Question for Short Debate
My Lords, social mobility is part of a fair and just society. The belief that children from poorer families should have the same opportunity to succeed in life as children from wealthy families is something that rightly unites politicians across the political spectrum. Yet social mobility in this country is at least flat-lining and, although statistics in this area are always open to interpretation, many commentators believe that it has gone into reverse.
To illustrate this point, the first politician I am going to quote—and this may surprise your Lordships—is Michael Gove, who said recently:
“More than any other developed nation, ours is a country in which your parentage dictates your progress … those who are born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege. For those of us who believe in social justice this stratification and segregation are morally indefensible”.
For me, nothing demonstrates this more starkly than the fact that although just 7% of pupils are privately educated, they account for 59% of our Cabinet Ministers, 45% of our senior civil servants, 15 out of 17 of our Supreme Court judges and heads of Division, and 54% of our country’s leading journalists. While one in five children is on free school meals, this can be said of just one in 100 Oxbridge entrants.
Since what has been called the golden age of social mobility, starting in the post-war years until the 1970s, things have fallen into decline. As the recent report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission shows, our leading universities may be some of the best in the world but over the past 10 years they have become less, not more, socially inclusive and increasingly the preserve of the elite. I am sure that other noble Lords will want to comment on this point.
The gap between the rich and the poor does matter. The influence of parental income on the income of children in Britain is among the strongest in the OECD. Parental income has more than one and a half times the impact on male incomes in Britain compared with Canada, Sweden and Norway. We also know that income inequality in Australia and Canada is similar to the UK, but they have significantly higher levels of social mobility, on a par with Sweden and Norway.
So what is going wrong? It is to the credit of this coalition Government that they have made social mobility a central plank of their social policy, and I welcome the efforts already made to tackle the barriers of disadvantage. I strongly welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s announcement of the social mobility business compact to help ensure that all young people have fair access to job opportunities; the recent increase to the pupil premium budget to provide extra support to the most disadvantaged children; the extended access to early years education for disadvantaged two year-olds; and the additional help to get young unemployed people back into work or learning through the youth contract.
What more could and should be done? The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility, of which I am vice-chair, has sought to shine a spotlight on some critical areas of debate that are all too often overlooked. The APPG report, 7 Key Truths about Social Mobility, set out the key issues on which policy should focus, looking at the unequal opportunities that start in the earliest years of life and too often persist and widen in later life. These truths cover the importance of the early years in the home; the critical importance of education, including both the quality of teaching and extracurricular activities; the pivotal role of access to universities, including part-time study; and the need for other pathways to mobility, such as apprenticeships.
The final truth, which I want to focus on, is that of character and resilience, something the All-Party Parliamentary Group saw as the missing link in the chain. Character and resilience are somewhat amorphous terms, which some might choose to dismiss as fluffy or cosmetic soft skills. In fact, the very term “soft skills” strikes me as something of a misnomer. Far from being fluffy, developing character and resilience is about developing the fundamental drive, tenacity and perseverance needed to make the most of opportunities and to succeed in life, whatever the obstacles. It is about self-esteem, self-discipline, aspiration and expectation. In everyday language, it is about believing you can achieve, understanding the relationship between effort and reward, sticking with the task at hand and bouncing back from the knocks that life inevitably involves.
Recent survey evidence from the Prince’s Trust tells us that young people from affluent backgrounds are more likely to be told by their family that they can achieve anything, and that one in four young people from poorer backgrounds felt that people like them do not succeed in life; if they have, for example, failed an exam or been turned down for a job, they are more likely to feel that they have already failed. There is also a growing body of evidence showing the link between developing the social and emotional skills and doing well academically and in the workplace. Research by the IPPR indicates that personal and social skills have become 33 times more important in determining life chances, while soft skills have become 10 times more important in determining future incomes in a single generation. Paul Tough’s recent book, How Children Succeed, also illustrates the ways in which character skills contribute to cognitive ability along with the American Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman, who found that character traits are just as predictive of academic or job success as more traditional cognitive skills and, indeed, that the two are very much linked.
The really good news from all this research is the evidence that these character or personality traits are not innate. They can be taught and developed through life. Heckman has shown that investing early in these skills, particularly with disadvantaged children, generates strong economic returns. Looking exclusively at earning gains, returns to cash invested can be seen to be as high as 15% to 17%. These so-called “soft skills” can lead to hard results.
In the light of this evidence, the All-Party Parliamentary Group, with generous support from the Open University, hosted a character and resilience summit earlier this year. Whether hearing from Tony Little, the headmaster of Eton, on how he teaches his pupils about dealing with failure, or Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder of Kids Company, about working with some of the most deeply traumatised children in the country to rebuild their basic self-worth and faith in life, the summit confirmed to me that, for those who care about social justice, developing character and resilience is essential. As Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, who was present on the day, emphasised, it is not ability that is unevenly distributed, it is opportunity. In order to overcome this disparity, what he describes as the “Berlin Wall” between state and private sector schools needs to be broken down.
We heard about some great work going on in state schools, too, with examples of volunteering in the local community, outdoor activities which put pupils outside their comfort zone to develop their resilience and a really wide range of imaginative extracurricular activities. Indeed, we heard schools saying that developing such traits is now their core business and that, for employers, these less tangible skills of sticking at it, not giving up, empathy and teamwork are precisely what they are looking for in potential recruits. Overall, the message that we heard from academics, head teachers, employers and charity leaders alike is that, whatever qualifications you might have, where you are on the character scale will have a big impact on what you achieve in life.
Successive Governments’ efforts to narrow the gaps between the rich and the poor have largely focused on exam results. However, as the stark trends I outlined earlier show, just more of the same will not be enough. It is necessary, but it is not sufficient. That is why I call on the Government today to take more account of this growing evidence surrounding the role of character and resilience in improving social mobility and to start putting it into practice.
I have a few ideas to offer. More could be done in early years, working with health visitors and children’s centres, linked to the expansion of free early years education. To break down that so-called “Berlin Wall” between the state and independent sector schools, practical incentives are needed to encourage sharing of approaches and good practice. I would like to see schools being able to allocate greater space in the state curriculum for volunteering, sports, drama and music to help to bridge the gap, as well as using PSHE and citizenship to the full. I would particularly like to see the pupil premium being used directly to develop character and resilience and the identification and spread of good practice. Teacher training should include models for effective teaching of character and resilience. Because we all know what really drives behaviour in schools, I would like to see the Ofsted framework developed to include the importance of character and resilience to learning outcomes, and that reports and inspections say how effectively this is being addressed. These are just ideas, but I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that these and other ideas will be taken seriously as policy is developed.
I conclude by asking why this matters so much when in economic terms the case is clear. Studies suggest that reaching international benchmarks on social mobility could be worth around £150 billion a year in the UK, or the equivalent of a one-off increase in GDP of 4%. However, socially and morally the case is overwhelming. Someone who has overcome disadvantage, persevered in the face of adversity, and shown real strength of character is surely the one who deserves the opportunity to succeed and share in the rewards that society has to offer. Surely that is what a just society is all about.
My Lords, I welcome this debate and I congratulate my noble friend on her excellent speech. Most particularly, I welcome her emphasis on character and resilience as factors in any individual’s prospects. Although Governments have a role in ensuring that any barriers to mobility are removed and that opportunity is open to all, no Government can determine how any individual will live his or her life. Upward mobility comes from individuals grasping opportunities, working hard against the odds, leaping over barriers, setting themselves high goals, and often swimming against the stream of their own community and background. These things are done through character and resilience.
Although I rarely speak in personal terms, today I want to illustrate why I believe so strongly in the response of individuals to opportunity by telling a personal story. I am immensely proud of the women of my family across three generations before me. My great-grandmother, the first of the three, was a working-class girl from Sunderland. She was widowed while still a young woman and was left, as I understand it, almost destitute. Too proud to seek charity, she turned her hand to taking in washing to support her family.
Despite this, she was determined that her daughter, my grandmother, would have an education. Each week she would put a penny of her hard-earned income into a tin on the mantelpiece to pay the fees for the Dame School her daughter attended. My grandmother proudly told my sister and me that although she was only a little girl, she realised both that her mother could ill afford the weekly fee and that she was needed at home to help with the huge barrels of washing, which were the family’s business. Therefore, she told us, she worked really hard to complete the work for her school leaving examination and graduated, as they say, at the age of 10 instead of 11. Incidentally, despite the short spell of her education with an unqualified teacher, my grandmother wrote beautifully in an elegant script with perfect grammar and spelling, and read newspapers and books voraciously until her death at the age of 87.
The second of these women, my grandmother, had clearly inherited the character and resilience of her mother and was determined that her daughter, my mother, would have an even better education. Facing up to the prejudices of her husband, who said, “What’s the point of education for a girl? She’s going to get married, isn’t she?”, my grandmother’s fight was with him to ensure that my musically gifted mother won a scholarship to grammar school, stayed on for the sixth form, and gained both her teacher’s certificate and musical qualification from the Royal College of Music.
So we come to my gifted, passionate about education, aspirational mother, the rightful heir to her two female forebears. My earliest memories are of her 12-hour days spent teaching, marking, preparing lessons, cooking, cleaning and caring for her husband and two daughters. She coached us in our schoolwork and cheered us on to succeed at whatever we chose to do. I am for ever grateful to her.
These splendid women had strong characters and enormous resilience. They had little help from the state, but grasped every opportunity that came their way. They are, I believe, a paradigm for the determinants of social mobility. Governments of course have a duty to ensure that opportunities are there to be grasped and that the barriers of prejudice, injustice and low aspiration are removed. This Government are working to do just that, but ultimately it is people, women and men of determination who take their destiny into their hands and move from deprivation to aspiration. Such individuals shape not only their own destiny, but in so doing they move the whole of society forward.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness. Listening to her stories, I commend to her Alan Johnson’s memoir of his childhood, which tells a similar and brilliant story. I say at the outset that I have just started working for Brent Council, chairing a commission on social mobility, which reflects on the achievement in their schools, which are now outperforming the national average but with no impact on social mobility or poverty. The council wants to understand that. That reflects my interest in community social mobility as much as individual social mobility. I very much welcome the debate and the way in which it was introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler.
By happy coincidence, today is also marked by Ofsted publishing its excellent report, Unseen Children: Access and Achievement 20 Years On. It is a welcome return by the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to focus on outcomes for disadvantaged pupils in England. Ofsted has found that underperformance is no longer dominated by areas with concentrations of deprivation. There is an explicit acknowledgement of the success of Labour’s London Challenge, set up by Stephen Twigg MP and then taken over by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, the subsequent Manchester Challenge, overseen by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, and the Black Country Challenge, which I looked after. Those challenges used data to shine a light on underperformance and to identify top-performing leaders who could then support and challenge those schools and leaders who needed it most. The report therefore points to the importance of collaboration and to Governments taking a strategic approach to focus attention where improvement is needed.
I very much welcome the message from Ofsted that the rest of the country can learn from London. If Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets can raise results for free school meal pupils by 20% over five years and be 15% to 20% better than the national average, then anyone can. In the same period, my home county of Dorset managed only a 2% improvement for free school meals children, remaining 10% below the national average for those poorer pupils. It is high time that we shook schools in rural and coastal areas out of any complacency and used data to expose the underachievement of those who need good education more than most.
If we solve those problems in school, would we solve the problems of social mobility? Sadly, we need to do more. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, said, we need to build resilience, to build the capability of all of us to deal with mistakes, to take risks and to learn from failure, to celebrate that failure, to have the traditional stiff upper lip but with empathy. That resilience is being strategically built in London boroughs such as Newham and Islington at both community and individual level. Alongside Every Child a Reader and Every Child Counts, Newham has Every Child a Musician as a programme and, as a council, has a huge volunteering programme for 7,000 elderly people. Elsewhere, organisations such as the Transformation Trust and Future First are doing a great job in offering after-school activity and state school alumni programmes which mirror some of the success of the private sector.
If we build resilience, will that do the trick? Another great obstacle remains. That is the poverty trap. I cannot see how children can get the support that they need at home, working with schools, or a richness of aspiration when they are burdened by acute poverty. Growing numbers of families, in Devon as much as Durham, are dependent on food banks to feed their families. The shortage of affordable housing to rent or own is common across rural and coastal areas and leads to overcrowding and very difficult study environments for children. Free-school-meal children need free school meals, but they are being cut. Rising debt leads to relationship breakdown. All of those features of poverty are getting worse. We need a welfare state that is not about managing poverty but more about helping people get out of poverty.
The Government are making life very uncomfortable for people dependent on welfare, but lack of time prevents me giving your Lordships anecdotes of the stories I have heard by those affected by the single-room rate and the benefit cap in Brent. The poverty trap is deepening, and increased homelessness, criminality and child poverty is the natural consequence. That in turn will further damage the social mobility and our country will continue to pay the price in a tragic waste of talent.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Tyler for introducing the debate and apologise to her and other Members in the Chamber for my being a few moments late. It was one of those annoying times when the first train was cancelled and the second got stuck outside Waterloo. I do apologise.
I very much appreciate the degree to which, by having this debate, my noble friend has focused our minds on the work of the APPG and, in particular, the report, with its seven key truths about social mobility. I was particularly struck by the commonsense definition of social mobility: the extent to which where you end up in terms of social class is different from where you started. It pointed out that that means that sometimes, people go down as well as up. It is also linked with a sense of happiness and well-being. You need to have aspirations—this comes out in character and resilience—and to have aspirations you need to be able to see a better future for yourself.
I want to concentrate my remarks on the universities as a key determinant of later opportunities. Great strides have been made in widening participation over the last two decades. For those in the socio-economic bracket of the lowest 20%, the difference in participation has gone from 9% in 2004 to 14% in 2011-12, which is very significant. For the bottom two quintiles it is now up to almost 20%, but that compares to 45% for the top quintile. It is therefore interesting that whereas the introduction of tuition fees has seen a 2% to 3% fall-off in application rates from the top quintile, this is not true of the bottom quintile. Those in the lower socio-economic brackets have actually maintained their participation rates rather than falling off. Equally, it is still three times more likely that if you come from the top economic group, you will go to university—and disproportionately so if you go to a private rather than a state school.
The publication earlier this week of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s Fair Access Challenge in relation to universities, which reprised a report that it published last year, reminds us that while the general feeling in relation to universities is positive from the lower socio-economic groups, in the top Russell group universities the participation from those bottom groups is far lower, and fell during that same period of 2004 to 2012. Much of this, as the Seven Key Truths report makes clear, is because state school pupils do not achieve the required entry grades. This is why it is so important to improve the quality of teaching and teachers in state schools. As the noble Lord, Lord Knight, indicated, this is possible. The position of the London boroughs shows so well what can be achieved.
However, the conundrum is that there are still something like 3,700 or so young people who achieve the required grades but do not apply. This suggests that the widening participation message is not reaching them or, perhaps more significantly, their teachers. The message to the Government from this is that we most not relax the widening participation agenda, whether it is through pressure from OFFA or HEFCE’s funding towards widening participation.
I should like to flag up two very important issues. First, on information, advice and guidance, there has been an almost complete collapse of careers education in schools and it is absolutely vital that young people get good and relevant advice. Secondly, the national scholarship programme needs reform. Most of the funding for this comes from the universities themselves, some of which use it for fee remission and fee waivers. Research has shown that this is much less effective than such things as supporting summer schools and outreach programmes. We need to be much smarter in using this money.
My Lords, in the time available I shall attempt to make only one point. There is no doubt in my mind that upward social mobility in our society—funnily, nobody ever speaks about downward social mobility—can be unfair to individuals and a lack of it can impoverish society. In spite of the withering critique by Civitas in the report that was published for this debate, I still believe that there is an extraordinarily strong case for encouraging upward social mobility. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, the Sutton Trust focused on the link between poverty and lack of social mobility. I recognise that that is extremely important, but we should by no means be perceiving it as the only cause or problem. There are other causes. The Government have done a lot to intervene and to support parents when their relationships break down or when their family falls apart. In my view, however, I question whether they are doing nearly enough to prevent these things happening in the first place. There is a real opportunity for prevention by doing more in schools to prepare young people for the challenges, responsibilities and opportunities of adult life.
There is a particular window of opportunity during adolescence around key stage 3, when most young people are eager to know more about the adult world they see looming ahead of them. In the best schools they get well trained teachers helping them to discuss and work out their hopes and problems—to think about and discuss the opportunities, challenges and responsibilities they will meet in the adult life that lies ahead of them.
Sadly, in the vast majority of schools, little or nothing is being done today to give pupils the help they need, while all the time commercial pressure and the media are doing their best to mislead them. Why are we not helping young people more?
There is a nominal entitlement to PSHE at key stage 3, but the recent Ofsted reports make it perfectly clear that in most secondary schools today, if PSHE is on the agenda at all it is delivered by teachers who have no specialist training in this subject. This is a seriously missed opportunity.
Help at that stage could bring two things. It could help the young people themselves to live better and fuller lives throughout their life. And it could also lead to their future children to have more stable and supportive environments in their families as they grown up.
I beg the Government to do more to help and lead young people to think more about the adult lives which lie ahead of them and to learn how to cope with the inevitable problems they will have to face from time to time. I beg the Government to set aside a little money—at least just a little money—to fund some of the teacher-training universities, so that they can research and develop programmes for that kind of teacher training. I know one that would be interested.
My Lords, I want to remind us of the context that a number of us have mentioned. Since the mid-1970s, there has been an increasing gap between those at the top and those at the bottom. That is the pole that we are talking about in terms of social mobility. We have three big groups now: those who are doing well; those who are surviving; and those who are dropping below the radar—that is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, about the poverty trap.
As other noble Lords have mentioned, social mobility between those poles implies the reality that some people are going down. I want to focus on that briefly, alongside the proper aspiration to help people go up. People will always be going down as well as up. If the measure is an economic and occupational one, we will struggle. We need other measures really to go for what I would call social inclusion. We should not talk about social mobility without talking about social inclusion, so that we reach out to those who are going down.
We know how easy it is for people to fall out of being included. There are emphases on particular skills or educational models which some people cannot access. We have a winner-take-all mentality, so we discard people quite easily. Sadly, the media and public attitudes are quite harsh towards those who are poor and in the poverty trap. There is a great deficit of compassion in our society. That is why the linking of this with character and resilience is so important. That is where we can be inclusive socially, whatever is happening economically or occupationally.
It was very inspiring to hear the family story of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry because resilience and character are not individual things; they are relational. One of the things that must be part of this mix is government doing all it can with others to support resilient families—like that of the noble Baroness—so that that can be a base for character and resilience in individual lives.
I want to give two brief examples from my own context. I am the Bishop of Derby, and Derby College works with the Prince’s Trust Team Programme. I have had contact with and heard the stories of people with Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia, impaired vision or family breakdown—all the factors that get someone down and put them out of the loop. Through simple mentoring programmes and plenty of encouragement, character and resilience is built up, and there are many inspiring stories of people getting back into the game.
The charity JET is situated right in the middle of Derby. It is all about jobs, education and training. It brings together youngsters from testing environments and their schools recommend the programme for them. Through the mentoring and work experience that is available through engaging with this scheme, on average these youngsters’ exam grades go up fourfold. Simple things being done by small organisations can complement the family and give people character and resilience.
The point I really want to make is that character and resilience are not important simply so that someone can be more economically active; more important, they are the stuff of citizenship. We need the FE sector and charities like JET in Derby to build up the character and resilience of citizens so that when they are going down, as will happen, they have the qualities and resources to engage and get back up again.
I want to end with a number of questions for the Minister. Will he comment on the issue of social inclusion for those who are pushed downwards by the fact of social mobility? Could he also comment on the role of FE colleges and voluntary sector organisations in this? How can the Government support the formation of resilient families? Lastly, as young people build character, how can they develop a portfolio that they can carry around with them to show employers in the same way they show their exam results? How can we help young people to demonstrate that they are team players and are willing to turn up regularly? How can they show that they are characterful and resilient citizens? We need some kind of award, which would be a way of accepting and applauding the development of those skills.
My Lords, I warmly thank my noble friend for enabling us to discuss this important issue. I think I subscribe more to the idea of equality than to that of social mobility for the reasons that the right reverend Prelate has just set out so well. It is gone into in depth in the book, The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, and pursued by the work of the Equality Trust. Nevertheless, I recognise that character and resilience are very important, but perhaps noble Lords will dwell for a moment on how much character and resilience a child can have if they come to school without having had any breakfast and with perhaps just a Mars bar for lunch. Obviously, it does not mean that a child will not have any character, but the fact is that the child’s body will be in a much less good state for learning.
I have the privilege of chairing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Food and Health. We have heard from a number of academics over the years about the impact that diet has on children’s ability to learn and on their life chances. Many noble Lords have spoken in this debate about the importance of education, and indeed my noble friend in her excellent introduction said that it is critical. If children are not able to learn because their diet is too poor, they are crucially disadvantaged for their entire life.
I can give some specific examples of this, one from Professor Andrew Scholey, the director of the Human Cognitive Neuroscience unit based at Northumbria University. The study he presented to our group compared the cognitive effects in children of two different breakfasts. One had a high glycaemic load—Coco Pops—and the other a low glycaemic load—All-Bran, but it could have been porridge. He found that the low GI breakfast is much more effective in protecting against a decline in performance. Other work on this has been done jointly by Nuffield College and the University of Essex showing effects on memory and attention span. Indeed, a survey by the Local Authority Catering Association found that snack foods that are high in sugar and fat produce problem behaviour. We can definitely say that a healthy diet improves children’s behaviour and academic performance. Of course, if you are badly behaved in school to enough of a degree, you end up being excluded, at the worst end of the spectrum, or possibly on Ritalin, because your diet means that you are on a permanent sugar high. There has also been much national and international research into the effect of vitamins, minerals and other compounds, such as amino-acids, on brain chemistry. Among the nutrients known to affect mood and behaviour are zinc, essential fatty acids, vitamins B5 and B6, calcium and magnesium.
I am sure that when the family of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, was going through that tremendous educational attainment, the diet may have been more basic but would have been more likely to contain the nutrients I have mentioned than the diet of today’s children. So the first problem is diet. The second problem is the lack of breakfast clubs. My final question to the Minister is: will he encourage Sir Michael Wilshaw at Ofsted to address this issue and not belittle the role of food in attainment?
My Lords, the claim that social mobility in Britain has been falling is made regularly. On the other hand, a lot of the research on class mobility does not support this. Lots of studies have found that, if anything, relative class mobility—the probability of a working-class child getting into the middle class and a middle-class child ending up working class—has been rising since the 1950s. There is no question about it, however, there is a relationship between inequality and earnings elasticity. The Gini coefficient—a measure of inequality—has been rising over the last 20 to 30 years, particularly in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, but also in Australia and Canada.
There is no question that there is a relationship between earnings and the benefit of going to university. On the other hand, there is a correlation between higher spending on higher education and higher levels of mobility. The reality is that we underinvest in higher education compared to the United States, compared to the EU average and compared to the OECD average. We do not invest as much in higher education as we should.
Despite this, however, our universities are doing a good job. Universities UK has shown that there has been a 30% increase in the proportion of young people from our most disadvantaged backgrounds entering universities since 2004. Progress is therefore being made. Are the Government are aware of a fabulous programme called GEEMA, the Group to Encourage Ethnic Minority Applications, at the University of Cambridge started in 1989 and in which I have taken part? It is a wonderful programme whereby the ethnic minority undergraduates at Cambridge take a week off during the summer and state school children from ethnic minority backgrounds, whose families invariably have never had a background of education in their history, come to spend a week in Cambridge and experience a week in the life of Cambridge University. This programme has a phenomenal effect on creating aspiration among these children, many of whom end up going to Cambridge itself. The programme has helped increase the number of BME undergraduates from 5.5% to 15%. Could the Government roll out this sort of programme in more universities around the country?
Our academies are doing a great job, but as somebody born and brought up in India who came over here to be educated like others in my family for three generations, I believe that the biggest mistake this country made was getting rid of the grammar schools. We have deprived so many of our bright children of their ability to progress. I know that this is a controversial subject, but I strongly believe this.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for leading this debate. She spoke about character and resilience. The headmaster of Eton College, Tony Little—and I declare an interest; my older son is there—has noted that boarding schools are the nation’s untapped asset. He has said that children learn more from each other than from adults. They learn more from outside the classroom than from within. There are so many ways in which we can learn from schools in the private sector—as the noble Baroness said they make up 7% of the total and they produce so much excellence—but unfortunately they are not available to everybody.
I conclude by saying that I have seen with my own eyes the change in this country from when I came as a student in the early 1980s, when there was no aspiration but there was a glass ceiling. That glass ceiling has now been shattered and there is the ability in this country for anyone to get anywhere, regardless of race, religion or background. That culture is so important because those people’s success creates inspiration; inspiration creates aspiration; aspiration creates achievement; achievement creates inspiration. It is a virtuous circle.
My Lords, this has been a great but very short debate. I am so sorry that I have only four minutes in which to respond, so I cannot possibly comment on the many wonderful speeches. However, there was some clear consensus around the Committee today. First, we all think that social mobility is good. We must also acknowledge that if we allow inequality to continue at the current level, it is inevitable that social mobility will require some people to go down as well as up, and perhaps go down quite a long way. Perhaps I can tempt the Minister to depart from his brief briefly and look at the way that someone like John Rawls might have encouraged us to think about the circumstances in which, given a choice of an equal or an unequal society, but with no way of knowing where we might end up in the distribution, most of us would come down firmly in favour of a more equal society. What might that tell us here?
With the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, there was also a recognition that social mobility is in trouble in Britain. After my first visit to the United States, I came away both impressed and shocked, feeling that I had come across a country which had very low social mobility but believed passionately in very high social mobility—hence the American dream. As my right honourable friend Ed Miliband said in a speech last year on this subject, the reality is that if you want the American dream, go to Finland. One of the challenges we have in Britain is that our social mobility is pretty poor by OECD standards, and slowing. We therefore have a problem; so what do we do?
I think we have all agreed that education is crucial. I will not repeat the many interesting ideas that have been put forward there. Most of us would agree that early intervention is also crucial. The previous Labour Government were very committed to this, as I am sure noble Lords will accept. We created Sure Start and invested in thousands of children’s centres. We also provided support for early years education and for disadvantaged pupils, and the attainment gap narrowed as a result. I worry about some of the changes in recent years. I am concerned at moves such as the scrapping of education maintenance allowance and the closure of children’s centres, and what that might mean down the track for opportunity.
I was pleased to hear both my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby draw attention to some of the really severe barriers at the bottom where, with the best will in the world and even with lots of character, there are some pretty huge hurdles to overcome if one does not even get enough to eat, never mind having the kind of support that comes in other homes. That point was also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I, too, was hugely impressed at the great lineage that has produced the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. That clearly explains why we see such a force of nature here among us today.
I was also very interested to hear about the question of character because, aside from all the other questions, character and resilience are clearly important. I did a stint on the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel, which was set up to look into the 2011 riots. One thing we found was clear evidence that as well as enabling young people to take advantage of opportunities, character and resilience could mean that when a split-second moment of crisis came and someone had to make a choice that could be life changing, they would be enabled to make a good choice at that moment and not a bad one. It has real benefits both ways round. Given the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, to whose work and that of her All-Party Parliamentary Group I pay tribute, about the formation of character being as important—if not more important—than the acquisition of knowledge or other things, do the Government feel that that is reflected in their approach to the curriculum? I would be interested in the Minister's response on that.
I am with the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Derby on this: we need to be quite careful of being overly utilitarian. If we want to invest in character in order to get certain results, there is a slight danger that that is like trying to become happy, when it is by doing other things that one becomes happy. In that respect, in preparing for this debate I looked at various sources, including the Lexmond and Reeves 2009 report for Demos. I was childishly thrilled to find that they began with Aristotelian ethics. It was a fascinating notion. When Aristotle wrote about ethics, he was trying to set out the ways in which people could become better or pursue the good. However, they also told us that the closest translation of ta ethika was not, in fact, “ethics” but “matters to do with character”. In other words, character represents a set of life skills, not a moral disposition.
That tells us something quite exciting, I would suggest. It takes us to a view of character as a shorthand for a set of personal capabilities that research shows to be linked to a range of interesting positive outcomes. The report describes it as well-being. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby said, that needs to be understood as well-being in its broadest and deepest sense of human flourishing. If we have people who are flourishing, we will find people who are more likely to succeed, make the right decisions at crisis points, do better in exams and get more fulfilling jobs, but they would also be better people and would build a better society. That is the prize really worth having.
My Lords, we have had a really good Moses Room debate. As I have experienced on several occasions, it is something like an academic seminar, from which one learns a good deal. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, partly because I should have been reading a lot of this stuff before and she made me read it. We have had a very interesting and informative debate in which I have to say that the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, was one of the most interesting and inspiring. I hope that we will now go away and start arguing about this more actively in our parties and groups to take it forward.
I have a speech with a whole range of statistics on what the Government are doing about social mobility, but I want to concentrate on character and resilience, which is the bit that has not been as emphasised in dealing with social mobility as it should have been.
I was originally a bit of a cynic about the big society, the national citizen service and community organisers, until I went to see a national citizen service scheme in Bradford last summer and spent a long afternoon with children from what I know to be some of the roughest schools in Bradford, when I was asked to teach them how to give a speech. It was fascinating, because I realised that I was dealing with people who thought that they could not do things, that they could never stand up in front of others and perform. I managed to persuade three of them to do so. I began to see that that course gives you that much more confidence to believe that you can do things which before you thought that you could not. I am now a strong proponent of national citizen service. We are expanding its coverage this summer. Of course, it is only one of the many elements that we need, but it is giving children at different levels more opportunity to realise: “I can do that”. It teaches them how to volunteer and to take part in community activities. That is exactly the sort of thing that helps.
Similarly with the community organisers’ scheme. In Yorkshire, I see the problems of social mobility most of all in the big, almost entirely white estates in Bradford and Leeds—and occasionally in Sheffield and Hull. There is very high unemployment, a lot of intergenerational unemployment and a deep sense of grievance that the local authority does not look after them, but they do not actually look after themselves very much. There is a high incidence of Staffordshire bull terriers. There is a sense that nothing much is being done for them. The community organisers’ scheme tries to get them back into the habit of thinking that they could do some things for themselves with themselves, the local authority and local voluntary organisations. That is how you start to rebuild a community, because, as the right reverend Prelate said, the collapse of local community is part of the problem here. Your nonconformist church, your established church or whatever gave you a lot of those skills as you grew up within it. Sunday schools were not just about learning the number of books in the Old Testament, there were a lot of other things as well. That part of what the Government are doing is useful.
I declare an interest. For the past seven years, I have been chair of a musical charity. I was bounced into it by some young men who have been choristers at Westminster Abbey a long time after me, who decided that they were going to set up not only a choir but something that would bring music into primary schools. Two weeks ago, as they took over a church in the City of London, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and I watched the Hackney Youth Children’s Choir performing. Evidently from their clothing, they were children from deprived backgrounds, standing up and performing in front of us and really enjoying themselves and therefore getting a sense that they can do things.
I believe that music in schools, as well as sport and getting people out learning to volunteer, is a very important part of building self-confidence. One of the reasons why the Parliament Choir is so good is that music teaches you two of the basic political skills: one, standing up in front of other people; and two, projecting your voice. Of course, that suggests that not everything we do on character and resilience needs to be done by government, let alone central government. A lot of this can be done by volunteers, by non-governmental organisations and by government—locally and centrally—and civil society working together.
A number of people have talked about early years and talking to small children. I have another personal interest in that I watch my two-and-a-half year-old grandson and am deeply conscious that the amount you talk to a small child comes right back at you over the months, and that those whose parents do not talk to them are a long way behind by the time they are three. In spite of the attacks in the Daily Mail, I am strongly in favour of local authorities and voluntary organisations providing parenting class incentives, explaining to young parents in particular what they can do for their children before they go to school, such as breakfast clubs and children’s centres. My figures suggest that actually the reduction in the number of children’s centres has been extremely small in the past two or three years. There has been a certain amount of merging and so on. We all recognise that this is a very important part of the mix of things that we need to do.
Moving on to what one does in the later years, I find it very depressing as I go around Yorkshire and ask people in pubs, restaurants and hotels why they employ so many Poles, Slovaks, Lithuanians and so on, and the answer is almost always, “Because they turn up for work on time, they do not take sick leave, they dress smartly and they want to get on”. Unfortunately, the children from these big inner-city estates tend to take a lot of sickies and often do not really want to work the hours that they would have to. We should be motivating them to think, “Actually, this is quite fun” and that living in Upper Wharfedale or wherever it may be for a bit might be also quite fun. It is not just a matter of forcing people to work and showing them what they can do but showing them that they can follow their own careers and that work cheers you up.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, asked how we get people out of poverty. The best way to get people out of poverty is to get them into work—I think we all agree—and that is partly where character and resilience are needed to motivate all these people who are growing up, sitting around and complaining. I am conscious that I am caricaturing a little—but not very much. I have a vivid memory of an afternoon in Armley jail in Leeds talking to the “popos”—the persistent and prolific offenders—and thinking that these people actually had the talent to do things if they had only been directed and encouraged in the right way.
A number of other points have been made about state schools and public schools. The question of public benefit is clearly one that we need to revisit. I know that a number of public schools are sharing their excellent facilities with local state schools. That needs to be encouraged. It is something that they should be doing on their own anyway. They can certainly help with volunteering and getting out in local communities, and that is something that we should be taking a good deal further.
Universities and access were mentioned. Again, I have an interest to declare. When I taught at the University of Oxford, every year I used to take children from sixth forms in Wandsworth around Oxford. It was a disillusioning experience, I have to say. I did it because my children were at state schools in Wandsworth. The culture clash between many of the working-class children from Wandsworth and the admissions tutors at Oxford colleges was sometimes far too wide to be able to bridge. It is excellent that the Sutton Trust and others are doing a great deal with summer schools and access programmes. Partly re-educating the admissions tutors is a road we need to go down.
Apprenticeships help a great deal, particularly as we move towards keeping people in school until 17 and 18 and discouraging people from dropping out of education altogether. Giving people practical and directed work experience with apprenticeships is highly desirable. The number of apprenticeships has been rising over the past two years and we wish to take it a good deal further. Volunteering of all sorts—the Girl Guides, the Woodcraft Folk and all those other things—used to provide opportunities for this. We have to build that back in. As has also been said, this is all part of citizenship. It is not an accident that those big, working-class estates only provide a 15% turnout at local elections and about 25% at general elections. They feel completely disengaged, so we need to rebuild the local community for all these activities.
We have heard about a wider range of issues from my noble friend Lady Miller, the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby on a more equal society and moral climate, which go wider than we can go on this occasion. We recognise that part of what went wrong over the past 25 years has been that we have become a much more atomised society, which valued wealth for its own sake and in which inequality has risen. Part of the argument that we all need to be making about taxation, personal reward and what companies and banks pay is that a society which is too unequal becomes a society which is very difficult to hold together. One loses a sense of common interest and community, locally, regionally and nationally. The banking commission hints at that in one or two places, but does not quite get sufficiently explicit on it; that sounds to me like a good role for the Church of England to take further in its contribution to the public debate.
Having made those comments as a wind-up to this seminar, I thank again my noble friend Lady Tyler for introducing this subject and for encouraging me to read a number of things which her All-Party Parliamentary Group has produced; I very much look forward to seeing what it produces from now on. I know that the Deputy Prime Minister and others are actively interested in the work of this group. We recognise that social mobility and inclusion are extremely complex areas. There is no single factor but a whole host of factors that come into play. I hope that we are all committed to building a more socially inclusive and coherent society.
My Lords, we will now have a short break. The Committee stands adjourned until 3 pm.