We live in an increasingly complex and chaotic world that accepts failure and condones exclusion, creating a gap that exists across society. I am pushing back against any practice that does not improve the life chances of all children through education, parent and carer engagement and advocating for a change in routes to employability. 

The recently published Social Mobility report (Social Mobility Commission, 2017), emphasises the need for a more focused approach. The commission calls for the government to invest in a ten-year plan with targets that are monitored, including considerable investment in early years rather than spending on wealthy older people, the development of the whole child rather than exam results in schools, an increase of apprenticeships for young people rather than adult workers, and engagement and improvement of parenting rather than a reliance on moving from welfare to work.

Having travelled around the UK, it is increasingly apparent that there are entire communities where there is little or no aspiration. Places where people don’t breathe. Children from white, working-class backgrounds starting from such a low starting point. My own experience reflects this; my mother was illiterate, we lived on a council estate where families had been moved because of the difficulties they faced, and where there was little in the way of aspiration or self-belief.

The issue here is intergenerational, the need to break this cycle is self-evident. Families are desperate for change, desperate for a solution. An alternative way, where business, charity and political leaders join to engage in new thinking and action; moral leaders (NSCL, 2009) prepared to invest time and resources, creating authentic partnerships that develop aspiration - a sense of ‘can do’.

Social mobility is about changing the way people think, act and engage. To understand that there is an alternative way to live, that everyone can succeed. We need to act fast, we need to act now, to galvanise society to act against what is ultimately the social injustice of our time.

Building the core

Social Mobility Commission recommendations begin with the early years, each go part way to achieving social mobility. There is considerable evidence that an alternative way could do much more than simply continue with common practices that have had limited impact on future social mobility:

Recommendation: Establish a new national ambition to ensure that within a decade every child, regardless of background, is school ready by the age of 5 and that the attainment gap between poorer 5-year-olds and their peers has been halved.

There is no evidence that the attainment gap cannot be closed for all children, regardless of background, challenge or need. To recommend a national ambition set at 50% will allow excuses and caveats; creating a barrier to change. Evidence has shown (Impetus Foundation, 2014, Rowntree Foundation, 2016, PwC, 2016) that the key to change is to develop an approach that engenders self-belief, building the core in every child at the earliest stages of their development, Aspiration, ‘I can’, Access, ‘I do, Attainment, ‘I have’, and Achievement, ‘I am’.

Recommendation: Focus childcare policy on improving teaching for the poorest children by doubling the Early Years Pupil Premium to enable childcare providers to offer extra support for disadvantaged children.

Since 2011, more than £six billion has been invested by the government in the pupil premium. Whilst there has been considerable improvement in some schools the gap remains. The current EYPP rate for 3-4 year olds is 53p per hour per child. For a setting with 15 eligible children, additional income is £4531.50, doubling would increase this to £9063. For every £1 spent on early years education, £7 must be spent to have the same impact in adolescence (Public Health England 2015). To have a significant impact, there is a self-evident need to provide considerable extra resource with training and support, the EYPP should be extended to include 2-year olds (incorporating the two-year-old offer), with all spend monitored against impact.

Recommendation: Restore funding for parenting programmes and experiment with online classes to achieve scale without undermining quality – using funding from both health and education budgets and shared objectives across both departments.

To achieve universal change, including engaging parents and carers of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged (Lamb Inquiry, 2009), coaching is needed for professionals, parents and carers with free and complementary on-line support (PwC, 2016). Online classes require a level of literacy, and a level of motivation not held by all parents and carers. High-impact, evidence-based programmes developed with Department for Education and charitable funding are in place in a limited number of disadvantaged areas (European Agency, 2017, DfE, 2011).

Three Steps to Social Mobility

Based on eight years of Achievement for All practice (2009 – 2017), with evidence from c.5,000 early years setting, schools and colleges, (including over 100,000 children and young people), my recommendations to the government are three steps to social mobility:

Step One: Every Child Included: mobilising the potential, talents, and skills of every child will drive society to progress.  We must all work together to build the core of every child from the early years onwards.

Step Two: Improve the life chances of every child, through authentic, moral leadership. Led by the architects of the future.

Step Three: Professional development of teams of adults and services that support all children, engaging all parents and carers, and establishing a culture to listen and ask.

(This article was originally featured in Children and Young People Now, 2017)