How companies can help with social mobility

Themes rise and fall in education news land. Recently the topic of social mobility has risen to the top of the education news wave leaving stories of shrinking school budgets, degree grade inflation and the lack of support for pupils mental well-being sinking to the bottom.

Ahead of the curve was the Sutton Trust who released a report co-authored with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility entitled “The class ceiling: Increasing access to the leading professions” which laid bare (again, after previous work from the Social Mobility Commission) the static nature of social mobility in the UK. We are a nation where the privilege and wealth of your parents directly dictates the privilege and wealth you will enjoy.

Much of the subsequent press follow up concerned itself with the recruitment practices of employers that favour young people from well off backgrounds such as unpaid internships while the report took a bigger picture view of the wider education & employment system.

CEIAG and recent careers policy got lots of attention with a careful eye laid on the progress of the Careers & Enterprise Company

and plenty of stakeholder opinion on the quality of careers advice in schools. Much of the state of careers commentary is echoes of all that has gone before so it was the sections which looked at what steps business could take to change the situation which I found interesting.

  1. The use of Contextualized recruitment by firms such as Deloitte places an applicant’s academic achievement in the context of the institution and wider community in which they achieved this.
  2. The move away from traditional academic routes into the professions and toward new, work based schemes even in professional areas such as Law. CILex the example given.
  3. Open competition for young people to apply to work experience placements so not to insulate benefits seen by friends and families of employees. I’ve linked on this blog before on the general lack of work experience opportunities offered by business.
  4. To be involved in Mentoring programmes, which will give much power to the Careers & Enterprise Company’s new scheme.
  5. Local targeting of deprived areas and schools with the work of the companies on the Government’s Social Mobility Compact (no, I’d never heard of it either) praised for their work with (mostly) London schools
  6. Unconscious bias training to aid impartiality in recruitment although the example of practice given in the report is from the Civil Service so, as it’s not private sector, I don’t really think it should count here.
  7. The collection and publication of data on the socio-economic backgrounds of employees with the data collected by the Solicitors Regulation Authority given as an example.

These are all praiseworthy and socially responsible efforts by the private sector to, in small ways, stick an oar of movement into the static pool of social mobility in the UK.

Reading this report coincided for me in the same week as seeing a presentation on an EY summer work experience summer scheme called “Smart Futures.” A paid work experience scheme for Year 12 students, this is a fantastic opportunity that would excite many young people. EY though, are aiming the programme at pupils who have been

Eligible for free school meals at some point in the past six years

which is an altruistic and well intentioned clause but, as many of the other schemes and ideas mentioned above also do, it fails to take into account a hard reality of the educational progress and attainment of disadvantaged students by the time they reach this age.

In 15/16 43% of disadvantaged pupils gained A-C’s in GCSE English & Maths compared to 70% of all other pupils while 37% of disadvantaged pupils achieved 5 A-C’s compared to 65% of all other pupils.

At Key Stage 2, 39% of disadvantaged pupils reach the expected standard in reading, writing and maths while 60% of other pupils do.

In fact, disadvantaged pupils are already 8 months of learning behind their peers when they start school.

To tackle this, companies that truly wish to make an impact on social mobility should step away from their own comfort zones and deal with very young people and families in settings perhaps they have not so far ventured into. The Smart Futures programme is delivered through EY’s charitable arm The EY Foundation. It would require strong leadership but, ultimately, a bigger structural impact on their investment would be found from, for example, offering small scale, localised provisions to fill the gaps that the closures to large numbers of Sure Start and children’s centres is leaving.

 

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