THE BLOG

Brexit's Social Mobility Challenge

03/08/2016 16:25 | Updated 03 August 2016
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I wasn't surprised to see the statistics published after last month's European Union referendum. According to YouGov's final polling figures there was a huge age divide - 71% of 18 to 24 year-olds voted to remain in the EU, whilst 64% of over-65s backed the leave campaign.

There was also a marked difference between those with different levels of education - those with few formal qualifications voted Leave in as great a proportion as graduates voted Remain. Indeed there is a close correlation between the Leave vote and areas with low social mobility, highlighted on the Sutton Trust's Mobility Map.

Since its inception, the Sutton Trust has worked with a number of governments to raise awareness of the country's social mobility issues. I was heartened that Theresa May's used her first speech as Prime Minister to comment on social mobility. She was absolutely right to highlight the importance of ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities regardless of social background.

So it was good to see her cabinet appointments including so many more comprehensive and grammar-educated ministers, a reflection of the achievements of schools which are attended by 90 per cent of the population. Analysis by the Sutton Trust found that Theresa May's new Cabinet has the lowest proportion of privately-educated Ministers since Clement Attlee's first Cabinet in 1945. In short, our new Cabinet is more representative than the last.

Justine Greening, our new Education Secretary, is someone who has previously supported the Sutton Trust and championed social mobility. In a speech at the launch of the Sutton Scholars in 2014, she said: "social mobility can transform the lives of this country's young people."

There is no doubt that these are positive moves for social mobility. The Sutton Trust's Leading People research consistently highlights the dominance of privately educated people across many professions in our country, from doctors to actors.

But despite these positive changes, our society is plagued by low levels of social mobility issues which is seriously harming the life chances of disadvantaged young people. At age 5, children from the poorest 10% of families in the UK are already 19 months behind the richest 10% - a gap which persists and widens through primary and secondary school and up to university level.

One of Justine Greening's biggest tasks will be assessing the value of post-school opportunities. Irrelevant of background or social class, everyone in life deserves the same opportunities. However, it's important that schools are providing students with the best careers education and post-education advice.

A lot more needs to be done to develop essential life skills for state school pupils. These include such skills as articulacy, social skills and teamwork, which are often taken for granted amongst independently educated students.

We need to ensure that a good technical education is a route to social mobility too. At the moment further education colleges are measured on 'success rates' rather than student results and job success rates - and this has to change. There is a similar problem with apprenticeship programmes where the emphasis is on quantity rather than quality. It is hugely important that teachers promote apprenticeships as a post-education career choice with as much emphasis as they do universities.

However, there is very real worry that Brexit will seriously reduce the number of career opportunities for young people. The IMF recently announced that it was lowering expectations for global growth post-Brexit, which raises questions about the country's economic stability.

I am pleased that the latest Bank of England analysis is slightly more cautiously optimistic than earlier projections, but if the country does head towards another recession as some fear, it will disproportionately impact on young adults at the beginnings of their careers. Those from more privileged background are likely to jump to the front of the queue ahead of their disadvantaged counterparts.

It is crucial that a post-Brexit Britain makes sure that young people still have the same chances to fulfil their talents. The next generation needs clearer options and better information from those around them in order to play to their strengths and fulfil their potential. I hope the new Prime Minister translates her first day promise into real action to make that happen.

Sir Peter Lampl is Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation

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