Social Mobility Chance or Choice?

A sequel to `Born to Fail? Social Mobility, a Working Class View' (October 2017), sets out the current chances and choices available for those considered by the establishment to need social mobility. Revisiting mutuality, Sonia Blandford asks whether we care enough as a society by considering the issues, solutions and impact to the education and social issues that push against the chance or choice of social mobility.Citing the views from interviews with education and business leaders, Social Mobility: Chance or Choice? reflects on the changing skillsets and capacities of workers required by employers, business and industry and the inescapable conclusion that the skillsets and capacities will continue to change in ways that are almost impossible for us to predict. In these contexts, we must question whether the traditional acme and 'recognised journey' of educational achievement - maximising university entrance - is still relevant or useful for working class children and young people and children facing disadvantage. Apprenticeships, at their best, can offer an updated and forward-facing solution to the providing choice for working class and all children and young people. Despite current policy developments to encourage meaningful apprenticeships, apprenticeship programmes are experiencing challenges. Social Mobility: Chance or Choice? argues that applied learning and work-based learning should be more accessible and available to all children and young people. If we are serious about unleashing the talent of all children and young people, regardless of their background, challenges or needs, we must consider new and innovative approaches to post-14 education. If we are to unleash the potential of all children and young people, the role of Further Education needs to be respected and understood. Quality Further Education and training in partnership with business is a credible answer to social mobility. Further Education is an underused but ideally placed sector to develop meaningful change for working-class young people, providing real chances and choices. Beginning with Leaders - professionals, practitioners, parents or carers, and members of society have a shared responsibility to ensure that all children and young people have a right to chance or choice and support these opportunities. Building a society that is truly inclusive.

Includes interviews with:

  • Dr Nasser Siabi – CEO Microlink (Assistive Technology)
  • Dr Mary Bousted – joint General Secretary, National Education Union
  • Brett Warburton – Executive Director Warburtons Bakery
  • Professor Stuart Croft, Vice Chancellor University of Warwick
  • Grace Graham – The Prince’s Trust Ambassador of the Year
  • Natalie Perera – Executive Director Education Policy Institute
  • Sam Butters – CEO The Fair Education Alliance
  • Sir Kevan Collins – CEO Education Endowment Foundation
  • Professor Rama Thirunamachandran – Vice Chancellor Canterbury Christ Church University
  • Rt Hon David Laws – Chair Education Policy Institute
  • Hollie Crompton – Head of Social Mobility PwC
  • Mark Carter – Dale Power Solutions – Princess Royal Training Award Apprenticeships
  • Grace Breen – Policy and Public Affairs Manager – The Prince’s Trust
  • Gill Cronin – 5% Club

Copies available:

Royalties donated to Achievement for All Reg Charity Number 1142154



Rt Hon Frank Field, MP

Chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee

 Professor Blandford undertakes a most crucial task in this book.

She positions the spotlight squarely on the two challenges that are fundamental to the life chances of working-class children.

First, through the Foundation Years, how to ensure every child starts school successfully and on a level playing field with their peers.

Second, through post-14 education and apprenticeships, how to give every young person a genuine choice over their future.

Here we are presented with a blueprint for radical reform.

Review Comments

 Professor Blandford's ability to provide clear solutions for the issue of social mobility, combined with her academic framing and personal insight makes Social Mobility Chance or Choice? a must read for everyone.

Lady Cobham CBE, Chair, The 5% Club

 A beautifully written book driven by passion and tempered by experience, sound research and analysis. Sonia has both worked with and consulted widely with children, parents, leaders and teachers. She offers employers, politicians and policy makers, all who care and work for disadvantaged children, solutions that give hope and are rooted in mutuality and agency.

Frances Maguire, Partner, PwC, Australia

 It is refreshing in the way Sonia seeks to challenge the status quo; putting need (societal and young people) at the heart of her approach; being non-judgmental about the past and passionate and determined about the future.

Social Mobility Chance or Choice? is a clear, concise and compelling reset on our approach to social mobility. Encouraging of a national conversation, casting aside blame for past errors, and being brave enough to look practically at what young people need in a changing world.

I love the notion that we all need to own this challenge for when our young people succeed, our country succeeds. Every young person should have the chance and choice to succeed and we should care enough to make it happen, even if it means changing our minds and on the role of education and the world of work.

This is a model in practical action, active listening, casting aside doctrine, determined to make a difference. A national effort required for a nation committed to the biggest social change in history.

An incredible must-read book on why we must become more impatient about social mobility. Not content to wait 100 years or more for change to happen because the price we all pay for social immobility is too high and the time to be serious is now.

A great read and a book that I hope is consumed and implemented on an industrial scale.

Nick Stace, UK Chief Executive, The Prince’s Trust

As usual, Sonia is disarmingly forthright. She speaks with an honesty that is irresistible. In this book she passionately presents us with an ambitious blueprint for mutuality. I am sure that all of us who work with children, dream of a society and a system that is properly meeting the needs, recognising the talent, and unlocking the potential of the thousands of children living with disadvantage. Our chances of achieving this are now significantly improved.

I would suggest that the next (and all future) education ministers read this book when they take up office and then again when they leave it, and, judge their achievements against its powerful message of aspiration, opportunity, entitlement, justice, respect and recognition for all.

Paul Green, Headteacher, Lyng Hall School, Coventry

 Born to Fail? Social Mobility: a Working Class View established Blandford’s personal and professional understanding of socioeconomic disadvantage, access to equality of opportunity and the potential for social mobility through education. Social Mobility Chance or Choice develops the concept of mutuality raised in Born to Fail? and challenges the reader to care enough as a society to change. Every reader can see the chances children and young people need to really have a choice in the direction of their lives.

Blandford’s new book implores the reader to effect social justice through a radical change in attitude and deed. Her evidence informed solutions demonstrate that we must value all, regardless of background, challenges or needs and focus on equality of choice.

What makes this book special is Blandford’s understanding of what was, what is and what could be for children and young people through a mutually socially just society. Her statement below should echo through parliament, making politicians attempt once again to transform lives by providing chance and choice: “There is no reason at all why all children and young people cannot have the same chances and choices, but there are many reasons why they do not.”

Professor Tanya Ovenden-Hope, Plymouth Marjon University

The word that echoes through Sonia Blandford’s new book, Social Mobility Chance or Choice? is mutuality. After exploring the negative, top-down assumptions made about young people in Britain today in her last book, Born to Fail, Professor Blandford again makes the impassioned plea for facing up to “the deceit of the concept of a classless Britain”. Ranging through the stages that impact on our chances in life, from Early Years through Schools to the Workplace, the thread that links together Professor Blandford’s analysis of the issues we face as a society is the heartfelt belief that equality of opportunity is possible, alongside the deep and justified anger at the many ways in which it is denied.

But the importance of this book, and of Professor Blandford’s arguments elsewhere, is that the focus is on valuing all, and including all in the conversation. She rightly points out that Social Mobility cannot be seen as an engine that pulls people out of working-class identity and makes them “better”. We must recalibrate, and steer away from the mindset that writes off those who do not conform to the exam led, academic route into middle class professional identity. If we define success in our society as simply reaching that identity, then we will never eradicate the advantage that those who start their lives there have over those for whom it is a long and difficult journey.

And it is difficult. Perhaps the most important takeaway from this book is the importance of providing the network of support, through children’s centres and parental engagement programmes like Blandford’s own Achievement for All, as well as in the most basic structures of welfare and healthcare, so that young people are offered equal chances and equal choices right from the start of their lives. If we can do this, and if we can face up to the importance of this challenge, not only morally, but for the future productivity and stability of our society, we have a real chance to finally make the progress towards a mobile, diverse and equal society that has been promised for so long but never quite delivered.

Sammy Wright, Social Mobility Commissioner

What a great read. This book shows the depth and breadth of Sonia’s insight into education both in the UK and further afield. She covers a great deal of ground in this book. Yet Sonia can break down complex and nuanced discussions expertly. As with all of Sonia’s work, she draws on such a wide base of literature and research, which in turn makes the book both ambitious and highly readable. The concept of mutuality is such an important one in education, especially in our work with parents, carers and the community. Sonia draws out the importance of defining what it is and what it is not

Sonia emphasises the importance of teacher learning, of leadership as well as positive and authentic relationships with community, business and university. All are essential for young people to increase life chances and choices.

Sonia’s passion for all young people shines through on every page, both in the urgency of the message and through the many practical examples of what can be achieved through collaboration. Everyone will find something of real value here. You may not agree with everything, but you cannot doubt the belief, clarity and principle behind every word.

Reuben Moore, Teach First Executive / DfE ITT Review Panel

For many children government policy has raised academic attainment over the last ten years. But many other children have been failed by the new system and, too often, excluded by it. Professor Blandford provides a new vision that complements the current one.  She begins with where all our children begin, with their family and community environment, and shows us how to improve our schools for the benefit of all our children.

I have had the privilege of being included in her work for two years. Please read this book and learn how we can mend some of the divisions in our country.  I would especially commend this work to those who lead our education policy. Professor Blandford knows of what she speaks.

The Earl of Listowel, Treasurer, All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Children