I’m afraid this post started out a lot wordier than usual so I had to extract most of the text and put it in a Social mobility commentary. Please feel free to read it if you have time. What follows is a summary which hints at a possible development of the arguments.
This week Alan Milburn, the Government’s social mobility ‘csar’, published his progress report on fair access to the UK professions. It contained some depressing facts.
- Of the UK Coalition Cabinet in May 2010, 59% were educated privately.
- Of today’s top 200 civil servants, 27% were educated at an independent school.
- Of the country’s top journalists, 54% were privately educated, with a third graduating from Oxford or Cambridge.
Milburn says “this is social engineering on a grand scale.”
IF one accepts that the overall policy aim should be to bring up the state funded education sector to the level of the private funded one, there are STILL big concerns.
For example, although all schools will have a statutory duty from this September to provide independent, impartial careers guidance for pupils aged 14–16 there may not actually be the required funding in place to back this up, especially for disadvantaged students.
Looking at individual UK professions, Milburn’s report finds that journalism has in fact of late increased social exclusivity as a profession and that law, medicine and politics/government have not significantly improved since 2009, though there are some unique exceptions. So is the Leveson Inquiry a case of one privileged profession (law) scrutinising others (journalism/politics/government)?
Milburn’s report tell us that “work experience is a requirement for entry to medical school but getting access to it is often unstructured and informal.” He then goes on to note the advantages that GPs’ children have in gaining work experience. He examines the highly competitive entry process to Medicine as one of the most popular university courses. “Access to medicine remains dominated by those from better-off, often privately educated, backgrounds.” Is this a fair system?
The week before Milburn’s report came out, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched the Government’s update on its social mobility strategy.
This document emphasises the Coalition’s belief that increasing social mobility can also drive growth through creating a more highly skilled workforce and putting people in the right jobs for their talents.
But there is a current gap of 16% between state and independent sectors (which has remained stable over the last 3 years) as to the proportion of students who study and do well in ‘facilitating subjects’ at A-level such as mathematics, the sciences and modern foreign languages. So proportionately more private students get onto the degree courses they need to enter the professions. And none of the Government’s proposed policies to tackle this gap will make a difference in terms of opening access to medicine if the employment entry practices described by Milburn continue.
The Government’s social mobility strategy does acknowledge that other factors impact on life chances such as gender, race and disability and it notes that poor white boys, young black men, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are all vulnerable groups requiring special attention.
But there is no significant reference to the disabled in all of these reports and strategies. This seems a great shame as many disabled young people can contribute enormously to the future wealth of the nation, particularly given the employment options and technology now open to them. But this assumes, like social class and other diversity markers, that there are no barriers to them accessing higher education and jobs. This is patently not true!
Finally, questions remain as to how we will collectively achieve real benefits for those disadvantaged young people who most require them. National direction and strategy outlines is fine, but what matters is what happens on the ground in schools, colleges and local communities. If THEY don’t lead on this agenda then there will be no choice for those without the means.