#034 – “We need to stop talking about social mobility” – Festival of Education panel discussion

25th June 2019

In this episode, Iesha Small chairs a panel at the recent festival of education entitled ‘We need to stop talking about social mobility’ with James TurnerEmmanuel Akpan-InwangDr Tony Sewell CBE and Karen Iles.

She asked the panel to respond to the statement: Social mobility in the UK has failed. We need to find another way to improve outcomes for our disadvantaged young people”. The panel were provided with OECD data on social mobility in the UK, and came to the discussion with the following perspectives:

Dr Tony Sewell CBE, Founder and director, Generating Genius:

My view is that Education should not be a tool for social mobility but an end in itself. One of the key factors that prevents social mobility has been  ‘a wrong and strong’ indulgence in your own class or ethnic comfort zone.

Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang, Director, Lighthouse:

There has been no significant social mobility in the UK since the 70s, and in some ways, things have got worse. As a country, we have one of the lowest levels of social mobility in the developed world.

We need new ways of looking at the problem:

  • We need to ask fundamental questions about whether people’s backgrounds are to be ‘transcended’ and ‘overcome’ in the pursuit of social mobility as is often the case
  • We need to stop seeing education solely as a means to aid social mobility and view it for an end in itself
  • We need to improve the living situations for the majority of working people. Inequality itself is a barrier to social mobility

I do not like the term ‘social mobility’, and I think we need to look at social mobility from the perspective of communities. ‘Community mobility’ is a better term.

James Turner, CEO, The Sutton Trust:

  • Social mobility is low and outcomes for poor students are not good enough
  • Social mobility and inequality are linked
  • Social mobility should be looked at widely – from early years upwards and for many groups but we shouldn’t be ashamed of also being interested in ‘top end’ mobility
  • The term is a useful rallying cry – now is not the time to abandon it

Karen Illes, National Director of Programmes and Delivery, Achievement for All:

Ultimately social mobility is down to chance – the opportunity for all children and young people to have:

  • Aspirations – I CAN = self belief, resilience
  • Access – I DO = participation, self efficacy, belonging
  • Attainment – I HAVE = understanding progress
  • Achievement – I AM = knowing how to learn
  • CHOICE – understanding, seeing and believing that choices are there to be made, regardless of background, challenge or need

Social Mobility as it is at the moment has failed.  There is more to do.

Found the show useful?

Leave a review on iTunes


Music credits:

‘Oui’ by Simon Mathewson and ‘Jump for joy’ by Scott Holmes both from http://freemusicarchive.org

Want to contact us?

[email protected] / @ieshasmall