15/11/2016 11:41 GMT | Updated 16/11/2017 05:12 GMT

Social Mobility Won't Be Solved By Some Simplistic 'Council House To Cabinet Table' Story

NurPhoto via Getty Images

Turbulent times have seen politicians reach for the same old answers but giving elites more elite choices won't provide the answers in a post-Brexit, post-Trump political landscape. The deep rooted problems of social mobility and economic insecurity won't be solved by trumpeting the council house to cabinet table story which benefits a tiny few whilst disadvantaging the many.

Ahead of the annual social mobility stock-take of the Social Mobility Commission it's important to think about what we mean by championing social mobility. Too often social mobility is thought of in terms of plucking the one or two lucky ones out of disadvantage and taking them to the top. Yet this understanding is deeply unhelpful when looking at the profound challenges our country and education system face and the complex policy solutions required to overcome them.

Whilst exceptional individuals are held up as paragons of how social mobility should work in practice this remains the route of the few, with many more of their peers failing to achieve their potential because of the barriers put in their way.

True social mobility should be about everyone, starting as children, being able to make economic and social progress, unconfined by the disadvantages they begin with, achieving to their full potential.

Ministers from the Prime Minister down talk the talk on opportunity, sloganising about "a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few." Yet the policy solutions they propose, and the measures the Tories have taken over the last six years in office have made life harder and pulled the ladder up for the many.

The barriers to true social mobility in Britain are many-fold. In the early years and in education, the long-tail of underachievement and the educational attainment gap between the disadvantaged and their peers, which is now widening not narrowing, should be the focus of public policy, as it has been for last two decades. A concerted strategy for narrowing the skills gap and the productivity gap would boost social mobility for the many. And breaking down the social barriers in accessing opportunities in work and in life is also key.

Ministers should be following the evidence of what works rather than taking our education system and society back to the future.

The Social Mobility Commission has done an excellent job highlighting the challenges young people face and their annual report launched tomorrow will no doubt set out the ills affecting social mobility and some of the prescriptions necessary to provide more aspiration and opportunity.

The evidence base for the policies and interventions that do work and tackle the educational attainment gap is well known. Quality early years provision that supports struggling families as well as assisting child development; ensuring enough excellent teachers, particularly in more challenging areas with entrenched disadvantage and few opportunities; improving skills and closing the productivity gap.

Yet under this government these key ingredients to tackling disadvantage are going backwards.

In the early years the quality of childcare and early education is threatened by proposed funding changes from this government which threaten the future viability of the best engines of social mobility, our maintained nursery schools.

The government is presiding over a teacher shortage crisis with more teachers leaving the profession than entering in the last year and big gaps in some of the key STEM subjects. There are not enough excellent teachers, or school leaders, storing up trouble in the system.

Ministers have done little to tackle productivity issues and there is a lack of skills pipeline for key sectors of our economy.

On top of all this the government are fixated on expanding selective education. All the evidence shows that this will do nothing to raise attainment for the many and indeed, in selective areas, low attainment pupils do worse than their peers in comprehensive schools.

We don't need a more elite education for the already elite. We need better schools for every child, an expansion of the gifted and talented programme this government dropped and a stretching education for all which helps lift children up rather than siphoning off the best.

Unless we help everyone up the ladder, our country will be left behind. Rather than simply celebrating the lucky few who make it from the council house to the cabinet table we should be making sure their neighbours and classmates get the same opportunities too.

Lucy Powell MP is the Labour and Cooperative MP for Manchester Central