. It also means that two-thirds of disadvantaged pupils and more than a third of all other pupils do not perform well in English and maths at GCSE.
  • The gaps between professional and popular backgrounds for both university participation and graduation have also narrowed between 2014 and 2021.
  • The rate of young people from working-class backgrounds without employment, education or training (NEET) has decreased since 2014 and was the lowest on record in 2021 at 12.4%. The gap between class backgrounds has also narrowed.
  • The gap between current occupational levels has also narrowed. In 2014, men aged 25 to 29 from a professional background were 1.9 times more likely to hold a professional job than men from a working class background. In 2021, this figure has dropped to 1.6 times more likely. For women, the decline was 2.3 times more likely to 1.6 times more likely.

Notes to Editors

What is the Social Mobility Index?

“Social mobility” refers to the connection between where we start in life and where we end up. The new index will be able to measure this in terms of occupation, income, education and other outcomes. We will be able to compare this across the UK by geographic regions, gender, ethnicity, disability.

  • Drivers – conditions that facilitate social mobility, such as the availability of good education and employment opportunities for young people. Drivers tell us about background conditions nationwide that can affect social mobility.
  • Outcomes early in life (intermediate) – the progress people make from their starting point in life to where they are in their twenties and thirties, such as employment, or educational attainment at age 16. This is broken down by socio-economic background of people.
  • Mobility results – progressing to a later stage in life, such as employment or income when people are in their 50s. We’ve only included a few illustrative measures of mobility outcomes this year, but we’ll add more in the future.

The new index builds on the Commission’s previous index which introduced the idea of ​​’cold’ and ‘hot’ spots of social mobility and, together with next year’s regional analysis, will give those working on social mobility even richer information to inform their work. At the time of publication, the Commission itself acknowledged that, by necessity, the old index was flawed and focused more on measures of disadvantage than on outcomes of social mobility.

About the Social Mobility Commission

The Social Mobility Commission is an independent, non-departmental public advisory body established under the Life Chances Act 2010, as amended by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. It has a duty to assess progress in the improving social mobility in the UK and promoting social mobility. In England.

The office of the Commission includes:

Katharine Birbalsingh CBE is Chair of the Social Mobility Commission and Principal and Co-Founder of Michaela Community School in Wembley, London.

Alun Francis OBE has been Deputy Chairman of the Social Mobility Commission and Principal and Chief Executive of Oldham College since 2010.

Both the President and Vice President will be available for radio and radio interviews.


Jill Sherman, SMC Communications Manager: [email protected] or 07384 870965

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