The mass resignation of the Social Mobility Commission over the weekend shows just how much we need to do to deal with unequal life chances in the UK.
Before their resignation yesterday, the Social Mobility Commission’s published their annual state of the nation report. It shows that in 2017, where a person grew up and went to school continue to be determining factors on their life chances today.
Measuring the prospects of children from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed in adult life across England’s 324 local authority areas, the report makes for grim reading.
While London and its surrounding commuter belt are tearing away, remote rural areas and neglected coastal towns are falling behind.
It’s little surprise Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea are performing well. Yet even in poorer areas of the capital like Tower Hamlets and Hackney, good education and employment opportunities for disadvantaged people are providing them prospects not afforded to those in the country’s left-behind areas.
But the Commission finds that in areas as different as West Somerset, Newark and Sherwood, Weymouth and Portland, Corby, and Carlisle, the barriers to success for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are far higher, and they are going on to face lower pay, longer commutes and fewer job opportunities.
This should be a national scandal demanding urgent attention. The very bedrock of meritocracy, espoused by Conservative and Labour governments for decades, is that talented people, no matter their background, should be able to succeed through study and hard work. Why is this not happening?
The reasons are multifaceted, but one fundamental issue across many areas is a lack of teachers and good schools.
As the report finds, a secondary school teacher in the most deprived area is 70% more likely to leave. This correlates with findings from Cambridge University presented to the Sutton Trust two years ago, showing that teachers in the most advantaged fifth of schools have on average nearly a year and a half more experience than those in the least advantaged schools, suggesting that the most effective teachers are not staying in schools in disadvantaged areas.
According to National Audit Office research published in September, more and more teachers are leaving the profession and many schools around the country, particularly in disadvantaged areas, are struggling to find good teachers to replace the ones who leave. Just 52% of teaching jobs in secondary schools and 46% in primary schools in 2015/2016 were filled by teachers with the required expertise and experience.
In England’s most deprived areas, as in the most deprived areas of the world, we urgently need more good teachers. Addressing chronic overwork is vital. And we need to see good teachers who are passionate about helping turn around the lives of children in disadvantaged areas be rewarded for their efforts.
Research from the Varkey Foundation found that only 25% of Brits would encourage their children to become teachers. That means policy makers need to consider initiatives to bolster the modest social status of teachers in the UK.
The Global Teacher Prize is one attempt to do that – a $1 million (£746,000) award presented annually to an exceptional teacher, who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession and to the lives of the students and communities around them. The prize seeks to highlight the importance of educators, celebrate their efforts, and raise their status, with the Top 50 shortlist coming out this month.
We know that teachers matter – a good teacher can make all the difference in whether a child from a disadvantaged background succeeds in life or not. Raising the status of teachers and rewarding them for their work and their efforts in disadvantaged communities is a vital first step to addressing the shocking lack of social mobility. The resignations over the weekend are just one sign the need to do that is urgent.
Vikas Pota is chief executive of the Varkey FoundationLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
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