Education is the rocket-fuel for social mobility but there is much more to be done, says Education Secretary Damian Hinds

Posted On: 
4th October 2018

Education is the ‘rocket-fuel’ for social mobility Education Secretary Damian Hinds has said, but added there is much more to be done.

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The Education Secretary said it was “self-evident” that every generation should have better opportunities than their parents but acknowledged that areas such as technical and vocational education required greater investment to ensure they were providing opportunities for the widest amount of people in society to succeed.

Speaking to a packed fringe event on the importance of education to social mobility, sponsored by KPMG, Damian Hinds said that advancing social mobility was not only critical for individuals, but for the wider UK economy.

“I’ve just been in the hall saying that we think it is self-evident that every generation should have greater opportunities than the last, but I also think that we all in this room think it is self-evident that every young person should have the opportunity to reach their individual potential,” he said.

“It is sort of self-evident from a social justice point of view, but there is another reason as well. Economists talk about equity and efficiency, and how there is sometimes a tension between those two things. The beauty about social mobility is that it achieves both at the same time. Because if you are going to have a fully productive economy and society capable of doing all the things it is capable of then actually you have to use the talents of everybody. As well as it being right for your fulfilment and self-actualisation of those people.”

The Education Secretary also paid tribute to KPMG, highlighting the importance of business and organisations outside of the educational establishment to helping drive social mobility in different communities.

Damian Hinds said that during his time on the APPG for social mobility the cross-party group identified three types of children who could be identified for specific policy prescriptions to try and increase social mobility.

He said: “The first we called ‘breaking out’ which is for children with particularly difficult backgrounds, particularly challenging backgrounds, and being able to get into the mainstream and have a chance alongside everyone else.

“At the other end of the spectrum was what we called ‘stars to shine’, so if you were a particularly talented individual in whatever that might be, musically, sporty or academic, that you should have a chance alongside the kids that had been to the very best schools. 

“And then there is the 80% of kids in the middle that should just be able to move up a little bit, get into a walk of life that they can provide well for their families and do a little better than their mums and dads. All of those things are social mobility, but they do have some different policy prescriptions for them. We have seen quite some successes in the last few years…”

Melanie Richards, Deputy Chair of KPMG, agreed with the Minister that there were significant challenges in driving social mobility around the country, urging policy makers to recognise and accept that the playing field was still not level for all.

“I believe, and so does my organisation, that no matter where you come from or who you are, everyone should have the opportunity to reach their potential,” she said.

“Now that is easy to say, but in my experience has been much more difficult to achieve.

“The playing field is definitively not level, and something we must all not only acknowledge but accept.”

She argued that one of the key reasons why the company had placed so much focus on creating programmes for the improvement of skills was due to the wider socio-economic benefits it would bring to the country.

“One of the reasons we at KPMG are working towards what we call a fairer future for the people who we attract to our firm and society at large is that the lifeblood of our business is people,” she said.

“That is what we offer out, and our country’s future prosperity is bound up in it. We hire more than 1000 graduates, but we also hire more than 200 apprentices every year. And we are working really hard now to give people from a really broad variety of backgrounds the opportunity not just to join us but to succeed and take pride in our organisation. 

“For me, this isn’t just about our recruitment, it’s about impacting the communities we work in, and working with people. Supporting them as individuals to improve their skills and employability, to ensure that they have much greater aspiration, opportunity and choice, even before they leave school.”

She added that the company’s outreach went beyond traditional subjects such as literacy and numeracy, also focusing on developing cultures of lifelong learning, so that young people can continue to adapt to the ever-changing work environment.

“Helping people to be curious and willing to learn new skills is critical now, and into the future. For literacy and numeracy is costing the country £50bn and of course it impacts those greatest who come from a low socio-economic background. But I don’t believe it is for government alone to tackle these complex issues, I believe business can and should play a part which is why we work to bring together and collaborate with other businesses, charities and government to create greater impact.” 

The Education Secretary concluded by recognising the positive outcomes that had been achieved, but he conceded that there was still much more to be done.

He said: “Overall since 2010, we have seen the attainment gap between the rich and the poor narrow, at every phase from nursery school, to primary school, to secondary school, to university entry. And that is all very very encouraging. But of course, there is still masses left to do. We talk about narrowing the gap but that’s narrowing the gap by at least 10% in each of those phases. 10% still leaves quite a lot and we know we need to do a great deal more.”