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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Clegg on social mobility

Today's Guardian reports that after Vince Cable's success in forcing a Government climbdown on the reform of employment rights, Nick Clegg has stepped up  to the mark on social mobility.

The paper says that the Deputy Prime Minister has vowed to address the "absolute scandal" of Britain's lack of social mobility and open up a society that is "too closed" and "too static".

They add that the government has published 17 trackers to assess progress in improving life chances over the coming decades. These include school readiness, the proportion of children on free school meals achieving a "good level of development"; and the social backgrounds of pupils at 19 who achieve the AAB grades at A-level demanded by the Russell Group of universities.

Nick Clegg acknowledges that progress will be slow but is determiined to press ahead anyway:

He told ITV's Daybreak: "One of the things we are doing in these figures that we are publishing today – for the first time ever, it has never been done before – we are lifting a lid, if you like, on an absolute scandal, which is that, in our country more than many other countries, where you are born and certainly what your background is seems to determine your subsequent life."

Although he conceded that change could not be achieved overnight, Clegg said social mobility had to be factored into the education system, from pre-school to university.

He told Sky News that while the coalition was not launching an attack on the middle classes, "it's just not right that if you go into an average classroom, one in five children will be on free school meals. Go into an Oxford or Cambridge lecture theatre and only one in 100 will [have been] on free school meals."

It was, he added, a "national scandal" that some of the country's brightest children were being left behind simply because they came from poorer backgrounds.

Clegg also stressed the need for universities to think carefully about student admissions. Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, he said they had "to look behind the grades an applicant has on their CV and look at the potential a youngster has to thrive at university".

While viewed with suspicion by some in the UK, he added, such an approach was "totally uncontroversial" in the US and elsewhere.

Once more the Liberal Democrats are providing the radical edge for the UK coalition.
How is social mobility measured? It cannot just be the % of poor kids who get into Oxbridge.I know of plenty of people who have climbed the social ladder and a few who have fallen down the proverbial snake.
This important issue needs proper analysis and explaination if the public are to be convinced "social engineering" is the answer.
There are some very strange definitions of 'social mobility'. Currently, a higher social band is defined as the 'white collar executive'. My background of being raised in a traditional working class household, and started work underground. Social mobility was getting an apprenticeship and upskilling to colliery electrician, or shotfirer. That upward mobility was blocked with the demise of the mining industry, so I got a grant, and went to University. After getting a degree and becoming an systems accountant and a financial controller in the city of London, I moved on to contracting work throughout Europe. Strangely, I was considered a relative office boy in social structure in Germany, where the engineer was top dog. In France, the ultimate position in the social hierarchy was a public servant. I question whether it is a laudable goal to define social mobility as a caricature of the career path of the output of the English public school, and part of the problem is the very nature of the English class system. If we are talking about salary then we should challenge the concept that blue collar skills are inferior, if we are talking about social status, then perhaps we should start by demolishing that dysfunctional structure. It is not social engineering that's required, it's a complete reshaping of the structure of society. In business meetings I find in England it's the suit that talks, in Germany it's the command of the subject being discussed, in France it helps to talk with a Parisian accent, and having learnt Welsh on my return, avenues are opened particularly in the public sector. I suspect that it is not access to Oxbridge that will improve the lot of disadvantaged in Wales, but re-defining the skills route within Wales. We need to nurture a native high tech industrial sector and stop exporting are most able people to England and beyond. The answer is not what Clegg says, Peter, it's what AMs do in the Bae. Leighton hasn't a clue. Success in Uni is not what grades you enter with but the ability to analyse, understand, think, and apply. Education is good in Wales up to age 10, after which the system limits innate intelligence. That also needs to change. It not spend per student that's important but effective application of resources, and opening up and developing a native career structure.
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