I beg to move,
That this House notes the contents and recommendations of the annual State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission; notes that despite welcome measures by successive governments to improve social mobility the Commission warns that social mobility is getting worse, the reasons for which are deep-seated and multi-faceted; and calls on the Government to lead a renewed approach in the early years, in education, skills and housing, to improve social mobility.
This motion stands in my name and those of the right hon. Members for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg).
May I start by putting it on record that my thoughts are with the victims of the terror attack yesterday? I thank the emergency services for their dedication, bravery and service, and the House staff who looked after us so well yesterday. That we are meeting today shows that we can carry on with our democracy and debates in such times. It also shows that we often come together in this House, as we are doing today in the spirit of this important debate on social mobility.
This debate, with Members on both sides of the House joining together to champion social mobility, is welcome and timely. I have been delighted to work closely with the right hon. Members for Loughborough and for Sheffield, Hallam over recent weeks, and it is our hope and intention that we continue that work beyond today to truly build a cross-party consensus for a strategy to tackle social mobility. I also thank the Government’s Social Mobility Commission for all its important work. As it has consistently warned, by all measures social mobility is getting worse, not better. It recently said:
“Low levels of social mobility are impeding the progress”
of many in our society, “not only the poorest”. That is the context for our debate.
We need a better understanding of what we mean by increasing social mobility in the modern economy. Too often, social mobility is thought of in terms of plucking the one or two lucky ones out of disadvantage and taking them to the top—the so-called “council house to the Cabinet table” journey. That understanding is really unhelpful when we are looking at the challenges and opportunities that our country faces, and the strategy required to deal with them. In today’s context, social mobility is about everyone being able to make economic and social progress, unconfined by the disadvantages they begin with. With Brexit, automation, digitaisation and huge changes to work, that process is going to get harder and ever more squeezed. No longer can this just be about those who go to university, as everyone needs to gain a rich, stretching education and the skills to succeed.
To put it another way, if we look ahead to the needs of the economy in, say, 2022, forecasts by the Social Mobility Commission show that there will be 9 million low-skilled people chasing just 4 million jobs, yet a shortfall of 3 million workers for the higher-skilled jobs. That is before the effects of Brexit. The biggest barrier to dealing with this issue is known as the long tail of underachievement. At the same time, companies such as Google say that we are not producing enough of the right engineering graduates for their growth. Britain has the third highest proportion of graduates in non-graduate jobs in Europe, with only Greece and Estonia behind us. No wonder our productivity is so poor compared with that of other OECD countries. In fact, it takes a British worker five days to produce the same amount of work that a German worker can do in four days—that is the stark challenge we face. Any social mobility strategy must therefore also be inextricably linked to our industrial strategy.
These huge challenges require a new national mission built on consensus and evidence to turn them into real opportunities for the country, and that is what we hope to address with this debate and our work. But, let us be honest, although much progress has been made by successive Governments, the political cycle means that every party is guilty of looking for a quick fix or a new wheeze that might appeal to voters, rather than the more difficult job of putting in place a clear and determined strategy. Let us look at the evidence and stick with it, even if at times that means giving praise to our opponents, as we will be doing today.
We know from the Social Mobility Commission and others that when it comes to education, some areas are absolutely key. I will focus on a few of those now and I know that Members will pick up others in their speeches. First, I want to look at the facts on early years, which will not come as a surprise to those who know me well, because it is a personal passion of mine. By the age of five, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are already far behind their peers, with a developmental gap of as much as 15 months between those from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds. One study found that children in low-income households hear up to 30 million fewer words by the age of three than their better-off peers. The levels achieved by the time a child is five are still the biggest predictors of outcomes at GCSE.
What happens in the first few years of life is massively critical, yet that still does not demand nearly enough Government and policy attention. We have made some progress under successive Governments. The Labour Government did so through the extension of maternity leave, Sure Start centres, the integration and expansion of health visitors—that was continued by the Conservative Government—and the introduction of quality early education for three and four-year-olds. The introduction of the two-year-olds offer was much championed by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam, and the right hon. Member for Loughborough developed the beginnings of a real life chances strategy. However, I worry that the recent focus has been on childcare and the demand of maternal employment rates alone, and less on social mobility reasons for investing in the early years.
A greater focus on what works and on joined-up working does not actually need to cost more money. For example, the quality and outcomes in Ofsted ratings do not match. After looking at this recently, I found that 91% of early years providers are rated good or outstanding, yet a third of children are not leaving those settings school-ready—that does not match up. There are other ways in which we could incentivise quality providers to work with—not in competition with—others in their locality. There could be more support for parents through regular contact, as well as things such as the ages and stages requirements. We have been doing some interesting work on this in Manchester. Remarkably, some of the most deprived communities in many parts of the country have some of the highest quality early years provision—this is often what we think of as the silver bullet in education—through maintained nursery schools and some of the nursery places attached to schools. Let us cherish those and not put them under threat. A proper focus on narrowing the gap before the age of five would have a real impact on social mobility.
Let us now consider slightly older children. By the age of 16, just one in three disadvantaged children gained five good GCSEs including English and maths, and that figure has remained stubborn over the past few years. We know what works in schools and we have seen it happen. It was epitomised by the London challenge, when leadership, collaboration, resources, the attraction and retention of outstanding teachers, and the development of Teach First all came together.
Would my hon. Friend like to thank Lord Adonis for all the work that he did on the London Challenge? Throughout all my time during the Labour Government, I found him to be the most effective and passionate Minister when it came to improving schools. He has a truly brilliant record.
I very much thank Lord Adonis for all his work and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who was a Minister at the time of the London initiative.
The London challenge was one of those Government initiatives that achieved real change, including the biggest rise in attainment we have seen in an area. The opportunity areas developed by the right hon. Member for Loughborough during her time in office are good successors, but they need to be matched by resources and the ability to attract and retain the best teachers. The pupil premium has been a remarkable development that has allowed those who are behind to begin to catch up during their time in school. Let us follow these learnings and not get distracted by things that do not work.
By the age of 25, many of these children will be in low-skilled, low-paid jobs. Only one in 10 low-paid workers will ever escape low pay. That is a pretty terrible outcome for them and our country and, as I said, those jobs are disappearing, too. Our skills strategy for post-16 and in-work training needs strengthening. I welcome the Government’s moves in this area. Proposals such as T-levels, the apprenticeship levy and the skills plan linked to the industrial plan are all very much to be welcomed. Although I have some criticisms of the way in which initiatives such as university technical colleges are working, they are a good idea, but they do need more focus and work.
Let us not implement some of these good initiatives badly, however, and lose what we know works. For example, on T-levels, we need to make sure that we continue to have the blend of technical and academic that will be so important for the jobs of the future. If we look at all our OECD competitor countries, it clear that it is critical that children continue to work on maths and English to a high level right to the age of 18. The post-16 reforms also need matching with other reforms, such as pathways out of university. As I said earlier, the underperformance and under-skilled jobs of many of our graduates fundamentally need addressing. Access to the professions is key, and other Members will talk about that.
Those are just three of the key areas that can drive social mobility—the early years, what happens in schools, and post-16—but we also know what does not work in terms of social mobility, and I want to talk about that for a minute. One thing that does not work is grammar schools. Unfortunately, under the current Prime Minister, grammar schools and selection seem to take centre stage in her vision for dealing with social mobility. They are sucking up all the oxygen in the debate, yet the evidence is clear: they do nothing for social mobility; in fact, they make it worse.
I compliment my hon. Friend and the right hon. Members for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) for securing the debate. In Trafford, as she knows, we already have a selective system, and although our schools perform very well overall in the national rankings—that is despite selection, not because of it—one group that does not benefit are children with special educational needs and disabilities. Only a tiny proportion get into grammar schools in Trafford, and it is believed that that is in part because those schools have no incentive to take them. Does my hon. Friend agree that any selective system is bound to lead to children being brushed aside when it comes to opportunities to get the best education?
I absolutely agree, and my hon. Friend has campaigned on this issue for many years. While Trafford has many good and outstanding schools, recent data show that the top 25% and the bottom 25% of pupils do worse than those in neighbouring Manchester, so there are questions about attainment gaps to address.
The list of organisations that are against more selection in schools is ever growing. The OECD says that countries with selective education perform less well on average than those with comprehensive systems. The previous and the current chief inspector of schools do not agree with more grammars. The Government’s own Social Mobility Commission, the Education Policy Institute, the Fair Education Alliance, Teach First, the teaching unions, multi-academy trust leaders and all the headteachers in Surrey are among those who have come out against selection. Perhaps that is because grammar schools contain such tiny, tiny numbers of poorer pupils—just 2.6% across the piece.
Some 11% of students at sixth-form colleges are on free school meals, compared with 3% at selective grammar schools, yet sixth-form colleges perform so well. There needs to be more focus on the success of these engines of social mobility than we have perhaps had recently.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to sixth-form colleges. All the data show what great outcomes they deliver for a comprehensive intake of pupils. Indeed, Loreto sixth-form college in my constituency is one of the top 5% in the country in terms of outcomes for its pupils, and it is in the heart of inner-city Manchester.
New analysis by Professor Simon Burgess and a team of academics shows that poor, bright children are much less likely to attend grammar schools than more affluent children who are not as bright. In England, the best performing boroughs are comprehensive. For example, London, which I have mentioned, outperforms selective areas and the national average in its top GCSE results. In contrast, the attainment gap is worse than the national average in eight out of nine fully selective areas, so the evidence is pretty overwhelming.
I am sure that when he rises to speak later, the Minister will repeat the one fact that he is particularly keen on —of course, there is another one that he likes about modern foreign languages—which is that in grammar schools, the tiny number of children on free school meals do better than all the other children in the country on free school meals. What the Government fail to tell us is that the children who get into grammar schools are already highly able, by definition, so the Government are not comparing like with like. In fact, highly able children do just as well in good and outstanding comprehensive schools as their counterparts do in grammar schools.
The grammar school policy is wrong in itself when it comes to social mobility, but it is also a huge distraction. I am setting out an agenda, which is shared by the Social Mobility Commission and other hon. Members, around the early years, schools, post-16 and other areas. That agenda would keep any Minister or Department extremely busy, but the Government have also embarked on other major overhauls, including the new national fair funding formula—that has caused much consternation on both sides of the House—the biggest reform of GCSEs in a generation, new SATs, the creation of hundreds of thousands of new school places to deal with the massive increase in demand, and a reduction in the amount of funding and number of teachers per pupil. The divisive pursuit of more selection in grammars will require huge political capital and a great deal of officials’ attention, and it will mean that all the other really important work, some of which the Government have already embarked on, will fail.
I do not think that we would be having this debate about grammars and selection if we had done more in recent years to create a cross-party consensus on what needs to be done to tackle the lack of social mobility. Our intention in this debate is to look at and develop an understanding of what works, and to build a broad consensus.
I apologise for not being around for the beginning of the hon. Lady’s speech. When it comes to building consensus, if she were willing to cross the Rubicon in terms of more selective education, would it not be a good idea to focus it on the opportunity areas and coldspots that the Social Mobility Commission has highlighted?
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is saying that he thinks that selection would work in such areas. There is no evidence for that at all, especially when I look at the fantastic schools in my constituency. My constituency has some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country—I think it is the second ranking constituency for child poverty in the whole country—but I have some outstanding schools that get amazing results in a comprehensive setting. I do not understand how selection will help them; it will simply make their job all the more difficult.
We may well disagree on some of the principles and practice, but if there is to be increased opportunity for selective education, would not the best place to focus it be in the areas of most need—those opportunity areas coldspots highlighted by the Social Mobility Commission?
No, I disagree fundamentally. As we have seen historically and evidentially, opportunity areas such as the London challenge work when we bring schools together and encourage them to collaborate, rather than creating an environment of competition. Such areas work when we ensure that they have the best teachers, the right resources and strong, collective leadership. Bringing a selective agenda into that ecosystem will work against all those core principles.
I think that there is a broad consensus about what needs to be done, and I hope that we can devote political time, and the time of Ministers and officials, to that. The important things are: quality in the early years; targeting resources; creating and developing opportunity areas; getting the best teachers where they are needed; developing a skills strategy focused on jobs; creating job opportunities and access to the best jobs; and securing progress through those jobs for the many, not the few.
I echo the words of the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and of many other speakers in the House today in paying tribute to those who lost their lives or were injured yesterday, and to the House staff for keeping us safe. It is very important that the House’s business has resumed today. As the Prime Minister said earlier, yesterday was an attack on democracy. It is therefore important that our democracy should continue unabated today, and where better to start than on so important an issue as social mobility?
I was just looking at Twitter, as you do, and I see that somebody has tweeted, “How can there be a debate this afternoon if everyone agrees?” I suspect many of us spend our time trying to explain why everybody disagrees in this place, and why we are busy arguing and falling out with each other, so on the whole I think it is rather nice to have a debate in which people can broadly agree that there is an issue with social mobility in this country that we all want to tackle.
I thank the hon. Lady and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) for co-sponsoring this debate, and I thank all those outside the House who have sent briefings to Members sharing their thoughts on today’s debate. The November 2016 Social Mobility Commission report said:
“Britain has a deep social mobility problem which is getting worse for an entire generation of young people”.
The Teach First briefing for this debate says:
“Failing to improve low levels of social mobility will cost the UK economy up to £14billion a year by 2050, or an additional four per cent of GDP.”
Frankly, we cannot afford not to tackle it.
I want to talk about three things: Britain’s social contract; schools, to pick up some of the issues that the hon. Member for Manchester Central has mentioned; and social capital. Every generation expects there to be greater opportunities for their children and grandchildren. In Britain at the moment, that social contract and the expectation of social mobility has broken down in parts of our country and among some groups of people. Education is a key driver of social mobility—I know that the Minister is committed to this, because I have had the privilege of working alongside him—but in the parts of the country that most need social mobility, there is often little educational aspiration, and underperformance is entrenched. I agree that tackling that should be the focus of this Government’s education policy, rather than having yet another discussion about expanding selection.
Last year’s vote and the rise of populism not just in this country but elsewhere, including in the United States, was a cry showing that our social contract has broken down. As I have said, each generation expects better opportunities for the next, but I think we should be honest in saying—I know this from my casework, but also from talking to friends and family—that that is not how many people see life today. There is pressure on housing services, and housing is unaffordable for the next generation in many parts of this country. The labour market feels incredibly insecure, but also very demanding, which has a knock-on effect.
The hon. Lady mentioned the numbers of words that children from different backgrounds know by the age of three. There is some very interesting research in the Social Mobility Commission report about the number of minutes each day that parents from different backgrounds spend interacting with their younger children. People working long hours in an insecure job will inevitably have less time to interact with their children than those not in that position. What can we do to help with that?
I thank my right hon. Friend for highlighting the issue of parental contact, but may I focus on contact with fathers? The Government have made great strides in trying to ensure greater opportunities in work, but we must also look at how to create greater opportunities to ensure that fathers are not only in contact but are involved in their children’s upbringing. I saw from clients in the criminal justice system that one of the prevailing factors for them was either an absent father or a father who was not involved in their lives.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The importance of families and of having two parents or two important role models in life—and of both boys and girls having a strong male role model—should not be underestimated. It is no secret that I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) on some policy issues, but the work that he did at the Centre for Social Justice and the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) is doing now on the importance of family relationships and public policy should not be underestimated.
On the issue of working hours, I find in my south-west London constituency that the bigger determinant is ethnicity. If people have travelled a long way to get here, an education is the most important thing for them. In my experience, their children do exceptionally well whatever hours they work, because they imbue them with the importance of education. The young people who go to the grammar schools in south London, other than the privileged ones, are overwhelmingly from particular ethnic minorities. In my experience, that particularly includes children from the Tamil community.
The hon. Lady makes a really interesting point. There is a broader point, which is that we are sometimes reluctant to explore too far the differences in social mobility between different communities and people from different ethnic backgrounds. She is right, in that anyone walking around Chinatown on a Saturday morning will see children sitting there, often in their parents’ restaurants, actually doing their homework. I do not need to tell the Minister about the successes, particularly in maths, of students from the far east.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to talk about drive and aspiration, and I will come on to aspiration in a moment. It always struck me when I was Secretary of State for Education that around the world young people and their families are fighting for education, and sometimes in this country we have parents fighting to take their children to Disneyland. That tells me that education is not given the importance in everybody’s lives that it should be given. I suspect that part of the success of the London challenge—it is difficult to unpick exactly what was behind it, because there were lots of factors in the London challenge that made a difference—was due to the diverse ethnic backgrounds and the importance that people from different ethnic backgrounds attach to education, and everything that goes with that.
As I was saying, there are parts of the country that feel they are very much left behind other parts. That is picked up in the commission’s report, which also says that
“today only one in eight children from low-income backgrounds is likely to become a high income earner as an adult.”
Politicians and the Government have to find a way of renewing that social contract; otherwise, we are playing into the hands of those who would feed on the dissent and take advantage of it at forthcoming elections. That means that we need to focus on communities and areas where social divisions are at their widest and where social mobility has stalled or is going backwards.
Recently, I have been studying the Louise Casey review of opportunity and integration. We are awaiting the Government response to it. It is a fascinating report, in which she says that integration is a key part of a successful immigration policy. I do not think we have used the word “integration” in our immigration discussions enough. I do not expect the Minister to respond to that point, because he is not a Home Office Minister, but Louise Casey goes on to say that social mobility is a key part of integration:
“As well as providing economic advantages, social mobility also provides knock-on benefits such as reducing grievances, heightening a sense of belonging to a country or community and increasing geographic mobility and social mixing too.”
As I said, schools and education are the great driver of social mobility. It is worth drawing attention again to what the Social Mobility Commission report says:
“Despite a welcome focus on improving attainment in schools, the link between social demography and educational destiny has not been broken”.
The hon. Member for Manchester Central was right to say that that is not the fault of one Government, but has happened over successive years. However, it cannot be right that that link between social demography and educational destiny has not been broken. The report states that
“over the last five years 1.2 million 16-year-olds—disproportionately from low-income homes—have left school without five good GCSEs.”
It goes on to say:
“A child living in one of England’s most disadvantaged areas is 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than a child living in one of the least disadvantaged. Ten local authorities account for one in five of England’s children in failing schools.”
We know where the problem is; we must work out how to fix it. What does that mean in practice? Those of us who have talked about choice in education must realise that for families who are surrounded by inadequate schools, “choice” is a hollow word. There are no good or outstanding schools in those areas, and the families cannot afford to buy their way out of poor services or even the transport to a different area.
The focus on areas is right. In the White Paper that the Department published last March, “Educational Excellence Everywhere”, areas of entrenched educational underperformance were announced, where access to high quality teachers, leaders and sponsors was insufficient. They are now opportunity areas and I hope that the Minister will say more about them in his concluding remarks. It will be helpful to know the plan for investing in them, the services that will receive attention and how we will tackle getting high quality teachers, leaders and sponsors into them. We can be more directional. That is where Government can give a lead.
The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) said that it is about not just academic attainment but aspiration. One of my most formative experiences—I have probably shared it with hon. Members previously—was visiting a primary school in Lancashire. It was a good primary school. It would be fair to say that the staffroom was not inclined towards my politics, but we had a robust discussion. I was struck by the fact that the headteacher had moved to this rather nicer area and this good school from an inner-city primary school. She said of the latter, “Oh well, those children were never going to be more than ‘requires improvement’”. How can someone write off children before they reach the age of 11 as never amounting to more than “requires improvement”? What a waste of human potential. What a waste for our country. That attitude must be overcome.
Attitudes in families of, “My child can access a profession, go to university, get a great apprenticeship”, even though perhaps the parent did not, should be encouraged. We must also foster the attitude in schools that children will fulfil their potential.
I believe that all parents aspire for their children, but some do not know how to make things happen. We know that doing more homework on more evenings is more likely to get children to where they aspire to be. The inability to connect reality and the required work with the aspiration is a problem.
I agree. It is not that parents do not want the best for their child. If you ask most parents on the birth of a child, they want their child to be happy, healthy and successful in life. I will talk about extra-curricular activities shortly because again, there is a social injustice in access to those activities. The hon. Lady is right about support. All the nagging that middle-class parents do about homework, or chivvying children to read more books, often does not happen elsewhere, not for lack of wanting to do it but perhaps because it was not done to those parents. Going into a child’s school and challenging teachers is anathema to someone who has had a very unhappy school experience. Attendance at parents’ evenings is indicative of the support that children get at home.
Aspiration is about aiming high for young people. I did not have a chance to look up the name of the school, so I apologise for not remembering it, but I went to a fantastic primary school in Northamptonshire, where a high proportion of children had free school meals, but it was working with the Royal Shakespeare Company and every child had access to Shakespeare and his language. I heard the tiniest children talk about Shakespeare’s characters and watched the older children perform complicated scenes—I would have had difficulty remembering all those lines, but they were doing brilliantly. The headteacher there had high aspirations. He said, “All my children will be able to do this and benefit and learn.” They were doing incredibly well.
I pay tribute to the National Association of Head Teachers for setting up its “Primary Futures” campaign, which is about getting adults into schools to talk about their careers and broaden horizons. When I was in the DFE, we set up the Careers & Enterprise Company. Broadening horizons, and aspirational and inspirational careers advice, are important. There will be a difference of opinion in the House about work experience, which we have debated. One week’s dry work experience in an office will not necessarily set the flame alight, but I remember talking to some apprentices, who told me that a week at Rolls-Royce, where they could see how the maths they were learning would be applied in the workplace, does set the flame alight. People then go back to school more determined to do better in their maths classes.
There is a changing labour market. In the article at the weekend that the hon. Member for Manchester Central and I wrote, we talked about the number of high-skilled jobs that will be around. The Teach First briefing says that, by 2022, the British economy is expected to experience a shortage of 3 million workers to fill 15 million high-skilled jobs. At the same time, there will be 5 million more low-skilled workers than there are low-skilled jobs. I did not want to mention the “B” word this afternoon—it is very nice not to be talking about the European Union—but, if we are to change our immigration policy in this country and have fewer people coming in from overseas, we must ensure that all our young people are training for the labour market of the 21st century.
That is my problem with the Government’s focus on introducing more selection. We do not live in a world where we need only the top 20% or 30% to be highly skilled. We need everybody to have access to a knowledge-rich, excellent academic curriculum. A renewed battle over selection distracts from what is needed in our education to deal with the demands of a 21st-century labour market, to give everyone a chance to close social divisions, and to build a consistently strong school system.
Research from the Education Policy Institute talks about the negative effects on those who live in the most selective areas but who do not attend grammar schools. The negative effects emerge around the point when selective places are available for around 70% of high-attaining pupils. The research says that there are five times as many high-quality non-selective schools in England as there are grammar schools.
Every child is entitled to an academic curriculum. Like the Minister, I have seen some great schools in some very unexpected places. I remember my visit to King Solomon Academy in London—the Minister will have been there too—and to the Rushey Mead in Leicester. They have a higher proportion of children on free school meals but are doing incredibly well in terms of the exam results they are achieving. I also pay tribute to the Harris academies and Ark in Portsmouth.
The hon. Member for Manchester Central mentioned the secondary heads in Surrey who had written about selection. The Leicestershire secondary heads, too, wrote to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education. Impressively, every single headteacher in Leicestershire signed the letter. If the Minister has not seen it, I hope he can get hold of a copy. One paragraph states:
“As professionals who have dedicated our lives to educating children across Leicestershire, our concern is for all the children in our region. Removing the most able pupils in our schools will have a negative impact on those who remain. Removing the option of ambitious, all ability comprehensives, with a scarcity of academic role models, will impact most particularly on the least affluent and least able. Therein lies the most significant injustice of this policy.”
Academic attainment is important and we should set high aspirations and ambitions for all pupils, but pupils in the best schools gain something else, and I want all pupils to gain it. This was one of the things I tried to champion when I was in the Department for Education. I am thinking of the character traits—persistence, resilience, self-confidence, self-esteem—and the values and virtues of integrity, honesty and whatever it might be, that help to build a whole pupil. I was at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in north London recently. The school focuses on building social capital among its pupils. It is conscious of the fact that its pupils will have to compete with the independent school down the road. I visited the King’s Leadership Academy in Warrington, which is a new free school, now over-subscribed, where behaviour is excellent, and where aspirations are incredibly high. All the young people are trained for leadership. Kings Langley School in Hertfordshire and Gordano School near Bristol are fantastic schools—I could go on.
Educating young people is about not just what happens in the classroom, but access to other schemes. I pay tribute to the former Prime Minister and the current Government for their focus on the National Citizen Service and other schemes: social action, volunteering, uniformed activities such as the cadets, the guides and the scouts, and the Duke of Edinburgh award. They all help to build up experience and confidence in young people. Those of us who have been employers and have interviewed see the ability of some young people to walk through our door, look us in the eye and shake us by the hand. Some children are taught that and encouraged in school, but some are not. These things matter in helping young people to get on.
I mentioned extracurricular activities. The commission’s report specifically talks about the effect different social backgrounds have on how people participate:
“One study found that 43 per cent of children whose mother had a postgraduate degree had music lessons, compared with just 6 per cent of children whose mother had no qualifications. At the age of 11, 85 per cent of children whose mother had an undergraduate degree participated in organised sport outside of school, compared with 56 per cent of children whose mother had no formal qualifications.”
I was very pleased that in last year’s Budget the then Chancellor announced funding for a longer school day. It would be helpful to know what emphasis the Department will place on that to help schools provide such activities. It is not necessarily about the schools themselves providing the activities; it could be enabling all young people in their schools to take up a place and participate.
I very much support what my right hon. Friend says, particularly about social capital and building character through education. The Government have committed to a statutory requirement for relationships education. Many children, sadly, come from a background of conflict, trauma and survival. There is now the opportunity to provide them with the building blocks that others receive outside school to build resilience, self-esteem and respect for others, and help to build that character which is so vital for their long term future.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I was very pleased to support his amendment on sex and relationships education, and I am very pleased that the Government have taken that on board and accepted an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill. He is right to say that. One of the most important characteristics is resilience, or to use the awful phrase, stickability and bouncebackability: the ability to deal with what life throws at them and not be blown off course. Anything that schools, adult role models and other organisations can do, in addition to families, to help young people to develop that characteristic will go at least part of the way to building the more resilient and confident young people we need for the 21st century.
I do not think we will all agree with everything in the commission’s report, but it shows that we have a problem with social mobility. For those of us who are one nation politicians, that should make us very uncomfortable. There is talk of a meritocracy, but the difficulty is this: who decides who has merit? I would prefer to say that everyone has potential, but that in some cases the keys to unlocking that potential are more readily available to some than others. Today’s debate is about working out what those keys are and how they are handed out, and about building a consensus, or perhaps cross-party momentum, on how to do just that. But it has to be about more than words. Much has been done by this Government and by previous Governments, but there is much more to do if we are to show how we are going to renew our broken social contract and build real social mobility in this country.
I thank the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) for the cross-party collaboration and work that has secured this debate on this all-important subject. In time-honoured Westminster fashion, there is an inverse relationship between the importance of a subject and the level of attendance, but that does not mean we should not persist. I join them, and everyone who has spoken today, in expressing my condolences to the family and friends of those injured and killed in yesterday’s horrific attack. I would like to pay my own heartfelt tribute to, and admiration for, the emergency services and the police who work so tirelessly, as they did yesterday, to keep us safe.
There is a choice that hangs like a backcloth to this debate: do we want to live in a closed society in which people are, in effect, told to know their place, or do we want to live in an open society in which people are able to choose their place? There is, I hope, an unarguable cross-party consensus that we should aspire to the latter.
I am delighted that the Social Mobility Commission, under the chairmanship of Alan Milburn, produces these excellent annual reports. I would say that, because I set up the commission: I announced its establishment on 5 April 2011, and we subsequently legislated for it. On the same day—it is interesting to look back on this—I announced the introduction of a new set of indicators that would help Whitehall to judge whether social mobility was being progressed or not. I also established a ministerial committee on the subject, which I chaired for many years.
At the time, all those things were new. Whitehall did not have a set of indicators, and we did not have a Social Mobility Commission. Extraordinarily, when I entered the Government I discovered that there were interns working in Whitehall and paid by the taxpayer who were judged purely on the basis of who they knew. Even in the heart of Government. prior to 2011, people were being given a leg-up because of who they knew rather than what they knew. It is fantastic that, in the intervening five or six years, social mobility has become a regular feature of the annual cycle of announcements.
I remember the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, observing to me rather ruefully that he thought I might have made a mistake by insisting that a member of the Opposition should chair the precursor of the Social Mobility Commission, because the first report produced by Alan Milburn and his colleagues had been critical of something that the coalition Government had done. I said to him, “That is the whole point: we need an institution that is independent of Government and contains people who will be fearless in their criticisms of any Government of whatever political persuasion, and which”—this is guaranteed by law—“reports to Parliament, not to the Government.”
The commission has—I will put it politely—had its wings clipped a little by the present Government. Shortly after the last election, the Government announced that they would remove the child poverty remit from what was formerly called the Child Poverty and Social Mobility Commission. I very much hope, and I am sure the Minister will reassure us, that that is not the first step in an attempt to make the commission in any way more docile, or less ferocious, in its all-important work.
I want to dwell on three issues, all of which are touched on in the annual report that the commission produced last November, and many of which have already been touched on by my co-sponsors. The first, the role of early years support, was highlighted by the hon. Member for Manchester Central, to whom I pay tribute, because she has made it a personal mission and has done so in an admirable way.
I think we all know this intuitively as parents, but, crucially, over the last decade or so, the academic evidence —from neuroscience to research done by educationists—has confirmed the axiomatic importance of what happens to a child’s brain, a child’s ability to learn, a child’s willingness to learn, a child’s willingness and ability to adhere to authority, a child’s ability to mix with other children, and so on. So much of that, of course, is formed, or not fostered, in the home, but a huge amount can be fostered, or neglected, in the early years and pre-school support that is given to our children.
There are two matters that concern me slightly. What I am probably most proud of from my time in government was the initiative that we took to provide 15 hours a week of pre-school support for two-year-olds. No Government had done that before: all early years and pre-school support had previously been confined to three and four-year-olds. I was keen for us to act on the evidence that the earlier we start—and, crucially, the earlier we start with those from the most deprived families—the greater the multiplier effect on children’s subsequent educational performance. So we introduced that measure. It initially applied to two-year-olds whose families were in the lowest 20% income bracket, but we later doubled that to 40%. That is where it stays to this day: there is a 15-hour entitlement for two-year-old toddlers from families that fall into the 40% lowest income families category.
The Government have now embarked upon a dramatic expansion of the entitlement for three and four-year-olds. I say, as someone who did not get into the bunfight between the two larger parties in the last general election, that that was—let us not beat about the bush—frankly because of a great Dutch auction in which the Labour and Conservative parties at the last election tried to outdo each other on how much they could improve the 15-hour entitlement for three and four-year-olds: at first it was 20 hours, then it was 25, then 30, and so it went on.
The Government will encounter terrific difficulties in delivering this expanded entitlement in a sustainable, high-quality way. That is worrying enough, but, this being a cross-party debate, I simply make a plea to us all to pause and consider whether, in a time of constrained resources when we have to make choices, this is really the most sensible use of scarce resources, given the importance of early years. The expansion of a universal entitlement from 15 hours to 30 hours for three and four-year-olds does absolutely nothing to build on this ground-breaking initiative of providing early-years support for two-year-olds. It also does nothing to bridge a gap that we will, as a society, have to bridge one day: the gap in a child’s development, which can be perilous, between the point at which mum and dad, or mum or dad, go back to work and the point at which the child can enjoy the state-funded allocation of early-years pre-school support devoted to him and her—which, if they do not come from those lower income families, comes not at two, but at three and four.
We have this gap at that age. I know nothing about neuroscience, but I am told that this is when the brain does the most extraordinary things and forms at a pace that is barely repeated at any other point in life—although I am also told that some neuroscientists say that they think rewiring might happen later, in the early teens. Certainly, judging by my teenagers, there is a lot of rewiring going on, most of it devoted to staring at an iPad.
We all know that early-years is one of the most important engines of social mobility, and we all know that money does not grow on trees. A decision has been taken—I think because of a non-evidence-based rush to double up again and again on a universal entitlement for three and four-year-olds—not to build on the ground-breaking initiative provided to two-year-olds. However, the early evidence—I would love to hear whether the Minister can share any of the evidence that I assume the Department for Education is accumulating—shows promising results for the knock-on effect on the two-year-old entitlement, and we have this persistent gap between the point at which many parents have to go back to work and the point at which their children can be put into a setting where they receive some of those entitlements.
I therefore make a plea to the Government. I am not for a moment imagining that they are going to say, “Absolutely, the right hon. Member for Sheffield Hallam is right and we will stop entirely the direction of travel and orient policy in a different direction,” but the challenge remains. We need to continue to target resources earlier and at children from the most deprived families, and we are not doing that right now.
In a spirit of consensus, I would point out that one of the successes of the coalition Government was the focus on early years and the early years foundation stage, which came not least out of the work of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). There is growing evidence, not least through the Department for Work and Pensions programme on parenting, of the quality of the relationship between parents having a huge impact on children’s long-term wellbeing, mental health and life chances. There should be a focus on that. There is a lot of well-evaluated evidence from the parents as partners programmes showing that we need to focus on these quality relationships all the way through as providing the foundation for long-term prospects.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. I have gone on a bit of a journey on this: I have always had a somewhat kneejerk liberal reaction of slight squeamishness and reticence about the idea of politicians, the Government, Whitehall and public policy experts seeking to tweak or improve how parents choose to raise their children, which I intuitively think is no business of politicians, but I agree with the evidence. Much like the right hon. Member for Loughborough, I agree on almost nothing with the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) on many issues, but on this I think that he led the pack in saying that this is something that politicians need to grapple with, although we need to do so with care.
The first page of the summary of the report recommends that the Government should introduce
“a new parental support package, including a guarantee of help if a child’s 2 to 2½-year check shows that they are falling behind.”
I entirely agree with that. Public policy is inching towards greater involvement in an area that many folk have previously felt should be kept immune from such interventions.
I want to make one more point about early years that I am sure everyone here is aware of. It is unglamorous, rather fiddly and difficult to fix, but it is acutely important: it is the quality of early years provision. The pay and status of early years teachers are real problems. We do not have enough men going into early years teaching. Pay is very low, and there is no qualified teacher status. As the Government seek to expand the entitlements for three and four-year-olds, it is terrifically important that quantity does not come at the further cost of diminished quality. If the Minister can tell us how the quality, status and—in the long run—pay of early years teachers can be improved, so much the better.
I also want to talk about money. In those glory days back in 2010, I intervened aggressively in internal discussions when we had to announce what was in many ways the fateful comprehensive spending review setting out all sorts of unappetising cuts. I insisted that the per-pupil and indexed core budgets for schools should be protected. Those budgets needed to be protected in terms of prices and of pupil numbers, not least so that we could then add on the pupil premium in a meaningful way and ensure that it added genuine value.
I look now at the trouble the Government are getting into, and yes, a lot of this is complex. A lot is to do with the higgledy-piggledy, unjust, idiosyncratic way in which schools have had their budgets allocated to them over many decades, but some of it is pretty obvious. The Government simply cannot cancel the £600 million education services grant, as they did shortly after the 2015 general election, while protecting the per-pupil allocation only in cash terms and not in real terms and while diverting hundreds of millions of pounds to free schools—many of which are doing a great job, but frankly, far too many of which have been opened in places where there is no desperate need for extra places—and possibly compounding that error by spending hundreds of millions of extra pounds on new selective schools, and then ask schools to shoulder their own newly increased national insurance and pension contributions and, in some cases, apprenticeship levy costs, and, on top of that, introduce a national funding formula with no additional money to make that work. If they do all that, they are bound to get into terrible trouble.
I do not say this in a spirit of recrimination, but the Government should not be surprised that they are encountering huge resistance to these plans across the House and huge disquiet from parents, headteachers and governors up and down the country. There is a limit to how much they can keep expecting improved performance from a schools system that is being put under those multiple and entirely self-inflicted financial stresses and strains.
I know a little bit about this because, in the coalition Government, we looked exhaustively at the case for introducing a national funding formula. In principle, the case for doing so is impeccable; of course it is. The current situation is woefully unfair. There are many non-metropolitan schools, smaller rural schools, suburban schools, schools in the shires and so on that have received far less funding over a long period. However, the problem is that if we introduce a national funding formula in a way that does not raise the overall financial tide for all schools, what happens is exactly what is happening now. The schools that think they are going to gain pots and pots of money are disappointed at how little they gain, and those that are going to lose will lose an unacceptably large amount of money. No one is pleased.
The one issue in this debate on which I disagree with the right hon. Member for Loughborough is that, if I understand it correctly, her solution is to adjust the deprivation calculation buried within all the numbers in the national funding formula, which—all credit to the Minister and his Department—is a bona fide attempt to protect the funding to the poorest. The right hon. Lady will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, but one way to try to square the circle is to take a little money from the deprivation allocation and raise the floor or the minimum amount—
The intricacies of the national funding formula are probably not quite right for this debate, but the right hon. Gentleman wants to consider the different grades of deprivation and how they are funded. Of course, there is the pupil premium outside the national funding formula, but there is also the income deprivation affecting children index, or IDACI, which looks not only at the overall deprivation weighting, but the weighting within the different deprivation gradients. That needs to be reconsidered and the Department needs to rerun the numbers.
I am grateful for that explanation. I will not try to improve upon the technical proficiency and expertise that the right hon. Lady has just displayed, because I cannot match her for that. I hope in many ways that she has just made my point, which is that we are condemned to fiddling around in the undergrowth to shift a little bit of money here or there to try to square a circle.
We came to the conclusion in the coalition—the Minister may remember—that it is not possible to introduce a national funding formula in a way that is just and fair if it is not pump-primed with a lot of money. I cannot remember whether it was in 2013 or 2014, but we did the next best thing, which was to use about £400 million as a stopgap measure—the Minister may have announced it at the time—to target the underfunding of the most underfunded schools. I plead with the Minister to learn from the past and, because I doubt whether any new money will be forthcoming from the Treasury, do that again. It is not ideal. It is a stopgap. It is temporary, but it is much better to allocate targeted resources to the schools that rightly complain about having been most hard done by under the current funding formula than to annoy and upset everyone in the way that the Government appear destined to do if they carry on with their current trajectory. That is my helpful suggestion for a way out for the Government from this politically invidious position in which they find themselves.
My final point has been made already, but it is worth repeating and relates to the importance of evidence-based policy. It really should not have to be restated that when we consider something as precious and as important as how we design the education system for our children, we should always be led not by dogma, ideology or personal hobbyhorses, but by the evidence. I do not want go over many of the points made earlier, but this old idea of improved selection perplexes me—that is the politest way of putting it. No international, national or local evidence whatsoever is being wheeled out. If the evidence is not there, let me at least make a political plea: the proposal is not actually popular with parents. Opinion polls show that older voters like it, particularly those who remember grammar schools in the old way, but parents, who actually have to make invidious choices about where to send their children, hate it.
The Government appear to have forgotten why previous Governments, including previous Conservative Governments, stopped the expansion of selection. It was precisely because they were encountering such resistance from their own voters, who do not like it. I ask people in the Westminster and Whitehall village why on earth we are proceeding with something that parents do not like, for which there is no evidence and for which there is no manifesto commitment at all. I do not remember the Conservatives populating our television screens in the run-up to the 2015 general election saying, “And we will introduce grammar schools.” There is no mandate for it. I am told—the Minister will not be able to confirm this—that one unelected political apparatchik in No. 10 went to a grammar school and has apparently persuaded the Prime Minister that they are therefore a good idea.
I am sure that it is not as simple as that, but surely it cannot be the case that the whole of Whitehall is being led by the nose because of the personal prejudices of one unelected political appointee in No. 10. I have to put on record this magnificent quote from Russell Hobby, the leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, writing in The Times Educational Supplement:
“In no other sector would this be acceptable. If the minister for health proposed to increase state funding for homeopathy on the basis that it did wonders for his uncle’s irritable bowel back in the 1970s—and must, therefore, be right for everyone today—there would be an uproar. This is a precise metaphor for the expansion of grammar schools. It is educational homeopathy.”
I hope that the Minister, who of course will not be able to disagree with the new orthodoxy, will none the less privately go to the Secretary of State for Education, and to the other powers that be in Whitehall, to stop the fetish for selection before it gets this Government into terrible trouble.
Where does the evidence suggest that we should do more? I am not exactly declaring an interest, but I chair a cross-party commission for the Social Market Foundation—there are Labour and Conservative Members on the commission—and we are looking at some of the key evidence-based drivers of increases in, and the existence of, inequality in the education system. One of our most striking early conclusions from the data we have seen and our original research—we will be producing a concluding report in the next month or two—is, I should think, intuitively obvious to us all, much like the importance of early years.
There is an intimate relationship between educational underperformance in some of the more deprived parts of the country, and the high teacher turnover and lack of experienced teachers in those schools. It really is very striking. The proportion of unqualified teachers working in primary schools with the highest concentrations of pupils on free school meals is 4%, but it is half that in the most affluent quintile. There is a similar pattern in secondary schools, where 5% of teachers in the richest schools, if I can put it like that, are unqualified, compared with 9% in the poorest schools. Schools that serve the most disadvantaged communities also experience far higher levels of teacher turnover than neighbouring, more advantaged schools.
This policy challenge, which does not detonate with the same attention and fury from the media as selection and so on, is a mundane but, none the less, crucial one. What can we do to attract highly qualified teachers to those parts of the country to which they are not presently attracted and/or to make sure that teachers in those schools stay and are supported to improve their own experience and qualifications? The Department for Education is looking at that, and I very much hope that—as we all continue to grapple with the elusive problem of how to build an open society in which people can go as far as their talents, application and dreams take them, rather than having their life fortunes determined by the circumstances of their birth—it is one of the many areas in which the Government will seek to make a positive intervention in the years ahead.
I associate myself with the comments of all Members in relation to yesterday’s incident. It still seems completely unreal, and my thoughts are with the brave police officer outside defending us who lost his life just doing his job—it is hard to come to terms with that. Without prejudging the person who did this, I suspect that issues of social mobility might apply here. I particularly reference Louise Casey’s report on the need for social integration among all peoples.
I thank the right hon. Members for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for securing this important debate. As a girl who went to a secondary modern, I wholeheartedly support their article in The Observer last week making it clear that grammar schools are not the answer to social mobility.
I was proud to be part of the previous Labour Government, for whom social mobility and education were absolutely priorities. Earlier, I was able to give thanks to Lord Adonis who, in my assessment, was one of the best Ministers we ever had. I note today’s figures on teenage pregnancy rates. The Labour Government’s efforts to reduce teenage pregnancy were so successful that those figures suggest that that is at its lowest ever level.
As the Social Mobility Commission’s “State of the Nation 2016” report sets out, under the current Government we are slipping back decades on the progress that has been made. Those born in Britain in the 1980s are the first generation since 1945 to start their careers on a lower income than their parents. A child living in one of England’s most disadvantaged areas is 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than a child in an affluent area. Just 5% of children who receive free school meals will secure five A grades at GCSE. Children from low-income homes are 30% more likely to drop out of education than their wealthier classmates with similar GCSE grades. Overall, by secondary school age, pupils on free school meals lag behind their wealthier counterparts by around 20 months.
For working people in my community, the link between social class and professional success is more entrenched than ever. Only one in eight children from low-income backgrounds is likely to earn a high salary as an adult. Working-class people make up only 4% of doctors, 6% of barristers and 11% of journalists—a whole generation of talent is being frozen out. But I wish to make it clear that grammar schools are not the answer. A House of Commons Library research briefing from earlier this month states:
“Pupils at grammar schools are much less likely than average to…be eligible for free school meals”.
Indeed, only 2.6% of pupils at grammar schools are eligible for free school meals—a well-understood signifier of poverty—whereas nationwide 14% of all students are eligible.
Part of the reason why poor students are so under-represented at grammar schools is that the attainment gap between richer and poorer students is clear even when they are only a few years old. The Library briefing states that
“of the 6.9% of pupils eligible for FSM with high prior attainment who are near selective schools, only 2.4% actually attended a grammar school.”
Let us be clear: grammar schools do not work for even the very brightest poor students, never mind the average or below-average student. Grammar schools educate a minority—just 5%—of state school students, so while the Government waste time banging on about grammar schools, the needs of 95% of our state school students are being ignored.
When I talk about social mobility, I am not just talking about the brightest poor students; I am talking about the poor students who are average but who deserve no less to succeed in life through hard work. We really need to prioritise comprehensive school education; if we do not, we will never address the national scandal of white working-class underachievement in this country.
Let us be clear: underachievement is a class issue and an ethnic issue. White British boys and girls who receive free school meals are consistently the lowest performing group at GCSE level, and the genders show no difference. It is not about boys; it is about boys and girls. Last year, only 32% of working-class white British students who receive free school meals achieved the GCSE benchmark, compared with 44% of mixed-race students, 59% of Bangladeshi students, 42% of black-Caribbean students, and 47% of Pakistani students receiving free school meals. Over the past 10 years, the educational attainment of white working-class students has improved much more slowly than that of almost any other ethnic group.
A good school can be life changing. I had the honour of being on the Education Committee and to play a part in a report that looked at white working-class underachievement. What we learned was how much we do not know. The one thing that stood out is the truism that a poor child does so much better at a good school. The benefit of being at a good school is a much more important driver for them.
This is where I get to pay tribute, as always, to the Harris academy chain in south London. I am forever grateful to it for having two secondary schools in my constituency. Last year, Harris Academy Merton achieved some amazing GCSE results, with a staggering 77% of students achieving five A to C GCSEs including maths and English, compared with the national average of just 54%. These schools, not grammar schools, should be our ideal. The pupil premium needs to be used to ensure that disadvantaged pupils receive the focused support that they need. We need to give academically average students from poor backgrounds better alternatives to university. Social mobility is about not just the children at the very top doing well, but all children being able to aspire and surpass expectations, including the average and below-average student.
If I have a couple of minutes—I do not want to take any time from other Members—I would like to address housing in not only south London, but all of London, as it is a major dampener on social mobility. If someone is in temporary accommodation and they live miles away from their home area, they do not get to school. Every Friday at my advice surgery, I meet families who are being fined for non-attendance at school, simply because they now live two or three hours away from their schools. I have letters that would make Members cry about clever pupils missing their exams because they physically cannot get to school to take them because of their housing situation.
Social housing is not fashionable. It is not something that everybody will come together about, but unless people have a secure and consistent roof over their head, the possibility of their not achieving is huge.
I too wish to associate myself with the comments that have been made by hon. Members today regarding the tragic events yesterday. I also send my condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones in yesterday’s incident.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and the right hon. Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) and for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) on securing this incredibly important debate. As the chair of the all-party group on social mobility, I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate this very important issue. I am sure that all Members who attended this debate will have read the Social Mobility Commission’s latest report. For those who have not or who are watching at home, they really should read it, because it represents an urgent call for action on opportunity and the state of our nation.
For too long, we have allowed privilege and connections to override ability and potential. We have failed to recognise that there is a criminal waste of talent—generation after generation—and we have mistakenly and unquestionably accepted the myth that greater economic prosperity means greater opportunity for all. All those beliefs have been questioned by this report.
There is a crisis of opportunity. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central said, this is a crisis for everyone; it affects everyone. The motion before the House calls for the focus to be on improving educational outcomes for all children. The commission’s report makes it very clear that if we are genuinely to improve outcomes for all children, we need to intervene and give them more support well before they start school.
My hon. Friend set out the issues in this area very well. We know that by the time students receive their GCSE results, 32% of the variation in performance can be explained by indicators observed before the age of five. A number of studies show that cognitive outcomes vary hugely among toddlers according to their parents’ socio-economic group, and that by the age of five that gap has widened further. Yet much of the debate on social mobility is centred on attainment at later stages of development—it feels a little like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
In the past decade, 500,000 children from poorer backgrounds were not school-ready by the age of five. We know that, for many, the gap at the age of five will still be there when they leave school, if it has not widened even further. If we do not get the building blocks right from the start, it just makes everything so much harder. The Social Mobility Commission’s proposal for a guarantee of help for children shown to be falling behind at the age of two to two-and-a-half is something that we must take very seriously.
I found the commission’s comments on early years childcare interesting, particularly in the context of the Government’s planned expansion of free childcare to 30 hours a week. From what I have heard from local childcare providers, it is pretty clear to me that it is going to be an enormous challenge for them to maintain standards on the funding that they expect to have available. The commission has said that a situation is already developing where poorer children are twice as likely to have access to low quality childcare than those from wealthier backgrounds are.
The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam raised a pertinent issue when he asked whether the emphasis is right in where the investment goes in early years. I am concerned that we are heading for a situation where the focus on fulfilling that pledge on hours of access will override the important points that are being made about the need for early years childcare to play a vital role in ensuring that every child starts school life in the best possible position. We cannot think it acceptable for there to be an almost laissez-faire attitude to those most important early years of a child’s life, when all the evidence tells us that it could have a profound influence on their life chances.
Getting those early years right is hugely important, but once our children leave school they face a world where even the most talented have huge barriers in front of them. The all-party parliamentary group on social mobility report on access to the professions looked at opportunities in law, finance, the arts, media, medicine, the civil service and, indeed, politics, and found many similarities between the evidence we heard and the commission’s findings. Indeed, it was startling that, whatever the profession, the lack of opportunity and the reasons for that were often very similar. Across the board, privilege and opportunity go hand in hand. The Sutton Trust’s research shows that three quarters of senior judges attended private schools, as did more than half the top 100 news journalists and more than two thirds of British Oscar winners.
One of the areas where we found that the evidence very much chimed with the commission’s recommendations was in relation to internships. Research has shown that 50% of vacancies in law, banking and finance are filled by graduates who have already worked for that employer in some capacity. Too often, internships are not just a way to get a foot in the door, but the only way to get through the door at all. They have become almost a further compulsory step into many professions, but by their very nature they exclude many.
The APPG has recommended a legal ban on unpaid internships lasting more than one month. We found that not only was their unpaid nature a barrier, but that many of the placements are in London, which means that unless someone is from that area and has parents who can afford to support them for extended periods, there is no prospect of their even being able to consider an internship. There needs to be a fair, transparent and open recruitment process for such placements as well: we often found that placements were determined by existing connections—be it family or business contacts. These placements need to have the same rigour applied to them as if they were a permanent job; otherwise, any proposals made on payments may just be easing the path for those who are already on it.
Another area where we found the evidence remarkably consistent concerned the aspirations that our young people have. As the right hon. Member for Loughborough said, it is often not that families do not want the best for their children; it is a much more complicated story than that. I am sure that if I were to speak to a group of children from poorer backgrounds in most constituencies and asked them what they wanted to do when they were older, the vast majority would not say that they wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer, and certainly not an actor. For too many, the very notion that they should even consider careers such as those is almost universally absent. They need role models, mentors, inspirers—people from their communities who have been there and done that. We need to inspire kids from an early age to aim for wherever their abilities and interests take them. We should not accept that coming from the wrong part of town means low horizons. Getting a job should mean following a dream and forging a career, not just simply working to survive.
We need to develop a mindset within business whereby we treat social mobility on a par with protected characteristics in terms of a diverse workforce. We rightly challenge it when we see minority sections of society not getting an equal opportunity, and we should do the same here. We cannot allow the situation to continue where someone’s background is likely to be the biggest factor in determining their chances of success in life. The social mobility index should be rolled out to all employers over a certain size, so that there is a clear and public record of what our biggest companies are doing to ensure that opportunity is there for all.
A study by the Boston Consulting Group for the Sutton Trust in 2010 found that failing to improve low levels of social mobility will cost the UK economy up to £140 billion by 2050. In the inquiry, we certainly heard from some employers who recognised that their business benefited from having people who were like, and therefore understood, their customers. Sadly, they were the exception rather than the rule. Businesses need to be persuaded that it is not only the right thing to do morally, but that it makes sense for them as businesses.
The media was one area where we felt that companies needed to do more to appreciate the benefits of having a diverse workforce. Indeed, only last week the London Evening Standard provided the perfect example of what is going wrong with social mobility. Although I am sure the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) has many talents and a broad range of skills in a number of areas, does anyone seriously believe that he has the experience that qualifies him to be the editor of a daily newspaper? My 15-year-old son has more recent experience with the daily news, and he is a paperboy. But there is a serious point here. What kind of message does this send to those kids who are spending months and months on unpaid placements in the media? And this is an issue not just in the media; it is widespread in the arts and politics as well.
As the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam said, this country is too closed. It is a country where, far too often, where we are born and who we are born to define our life chances. Parents believe that their children will have less opportunity than they did, and that is a shameful state of affairs for this country. Automation and artificial intelligence will only exacerbate the problem, and we are miles away from even beginning to understand the social impact that that will have. The only way we will be able to meet this challenge is by intensive, long-term Government intervention, over not just the long term of a Government but the long term of our lives—not just at five or 15, but at 35 and 50 and so on. The world of work will change more rapidly than ever before and we need to recognise that opportunity is something that will need to be addressed not just in our younger years but throughout our lives. We have to invest in ourselves throughout all of our working lives and we will need Government support to do that. Too often, there is talk about the number of jobs created, but too little talk about the quality and permanence of those jobs. Social mobility cannot take place against the backdrop of an explosion in part-time and insecure employment.
In conclusion, there have been many fine words today about the need to improve social mobility, but it is time for us to listen to the evidence about what works and put those words into action.
I associate myself with all the remarks made about the senseless, horrific events of yesterday, and with the tributes paid to the people who lost their lives, including the brave police officer who was defending us all.
It is important that we continue undeterred to debate this important “State of the Nation” report by the Social Mobility Commission. I was an academic sociologist before I came to this place. Having turned into a politician, I sometimes feel that there is something of a mismatch between theory and practice. Academics kind of think that something works if it works in theory, but, as politicians, we might have the media in our face and have to think of a quick soundbite, or there might be someone in our surgery who needs a problem resolved quickly. I am still grappling with the same questions of social class and life chances that I grappled with as an academic.
It is important that we all reject the notion that we have had enough of experts, and part of the reason that I wanted to speak in this debate is that the people on the commission are eminent academics and practitioners. I want particularly to focus on chapter 2, which is on schools. I am incredibly privileged to represent the constituency I grew up in. I recall the same schools that I visit now in the ’80s, when they had buckets strategically positioned to catch the drips under leaky roofs. Those schools were transformed under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme: some of them look like spaceships now. My alma mater, Montpelier Primary School, where I achieved my lifetime ambition in June 2015 by cutting the ribbon at the fête, should particularly go on the record.
This morning, the Prime Minister praised London as the greatest city on earth, and I am proud to be a London MP. People have mentioned the so-called fair funding formula, but 70% of London schools will be worse off under these new arrangements.
In my constituency, school budgets will be down by a whopping £5,524,197 by 2019—that is 137 teachers. An average child will receive £485.52 less funding. The problem is most acute in Acton, where we have wards in some of the poorest deciles. I will be doing my surgery in Acton High School tomorrow, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) mentioned how people come along to our surgeries with horrific stories about their housing conditions—they bring their mobile phones with pictorial evidence of the conditions they are living in—and about how they have been shipped far away because of the bedroom tax. However, Acton High School will be down £961 per pupil and 26 teachers, and its budget will be down by £1 million.
The recommendations in chapter 2, on page 53, talk about how children from poorer backgrounds are experiencing a worrying drop-off in progress at secondary. The gap in progress between low-income families and their more affluent counterparts has been widening year on year since 2012, and we should be very concerned about that. One of the report’s recommendations is to ensure that funding cuts do not exacerbate the problem of less well-off pupils failing to make good progress at secondary, so the idea that this funding formula is fair is simply laughable.
As has been said, school education does not exist in a vacuum; the whole context of children’s learning is important. I was very fortunate to address a conference by a group called What About the Children?, which deals with nought to three-year-olds. As a parent, I was lucky enough to use Sure Start centres. Sure Start was an amazing, joined-up programme, with education and health services to give kids a good grounding. But the children’s centres I used to use now face devastating cuts and closures. We have also seen cuts in health promotion, with fewer health visitors. All that is contributing to a picture that is getting bleaker. It is little wonder that it was revealed this week that baby teeth removals—extractions of baby teeth from children!—have gone up 24% in the last decade.
The right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) mentioned parents’ evenings. I have to say that because of the five-hour lockdown yesterday, I managed to miss my parents’ evening—some people might say, “The lengths people will go to to get out of parents’ evenings!” However, the right hon. Lady is absolutely right that all these things—and having books in the house—make for a positive learning environment.
There is a lot that could be said about this report. Chapter 3 goes on to post-16 education and training. I worry about rising tuition fees. In my seat, I have the University of West London, and I have had representations from staff and students that applications are down because of tuition fees and also because of the vote on 23 June—Brexit has created a climate in which international students no longer feel welcome. The removal of the nurse bursary—the university teaches nurses—is also detrimental to post-16 training and education and to jobs, and chapter 4 talks about jobs, careers and earnings for future generations.
In their Budget just the other week—it feels like it was ages ago, but it was only the week before last—the Government announced not only that they are ploughing on with their dangerous selective school experiment, but that they will provide free transport to grammars, which seems such a misplaced priority at a time of straitened circumstances.
There is much more that could be said. The eye-catching new 30 hours of free childcare sound good in theory, but try finding a provider in practice who can live up to that manifesto pledge by delivering those 30 hours and who thinks that the funding will be adequate to cover the increased costs it will incur in my seat. It is like looking for hen’s teeth. Things are harder than they should be anyway. In London, families spend £15,700 a year on average on nursery fees. We all want the holy grail of affordable, good quality, flexible childcare, but it is a challenge to find it, to put it mildly. The childcare proposal is one of those things—like the decision to have an in/out referendum on Europe—that seem good in a manifesto but do not measure up to their promise.
Many sociologists these days consider the concept of life course, and my casework involves people right across the age range. We heard in the previous debate about the Equitable Life pensioners. The WASPI women, who were born in the 1950s, had high hopes for their futures and their life course, and they feel as though the trajectory of their lives has been thwarted twice by Tory Government changes to their pensions.
As everyone has pointed out, there has largely been consensus in this debate, with its cross-party ethos, and that is very welcome. Rather than pursuing an academic idea of making things work in theory, we need to work together to fix them in practice. It is assumed that every generation will do better than the previous one, but the evidence in the Social Mobility Commission’s report suggests that we are going in the wrong direction. Yesterday we were faced with lockdown, and we really were all in it together. At times like that, cross-party friendships and alliances flourish. Let us continue in this spirit, and let us heed the warnings and correct our erroneous direction of travel.
I join hon. and right hon. Members from all parties in the House in paying tribute to PC Keith Palmer, who gave his life to protect us, this place and all that it represents.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and the right hon. Members for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) on securing the debate. My hon. Friend talked about Government policy, and about the idea of picking the few who would go from the council house to the Cabinet. Today might not be a day for humour, but the tale I tell is that I grew up in a damp two-bedroom council flat in Manchester, and since I became an MP I have lived in a one-bedroom ex-council flat in Westminster, so for some people the trajectory is downhill. I am one of the few in this place who can say that.
Yesterday, while democracy was being attacked, the Labour party members in Manchester, Gorton were selecting as their candidate another council house kid. He was orphaned out of Pakistan, grew up in abject poverty and worked as a labourer. After attending night school, he became a police officer and a solicitor, and he ran his own practice. I wish Afzal Khan all the very best over the next few weeks as we approach the election.
The “State of the Nation” report by the Government’s Social Mobility Commission explained the scale of the challenge we face in improving social mobility in Britain today. It told us in no uncertain terms:
“Britain has a deep social mobility problem.”
“four fundamental barriers that are holding back a whole tranche of low- and middle-income families and communities in England: an unfair education system, a two-tier labour market, an imbalanced economy and an unaffordable housing market.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) spoke eloquently about that. To say the least, the Government—and the Minister, who has been sent to defend the policies that have led us to this point—have their work cut out for them.
The “State of the Nation” report presented the Government with a number of proposals on parenting and early years, schools, post-16 education, jobs and housing, but there is no evidence so far that the Government have listened to the proposals. That is why our debate today is so important.
For instance, the report calls on Government to
“set a clear objective for early years services that by 2025 every child is school-ready at five and the child development gap has been closed”.
As a former teacher, I know that nursery teachers can predict with 95% accuracy what exam results the children in their care will attain at key stage 1, key stage 2 and key stage 3. The report also recommended that the Government provide
“high-quality childcare to low-income families.”
The Department for Education has given no indication that it will adopt these plans. In fact, its policies could do exactly the opposite. The Minister probably needs to tell us why the Government are not directing resources towards those who need them the most. The Department will spend about £1 billion a year on a policy of so-called tax-free childcare, which will be of the greatest benefit to those who have £10,000 to spend on childcare. I will give way right now to any Member in the House if they know a low-income family who have £10,000 to spend on childcare.
I hope that the Minister will also tell us what the 30 hours of free childcare will actually mean for the tens of thousands of low-income families who, under the eligibility criteria, are not actually eligible for the extra childcare. As the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam eloquently put it, this policy is in considerable trouble at the moment. After all, while I am sure the Minister is growing tired of being reminded of promises in his manifesto that are being broken, the pledge was clear: the Conservative manifesto promised that his party would
“give working parents of 3 and 4-year-olds 30 hours of free childcare”.
This is not just about quantity, but about quality, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.
Our maintained nurseries are under attack, with the future of many of them in doubt in the next weeks and months. Labour Members know the immense importance of early years intervention to improve the life chances of children in Britain. That is why the Labour Government opened over 3,000 Sure Start centres, and increased education spending in every year that we were in Government. This Government just need to follow that example.
There are a number of recommendations on schools in the report, and I will briefly address them. The right hon. Member for Loughborough said that education is the key driver of social mobility. She is a one nation Conservative. Disraeli said the same on the steps of Manchester town hall in 1872, so, a century and a half later, I am looking for a one nation in terms of social mobility.
First and foremost, the commission made it clear that the Department’s flagship vanity project to expand academic selection is wrong. It said:
“We recommend that the Government rethinks its plans for more grammar schools”.
I know the Minister has been told time and again to rethink these plans. He will come back to the Dispatch Box in a few minutes and say that children on free school meals in grammar schools have a better chance of getting to a Russell Group university, but it is a false statistic. The sample of children on free school meals in grammar schools is so small that it makes nonsense of the statistics. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden pointed out, 2.6% of children in grammar schools are on free school meals, compared with 14% of children nationally.
We have heard a great deal about the White Paper that we expect to see in the coming weeks. We want the Minister to commit to basing it not on dogma, but on evidence, and we want him to abandon the discredited policy of selection. The Chancellor has made an announcement about a lot of money for grammar schools, but it seems that there is none for school budgets. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) talked about the buckets used when it rains. I trained as a teacher in the late 1990s, and I remember going round with buckets. However, by the time Labour left office, schools had been rebuilt and roofs had been repaired, while the only thing going through the roofs were standards.
Cuts to school budgets will make it almost impossible to deliver on the many recommendations, so we need to think about the £3 billion that is currently going to be cut from school budgets across this country during the next few years. Let us not pursue the divisive policy of selection; let us fund education properly and come together on improving mobility. Government is about choice, so let us make the right choices.
If I may, I will take a moment to express my personal gratitude to all the brave men and women who work here every day to protect us, showing immense bravery—they run towards danger to keep us safe. Our thoughts are with those who were injured yesterday, and with the families of those who tragically lost their lives.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) and the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on securing this debate. I agree with all the speakers in this debate about the importance of improving social mobility in this country, which is why the Secretary of State has demanded that social mobility should sit at the very heart of everything the Department for Education does.
The Government have already done a huge amount in our determination to achieve that. The pupil premium ensures that schools are given additional funds to support disadvantaged pupils. We are delivering 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-old children of working parents. We have begun our pioneering work in 12 opportunity areas, where we will partner with local communities to drive social mobility. Teach First is now sending even more high-quality graduates to work in areas of high deprivation. We have introduced a £75 million teaching and leadership innovation fund to improve professional development for teachers in disadvantaged areas. Our school reforms have led to 1.8 million more children having a good or outstanding school place than in 2010, helping to ensure that they get the education they need and deserve. The number of children studying the combination of academic subjects that make up the English baccalaureate has risen from just over one fifth to nearly two fifths, ensuring that more pupils have access to the broad academic education that they need. The Government are transforming technical education, with new T-levels adding prestige and raising quality for students.
I listened carefully to what the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam said about early years. The Department’s ambition is to ensure that the circumstances of a child’s birth do not determine what they can achieve in life. We are delivering 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-old children of working parents. We have laid out our strategy to improve the quality of the early years workforce by improving access to high-quality professional development. We have introduced the two-year-old offer to allow disadvantaged two-year-olds to attend early years. I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman with regard to that policy.
Crucially, the introduction of systematic synthetic phonics and the accompanying phonics screening check have seen a dramatic rise in early literacy. This year, 147,000 more six-year-olds are on track to becoming fluent readers than in 2012. Phonics is our most potent weapon in our fight to close the intolerable gap in literacy between the most disadvantaged children and the more affluent.
The Government have been unapologetic in their unrelenting push to raise educational standards. Nearly nine in 10 schools are rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding, but there is still more to do. More than 1 million children still attend a school that is not yet rated good. The Government want every parent in the country to have the choice of a good school place for their child. That is why we will create more good school places, harnessing the resources and expertise of universities, faith schools and independent schools, and lifting the ban on selective school places.
We do not think it is fair that children have the opportunity to go to an academically selective school only if they live in a particular county in England, when 98% of grammar schools are good or outstanding. We know that selective schools are vehicles of social mobility—I accept that that is for those pupils who attend them—and almost eliminate the attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. That is one argument, but there are many others. Pupils in grammar schools make significantly more progress than their similarly able peers, with Progress 8 showing an aggregate score of plus 0.33 for grammar schools, compared with a national average of 0. The House will also be aware that 78% of high-ability children who leave primary school with a level 5 in their SATs go on to achieve the full EBacc suite of GCSEs if they go to a grammar school, but only 53% achieve that if they go to a comprehensive. That is why we want to ensure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and ordinary working families have the opportunity to benefit from selective schools. We also want to ensure, as we set out in the consultation document, that selective schools work with neighbouring primary and secondary schools to the benefit of all pupils.
As the Social Mobility Commission report sets out, there are “social mobility coldspots” across the country that are falling behind. Twelve of those areas have been designated as opportunity areas by the Secretary of State, building on the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough. We will target interventions in those areas that are designed to improve opportunity and choice for pupils. Those opportunity areas will enable us to identify new approaches to tackling the root causes of educational disadvantage. We will build an evidence base of what works so that we can transfer those approaches to other areas to remove the barriers to social mobility.
As the Social Mobility Commission recognises, the single biggest educational factor that improves social mobility is the quality of teachers, so we intend to invest in the profession. We will invest a substantial proportion of the £70 million for the northern powerhouse schools strategy in piloting new approaches to attracting and retaining teachers in the north of England, and we will target the £75 million teaching and leadership innovation fund at improving professional development for teachers where that can make the most difference.
Thanks to the academy and free schools programme, teachers and headteachers have enjoyed greater freedoms to tackle poor behaviour and raise expectations in the curriculum. Teachers have been instrumental in setting up some of the highest performing and most innovative free schools in areas of disadvantage.
Last month, I visited Reach Academy Feltham, run by Teach First ambassador Ed Vainker. I was struck by his passion as he explained the lengths to which he and his school go to ensure that they attract as many pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds as possible. Reach Feltham’s determination to do everything it can to admit pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds is an example of a school with a mission to drive social mobility. That free school and other innovative schools show what it is possible to achieve.
Whether it is Reach Feltham, Michaela Community School, City Academy Hackney, King Solomon Academy, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough mentioned, or Harris Academy Merton, which the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) mentioned, where 39% of pupils are entered for the EBacc suite of GCSEs, they all understand the importance of knowledge and teach a stretching, knowledge-rich curriculum. Each of those schools has clear routines that are consistent in all classrooms. They understand the importance of a strong approach to behaviour management. They all serve disadvantaged communities, demonstrating that high academic and behaviour standards are not and must not be the preserve of wealthy pupils in independent schools or socially selective comprehensive schools.
Is not my right hon. Friend demonstrating in the second half of his speech why the first part about reintroducing selection is a red herring? He has just given examples of several hugely impressive schools, with pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who are achieving excellent results. Does he not agree that we want more such schools rather than accepting that schools cannot always achieve that and therefore taking pupils out to put them into selective education?
We want to leave no stone unturned. The purpose of the Green Paper that we published in September is to ensure that we harness all the expertise and talent in this country, whether in universities, independent schools, faith schools, outstanding comprehensive schools or selective schools to ensure that we have more good school places. There are still problems that we have to address.
According to the Sutton Trust, just 53% of high-ability children who are eligible for the pupil premium take triple science GCSEs, compared with 69% of non-free-school-meal children. Some 20% of high-ability free school meal children are at schools where triple science is not even offered. We are trying to tackle those issues, and we are leaving no stone unturned.
We are also addressing technical education. We are spending £500 million a year on improving technical education and we will deliver the recommendations of Lord Sainsbury’s review in full. Those new T-levels will replace 13,000 or so different qualifications.
As right hon. and hon. Members argued in their article, our country and economy are changing fast. We must ensure that all pupils, irrespective of background, receive an education that gives them opportunity and choice in their adult life. We should all be able to agree that social mobility should be about not where a person starts, but where they end up.
A few weeks ago, I visited Michaela Community School in Wembley, a new free school committed to improving the education of those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Every day at lunch all the pupils recite in unison one or two of the poems that they have learnt by heart. When I was there, they recited William Henley’s “Invictus”, which reflects the determination and stoicism that is fostered at Michaela Community School:
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.”
Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes the contents and recommendations of the annual State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission; notes that despite welcome measures by successive governments to improve social mobility the Commission warns that social mobility is getting worse, the reasons for which are deep-seated and multi-faceted; and calls on the Government to lead a renewed approach in the early years, in education, skills and housing, to improve social mobility.