Motion to Take Note
To move that this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s plans to promote social mobility.
My Lords, it is a privilege and a pleasure to open this debate on social mobility. Despite the subject of the previous debate, I contend that there is no more significant subject than social mobility, not just at this time but at any time. As is usual when starting a debate, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I am very much looking forward to the contributions of all noble Lords from across the House—not least the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie, who is incredibly welcome today.
I am pleased to be able to call the noble Baroness my noble friend. Before joining your Lordships’ House she had an extremely successful career in the City before joining Westminster City Council, becoming its extremely creative and wise leader. Words close to her heart are, “Local people know best”. Hear, hear. I am sure that we shall hear many wise contributions from her, not only in her maiden speech today but on many subsequent occasions—not least as your Lordships’ House falls within her manor.
I shall read a quotation:
“where every single person has the opportunity regardless of background or that of their parents to have the chance to achieve whatever they want”.
Those words were spoken by the Prime Minister in Birmingham at the Conservative conference last month. They are important words for anybody occupying the role at No. 10, but they are equally important for all of us if we are to ensure that everybody, whatever their background, their geography or their socioeconomic status may be, has the opportunity to succeed in modern Britain. If we cannot all put our hands on our hearts and say that everybody has that opportunity in Britain today—to rise, to achieve, to get out from under—what is the purpose of politics? How can we suggest that Britain is a civilised modern 21st-century democracy?
Many subjects will be covered this afternoon—early years, education, employment, housing and health, not least mental health. Those are some of the key enablers of social mobility. Even more significantly, what are the key characteristics, the underpinnings, that must be in place? They are stability, security, self-belief, self-worth, self-discipline, approach and attitude. All those and more are what enable that most powerful of forces, social mobility, to flourish right across the nation.
I shall focus my opening remarks on school and sport, digital and diversity, apprenticeships and aspiration, character and collaboration. It is pleasing to see that the schools budget has been protected: it has risen by 3% on 2014-15 and will be some £40 billion next year. What everybody should seek is quality aspirational education for all—and within that not just academic work, but those elements of the curriculum that inspire, and touch our souls and hearts: sport, music, debate, drama, literature, dance and more.
I have a specific question for my noble friend the Minister on the proposed sugar tax. How will this be deployed to ensure that sporting opportunities are increased right across the sporting life of our young people, not least to put right the appalling decimation of school sport that happened post-2010, and in the current environment to bolster the excellent sports strategy set out by my honourable friend Tracey Crouch last year? Similarly, how will we ensure that character education is such an integral part of people’s learning? Of course, it goes without saying that literacy and numeracy are important, but in an increasingly complex and fractured labour market, resilience, grit, determination and respect will get people through—all the stuff which I know from first-hand experience, and which is set out in the character education programme. Therefore, what are the new Government’s plans to champion character education? When I attended the character education awards earlier this year, I saw at first hand what tremendous work was being done in this area.
Surveys demonstrate that where people have the opportunity to engage in sport, their numeracy can rise by up to 29%, with similar increases in behaviours. This cannot be underestimated. It is not just about social mobility, although of course that is in the mix. If we can turn inactivity into activity—this goes wider than sport and encompasses recreation, leisure, young people getting involved in sport, games and having fun—it will not just positively impact social mobility, but there will be a boon for the economy of potentially £53.3 billion.
An example of this to which I have referred in earlier debates is the Hackney Boxing Academy. Its trained staff mentor groups of six young people and work on numeracy, behaviour and skills learned through the sport of boxing. You could barely put it in starker terms than one of the graduates of this programme, Dylan, who said, “As a result of being involved in this programme, I am a completely different person”. What more could one say about social mobility?
We also need effective careers advice to enable people to even know about some of the jobs available, never mind be able to aspire to them. I was lucky enough to be a member of the Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility that reported earlier this year. We found that the provision of careers services for young people was at best patchy. This needs to start not in the sixth form or in secondary education but right from the first moment that someone steps into the classroom. They need to be exposed to opportunities and possibilities. When I was young I did not have a clue about the full range of jobs and opportunities that existed.
Role models are incredibly important. Working parents are obviously the most significant role model but also people from different backgrounds going into schools and talking to pupils. The Primary Futures programme is an excellent initiative of the National Association of Head Teachers whereby people from different walks of life go into schools and talk to young people. They do not wait until the young people enter secondary education but talk to them when they are in primary schools to spark young minds to think, “I could do that. What do I have to get in place to achieve that?”.
In Birmingham last month, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education announced opportunity areas to drive social mobility. Six have already been identified. Will my noble friend say when the next four will be released? What further information can he give the House on these opportunity areas? How exactly will they work to drive social mobility?
As I mentioned at the outset, collaboration is incredibly important. It is difficult enough to drive cross-Whitehall working but it is essential to collaborate with local authorities. If, for example, local authorities shared their data with schools, given the data that local authorities have, children could be auto-enrolled into free school meals and the pupil premium, thereby cutting out bureaucracy and any potential for those pupils to fall through the cracks in terms of opportunities.
What of life post-school? It seems extraordinary to me that in 21st-century Britain there is still such a disparity of esteem between higher education and other potential routes post-school. I believe that many people go to university who, with the benefit of better advice and greater foresight, could have chosen another route which might have afforded them greater opportunity and social mobility. Perhaps we should consider ending the national curriculum when pupils reach 14, and treat the years between the ages of 14 and 19 as a period of potential transition. At this point I give more than a positive nod towards my noble friend Lord Baker and all the work that he did on university technical colleges. That vocational opportunity is for many people not just a route but the right route that will deliver them a better life, better opportunities and, potentially, more income—not that that is a fundamental point.
We have heard much about apprenticeships. I fully support the ambition to have 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. That is not easy to achieve and there has been a lot of concern around maintaining the quality of those 3 million apprenticeships. I was delighted to see the announcement earlier this year on the appointment of a regulator to set standards and ensure that an apprenticeship does what it says on the tin. We and young people need to be assured that an apprenticeship is a badge of quality and that, if they put in the time to achieve an apprenticeship, it has real value. Will my noble friend tell us more about how the role of the regulator is unfolding? Some 2.3% of new entrants to the public service will be apprentices. This is a brilliant boon for young people but will also enable the public sector to truly benefit from what apprentices can bring to it. Payments for firms with fewer than 50 employees enable them to offer apprenticeships right across their operations. This is what 3 million apprenticeships can offer. However, none of us should doubt that to deliver that day in and day out through to 2020 is no easy task.
Probably the biggest threat and biggest opportunity facing our country is the digital revolution. It is already well under way and will make the Industrial Revolution look like a children’s tea party. The Industrial Revolution took place over more than 100 years but the digital revolution is happening sometimes in weeks. Why does this matter to social mobility? It matters because potentially 35% of existing jobs are in danger of being automated. Many of these jobs were previously guarantors of social mobility. What does this mean for people’s ability to climb up the social ranks? By the same token, 1.1 million new jobs in the digital economy need to be filled before the end of this decade. The report of the Select Committee on Digital Skills, Make or Break, which was published the year before last, recommended that in schools and through life digital literacy needs to be considered as important as literacy and numeracy. It is that significant if everybody is to be able to benefit from digital opportunities. Alongside that, superfast broadband needs to be available to all and everybody needs to be online. That is not just something that is nice to have; the internet and superfast broadband should be viewed as being as important as a utility because so much will depend on people’s digital skills and their ability to transact and interact online. When you look at the 7 million people currently offline, you see that lower socioeconomic groups and disabled people are highly overrepresented in that offline community. Talking of inclusion, I point out that 4,000 young people received an A-level qualification in computer studies in 2014 but that fewer than 100 were girls. If we are to ensure that everyone has the chance to benefit from digital opportunities, we need to ensure that they are fully inclusive for all.
I turn now to volunteering. I thank all the organisations that have sent in briefings across the various areas of interest in this debate. Volunteering can have such an important role when it comes to improving people’s opportunities to get on in life. Look at the debate earlier this week on Second Reading of the National Citizen Service Bill; I fully supported that initiative. Some 200,000 people have already benefited from it; more than seven out of 10 say that they believe that their involvement in the scheme has made them more confident in terms of gaining employment. It is significant, it is unique and it will have a profound effect on volunteering in this nation.
It is also crucial to recognise all the other organisations that do great stuff in this area, not least the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, for which I am lucky enough to be an ambassador. It is chaired by my noble friend Lord Kirkham. If you were to look up “social mobility” in the Oxford English Dictionary, and it said “the life of Lord Kirkham”, you could get few better definitions.
In sum, we need to focus on early years education, employment, aspiration, attitudes, formal education, everything that happens outside the classroom, volunteering, and opening up every opportunity. All of us across the country need to think about what we can do as individuals to try to increase people’s ability to get on in life. Essentially, the fundamental truth remains the same: talent is everywhere; opportunity is not. Our business this afternoon is social mobility; our business all days needs to be social mobility—how to ensure that we are doing everything we can to enable everybody to achieve their potential in whatever field that might be. That could truly enable Britain to say, “We are on the right path”. That could truly enable Britain to be a fundamentally better place: open, with opportunity for all. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for introducing this debate. I had the pleasure of serving with him on the Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility. I know of his passionate interest in this subject, and I congratulate him on the way that he has introduced it. He has given us an insight into the extent of this problem and its importance. I also add my welcome to his for the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie, and say that I look forward to her maiden speech and wish her well during her time in the House.
To some extent, social mobility is a challenge of our time. Perhaps for the first time, there is political agreement across the spectrum that it needs to be addressed and we need to do better than we have done in the past. In truth, whatever we think about our country, whatever our achievements, and however proud we are of what we do, the fact that our social mobility record does not compare well with our competitors overshadows those achievements and makes us not the sort of country that we would want to live in. That underpins our need and desire to try to improve in this area.
As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said, social mobility covers a wide area of issues. In the time that I have available, I am mainly going to concentrate on one, but I just wanted to acknowledge two other areas before I move on to that. First, we very often see social mobility as an issue for education and an issue about youth. It is not: we should live in a country where adults have the opportunity to be socially mobile as well, even if they did not have the opportunities during their youth. That falls to the area of skills and reskilling and giving people opportunities throughout their lives to achieve their potential and do as well as they can. Secondly, I am conscious that many children and young people achieve grades but find that they do not have the opportunities available to others because of their backgrounds. I acknowledge that that is a problem: it is about a change in culture throughout society, not just about what we can do in this House and through legislation.
I turn to my main area of concentration: those children who do not achieve in school and therefore do not experience the problem of having the grades but not getting the opportunities after that. If you look at the policies of both political parties for the last 20 years, you cannot say that there have not been attempts through the school system to try to increase and improve social mobility. Every policy that is launched now is introduced in the name of social mobility—in the name of giving those left behind a better chance and of closing the attainment gap. So it should be: that is a challenge that falls to education in schools. I acknowledge that success: today in schools throughout this country, there are young people who have been given opportunities through the school system, who are socially mobile and who will go to university and have the skills and opportunity to achieve what they want to achieve.
However, we are at risk of assuming that schools can solve the problem by themselves. I worry that, in answer to the question “What should we do about social mobility?”, too many people say, “We have to improve schools”. I know that we have to improve schools and that a failure to close the attainment gap in schools is a failure of the school system. I do not shy away from that, but I know that schools do not cause the problem in the first place. We should not shy away from that either. They are asked to address and remedy an endemic problem in our society: what they inherit with children at the age of five is a difference in attainment that is clear from the age of 18 months. Look at those geographical areas that underperform at GCSE and A-level, that we bemoan do not get as many children to university as we would like. When you look at what we call school readiness in that area, you find that that is low as well. We know that standards in schools are low in the north-east, but guess where school readiness is also low: in the north-east. We know that achievement is good in London boroughs, and—guess what—when you look at school readiness measures, they are actually far better in London than in other parts of the country. Let us be clear what we mean by school readiness. It is to be able to listen, to speak, to pay attention, to handle objects, to move confidently, to have self-confidence, and to have social skills. It is those basics that any person needs if they are to stand a chance of doing well throughout life and throughout school.
We know a lot about that group that does not have school readiness. We know that those children are more likely to be poor and more likely to come from families that have ill-health and low skills—not all lazy and dependent on benefits. We know that by the age of five, they will know fewer words than people from middle-class families; that their social and physical skills will be less developed; that their mothers are less likely to have attended antenatal classes; and that their parents are less likely to have accessed what we might call enrichment activities between the child’s age of nought and five. The Government have to ask themselves whether they are doing enough to address the needs of this age group. In truth, all Governments have a tendency to put their efforts, emphasis, money and resources on schools. As somebody who is passionate about schools—and I spent my ministerial time concentrating on schools—I am not inviting the Minister to stop focusing on schools. However, I invite him to consider that the way in which he could most help schools to close the attainment gap is to do more for the age of nought to five.
When I look at what the Government are doing on this, I acknowledge that they have put more money into childcare; I acknowledge the pupil premium, which was part of the coalition. However, the Commission on Social Mobility and Poverty says that the efforts to improve the school readiness of the poorest children are unco-ordinated, confused and patchy.
We know that despite the importance of this nought-to-five period, it is where our least-qualified and lowest-paid teachers are, and where there is less stability. Both the Minister and I could probably quote the floor targets for key stage 1 to GCSE and A-level. I also know by heart the underperforming local authorities or the type of school that is the most underachieving. I think I know what his targets are for every stage of school. I do not know what his targets are for the other years, what he is doing about children’s centres that are falling behind, or what the emergency intervention strategy of the Government is for nought-to-five provision that is not coming up to scratch. When I look through the DfE website, I cannot see a speech the present Secretary of State has made about early years, four or five months into her office. I will stand corrected if the Minister tells me that I am wrong.
Again, the best way to raise standards with some of our children in some of the most challenging schools from the most challenging backgrounds is to reduce the development gap between children when they start school. I very much hope that the Minister might consider adopting that as a target and working toward achieving it.
My Lords, when I saw that this debate was down in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, I immediately thought, “Yes, I’m going to say something about that”—and then I thought, “I have a lot to say about that, on numerous subjects”. It was restrained of the noble Lord in his 15-odd minutes to limit himself to a number of subjects, because everything affects social mobility. However, I will try to exercise a little restraint and will talk about only two areas. One is how we help those in the education system—I take on board the stricture of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, on this. The first thing you should say is that your parents are your key educators, and doing anything that improves the status your parents give you is a difficult task. So we are setting ourselves a little mountain to climb at the beginning.
Also, your parents will usually tell you to be like them. I am afraid that when people tell you to be like them, it brings in a whole series of straitjackets. It is also worth reminding ourselves that occasionally people who are in one of the professions do not want their children to do anything else. So if you happen to be a potentially excellent cabinetmaker or artist, you may be restrained from doing that. But I agree that that is a smaller problem than many others. If there is this pressure on you to attain and jump over certain hurdles, usually educational ones which allow you to access the better opportunities and things, are we identifying properly all the things that might slow you down?
I hope that the Minister will not be terribly surprised—indeed, I hope that his office passed on my advance warning on this subject—that I think that when it comes to special educational needs or the “hidden disabilities”, as I like to call them, which you have to look for and know what you are looking for, we are not at present equipping our teachers and educators throughout the education system to identify these people, who have different learning patterns. Let us face it: this subject has been given a little frisson by the idea that grammar schools will come back in and make everybody more socially mobile.
The Minister made it slightly more difficult for me to have a go at him after I asked him a question about the age of entrants and the flat rate by saying, “No, we’re not going to do that—we’re going to do it differently”. If we are going to do this and think it is a good idea, and if we are going to have a different series of entrance requirements, how will we identify those people who need to be tested differently, to see that that they will benefit?
Does the noble Lord agree that this is not just a matter of fairness to the individual, having a focus on special needs of some sort, but a great loss to the country? For instance, there is increasing evidence and experience—
This is a time-limited debate and we are behind time already. I ask the noble Lord to make his point to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, at another time. I apologise to the noble Lord but there is no time for interventions.
I do have a moment to reply—which is the advantage of not being tied to notes. Yes; there is a waste to society. To go back to my point, if the wrong people are getting there, if you are not getting others properly qualified and they are not going through, and you want to create a fast track—which preferably will get people to the right position in society, which will benefit society—you have to identify it. I hope that the Minister will be in a position to say whether we will make some movement on this. I know that there has been some contact between us, but it is probably a good idea to let the rest of the world know what we are thinking about here. If we do not, as has just been mentioned on what I will call my physical right, it is a great way of wasting resources and the benefit to our society.
Secondly, in the debate on the National Citizen Service Bill—which, oddly, I managed to listen to about half of on a monitor and in the Chamber—it struck me that in a small way this was quite a nice idea. But it then struck me that many of the social activities that people might be removing themselves from because their parents do not do them already do this. In many sports clubs—especially the bigger ones, which have a mix of people from different backgrounds who interact—and art, drama and music groups, you have a point of contact with people outside your immediate group on a subject that allows you to interact socially. If you can do that, you have the aspiration and the idea that it is worth while to undertake the extra effort in things such as education.
This is about bringing things together. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, suggested that bringing bits of Whitehall together is a herculean task. The thing is that two Ministers come together and work until they are dripping with perspiration; they bring things together and then two Ministers come in who have new agendas, budgets and priorities. How do we integrate this across the board and not have people fighting with each other about their little patch of authority? It is a job that I am afraid we will always be going back to.
Can the Minister describe the practical educational terms used to identify those who will struggle—how much further progress have we made? When it comes to the use of outside bodies, what attempts are we making through things such as governing bodies of sports to say that part of their job, for which they get some support from government, is to make sure that people are aware—younger people and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, people who are reskilling and retraining later on—that these things are out there and you can act on them. Nothing will work by itself; if you go into a silo, you will stay in a silo and that is where you will end up.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Holmes on securing this important and timely debate and I also very much look forward to my noble friend Lady Couttie’s maiden speech. One of the policy areas I will touch on today is the troubled families programme. Since 2008, Westminster Council, which my noble friend leads, has been helping families to restore order when they find themselves in chaos, through its family recovery team. It was an important trailblazer for this Government’s national programme. I am delighted that she will be on these Benches and I hope that she will join me in keeping the pressure on the Government, and indeed on all political parties, to develop an armamentarium of policies sufficient to tackle the epidemic of family and relationship breakdown.
Families are of fundamental importance to the whole process of social mobility, for good or for ill. When relationships between parents break down or when families cease to provide a safe, stable and nurturing environment for children and young people, it can make it far harder for them to thrive, especially when the family has other difficulties such as worklessness, serious personal debt, mental ill-health or addictions to drugs or alcohol.
Children from stable families tend to have better mental health, and preventing mental health problems from developing is incredibly important given their concerning prevalence among today’s young people. Such children also have greater access to social capital, more confidence, better-developed social networks and, therefore, more of the ingredients needed for them to experience upward social mobility.
Young people’s character and resilience have deep roots in the parenting they have received, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned; important life skills are for not only the education system to impart. Yet, in efforts to improve social mobility, it is far too easy to ignore families’ influence, focus solely on other areas such as education and work and to be overly “economistic”. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, cautioned us against this during the passage of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
Families are the neglected third pillar of the welfare state. That is why I, the Children’s Commissioner and the Centre for Social Justice keep bringing the concept of family hubs to the attention of Ministers and policymakers. Rather than letting their children’s centre stock wither on the vine, several local authorities have recognised that they need to make this infrastructure work even harder. They are integrating troubled families, early help and other budgets, including public health, in order to integrate and expand services within existing spending settlements. So help, including relationship support, is accessible for parents of children at any age through family hubs. They are somewhere to go where someone will have the answers.
The Children’s Commissioner has indeed issued a discussion paper on family hubs this month, which states:
“Family hubs would co-ordinate statutory and voluntary approaches to tackling the root causes of inter-generational poverty, family breakdown and poor outcomes for children. They have social mobility and family stability at their core”.
The Department for Education has a role to play in spreading such good practice and helping local authorities work through financially credible alternatives to simply closing children’s centres. Can my noble friend the Minister inform the House when the long-promised consultation on children’s centres will be launched?
The costs of family instability and failure are picked up by the health service, criminal justice and the courts, the benefits system, education and social care, businesses—the whole of society. This is why I have also been talking to many Ministers about the need for every government department to develop policies to strengthen families. I welcome the introduction of the Government’s family test and urge its strengthening. But this is reactive.
The test needs to be complemented in every government department by proactive policies to help create strong families, in the awareness that they are as essential to national success as employment and education. This join-up is happening locally; an important part of the rationale behind the troubled families programme was that getting truanting children back into school and long-term workless parents into employment required addressing the complex family issues holding everyone back. For example, it means integrating help and support so that specialist employment advisers work alongside family intervention key workers, and schools reinforce what these workers are seeking to achieve with families.
Could the Minster inform the House, what has been the impact of employment advisers from the troubled families programme on getting people into work? The great prize of this programme has always been its potential to drive systemic change, not just in the families whose problems are blighting their lives and draining local budgets but in how public services work. A similar systemic change in the structure of central government is also required if stronger families are to emerge and help drive much-needed improvements in social mobility.
My Lords. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for securing this debate. I know he has great commitment to this issue, not least through his work on the Select Committee on Social Mobility.
I also join others in saying that I am looking forward to the maiden speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie. The issue of social mobility was the subject of my maiden speech earlier this year.
When we make the case for improving social mobility in our country, there should be a moral, a political and an economic dimension to our argument. The moral case is surely unarguable: that everyone deserves the same opportunities in life, irrespective of the family they were born into, the place where they live, or the school they attend; and that no one should be condemned to a life of poverty and low expectations simply because they were born poor. Instead, we should strive to build a society where your progress in life is determined by your aptitude, ability, effort and aspiration. So it should be of great concern that there is currently a gulf between the Britain we are and the Britain we should strive to be.
Today, the UK is one of the least socially mobile countries in the developed world. A boy born into a middle-class family is 15 times more likely to become middle class himself than a boy born into a working class family—odds unchanged over the past 100 years. My noble friend Baroness Morris referred to the fact that, by the age of five, a child from the poorest 10% of families will already be 19 months behind a child from the richest 10%. On the current trajectory, it would take 30 years before the attainment gap in schools between poorer children and their better-off classmates even halved; and it would take 50 years to close the gap between those parts of the country that send the most children to university and those that send the least. Of course, none of this is to say that social mobility never happens; it does, and many succeed against the odds. But that is the whole point—they have to swim against the tide if they are to get on.
This divide in our country was brought into sharp relief by the vote to leave the European Union. The correlation between those who voted to leave and those areas with the lowest rates of social mobility is hard to deny. Of the 65 areas of the UK identified by the Social Mobility Commission as the worst for education and employment prospects, only three voted to remain—so the political case for improving social mobility has become acute.
The idea that each succeeding generation will do better than the last is fundamental to an aspirational society, and fundamental to the fabric of Britain. But if so many feel they are consistently excluded from this idea—that their ambitions are consistently thwarted, while they see the rest of the country forging ahead—we create the space for a dangerous politics of resentment.
It is in this context that the Prime Minister's commitment to heal these divisions and build a country that works for everyone is so welcome. But we must ask whether this desire for a different kind of society is matched by plans capable of delivering it. Initiatives such as the new opportunity areas and the youth investment fund are, of course, welcome. However, if the Government’s highest-profile policy for social mobility is a return to grammar schools, then the answer is surely no.
To genuinely promote social mobility, we need a comprehensive strategy that includes employment support, housing, early years provision, vocational education, public health and parenting skills. Our consistent failure to meet the moral obligation to improve social mobility contributed to the vote to leave the European Union, which in turn has the potential to create real economic challenges for our country.
A strong economic case for high rates of social mobility has always existed: that we should minimise the loss of productive potential from talent that is never deployed. Indeed, an economic analysis by the Boston Consulting Group for the Sutton Trust estimated that closing the educational attainment gap could add as much as 4% to GDP. But leaving the European Union makes this case even more important. Now, more than ever, we cannot afford to waste anyone’s potential. We must make use of all the talents in our country as we seek to remain internationally competitive.
The economic consequences of Brexit, when it happens, have the potential to create a perfect storm for social mobility: less inward investment would mean fewer career opportunities for young people. Businesses leaving the UK—or corporation tax cuts or subsidies to induce them to stay—would reduce our tax base and the money available for deprived communities. A shrinking of the financial services sector would remove a powerful engine of social mobility. Any recession would disproportionately impact young people at the beginning of their careers, and reduced opportunities to work and travel freely within the EU would risk curtailing their horizons and aspirations.
We know what happens to social mobility in these circumstances: those from privileged backgrounds jump to the front of the queue for scarce job opportunities, ahead of their more disadvantaged counterparts.
At this time of profound economic change, it is vital that we embed our commitment to social mobility in the development of new policy within government. As the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, said, the Government have done this successfully elsewhere, ensuring, through the family test, that a family perspective is considered in every new policy.
I end by asking the Minister whether the Government will consider a similar initiative for social mobility, issuing guidance to government departments in the form of a social mobility test, to ensure that the impact on social mobility is recognised explicitly in all that the Government do.
My Lords, in these few minutes I should like to set the concern and aspirations for social mobility—already so well introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and other noble Lords—in the context of the challenges faced by many people, some in my own diocese, who face the daily grind and trial of simply getting by for the day or, at best, the week. The Prime Minister has referred to the need to focus on “just managing” families, and I agree with her, but surely the task is to help make it possible for them to do better than just manage, enabling their energy to be taken up not just in dealing with the everyday challenges but in improving life chances for themselves and their families, including social mobility.
The policies inherited by this Prime Minister and her new Government can be expected to have a significant impact on those towards the bottom of the income and privilege ladders, whom we surely want and ought—if I may introduce a note of morality—most to support and encourage. Those who are on benefits, and whom none of us wishes to keep reliant on them, will see income reductions in the years ahead. I am thinking most of those in work and on benefits. There will indeed be some modest compensation for cuts in working-age benefits from income tax changes and the introduction of what the last Chancellor styled the “national living wage”; nevertheless, the bottom 30% will see a reduction. The same suite of policies is expected to raise incomes for those of us in the top half of the distribution. If there is higher inflation, and even if just a temporary contraction of the economy follows Brexit, the poorest will be likely to be hit the hardest. All this has an impact by retarding social mobility. These people will need extra support to manage, not less.
It is against that background of existing policy that we engage in a debate about doing more than managing—that is, improving opportunity for social mobility. It is hard, and sometimes impossible, to seek a new or better job or to support your children in their education if your daily preoccupation has to be with getting by. As we enter a period when there will be difficulties for those on the lowest incomes, we need to ensure that economic inequality does not worsen the base from which mobility can come. Trapping people on a lower income undermines social mobility, making it more difficult to access other welcome initiatives to address intergenerational mobility.
I accept that social mobility is not only about income, but it is a major factor in, and influence on, people’s ability to access other opportunities. Having to struggle to get by and, for instance, working very long hours on low pay, reduce time and energy for parental engagement in their children’s development. An advantageous home environment is very important in a child’s early years development. Enough parental and adult time, energy and money are essential for children to access sport, non-statutory educational opportunities and community engagement, all of which should begin at an early age if mobility is to be possible.
A key finding from the Social Mobility Commission highlights areas of the country that have become social mobility cold spots, particularly coastal areas. Some are in the diocese that I serve, covering the mainland coastal areas of Gosport and Portsmouth, along with the Isle of Wight. Many of these areas perform badly on both educational measures and adulthood outcomes, giving people from less advantaged backgrounds limited opportunities to get on. Regional disparities require focused attention, and I trust that our grand aspirations lead to resourcing for hard-to-reach regions and communities and the people who live there.
I draw my comments to an end, delighted to make way for the much-anticipated maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie. In our ambition to enhance social mobility, we must recognise the reality—that those just managing are those who ought to be our special focus.
My Lords, it is with great humility and a deep sense of pride that I stand before your Lordships today as a Member of this noble House, as ready as I will ever be to give my maiden speech. I have to admit to feeling a little daunted, as I do so in front of such an august audience.
To a certain extent, the enormity of my entry to your Lordships’ House is still sinking in as I try to learn the great customs and traditions of this hallowed House, but your Lordships have all been so welcoming, for which I am very grateful.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight my appreciation to my two supporters, my noble friends Lord Lamont and Lord Astor, for introducing me to the House. It was an incredible honour to have their patronage and it is something that I will always remember. I must also place on record my sincere thanks to the talented team of officials here; they have been a tremendous source of knowledge and orientation.
Now, I am giving my first speech to the House on a matter that was the driving force behind my entry into public service—how we promote social mobility. I feel privileged to speak in a debate led by my noble friend Lord Holmes, who is himself such a role model.
I was fortunate enough to be sent out into the world from a strong foundation and with support from my parents. I recognise how fortunate I was to have the opportunities afforded to me and, as a result, I have been driven from an early age to help others to reach their full potential.
On leaving St Andrews University, I began my career in public relations, where I became the managing director of a subsidiary of a publicly quoted company, and I founded, built up and sold two businesses. I then joined Schroders, where I headed its principal finance business, funding the redevelopment of schools and hospitals and building new ones. Schroders was taken over by Citigroup, where I became a director.
Most noble Lords will not see that investment banking has anything to do with social mobility, but in fact it was the ultimate meritocracy. I worked with individuals from every nation, creed and socioeconomic background, including those who had left school at 16 with few qualifications but who, by dint of their intellect, hard work and a bit of luck, had reached senior levels within the bank. I realised how important aspiration and all types of opportunity are in determining life chances.
Then, later in life and after some considerable struggle, I had twins, prompting me to leave the City. Politics has been part of my life since childhood, so, when a council seat became vacant in my own ward, I decided it was time to put something back into society and bring my experiences in the private sector to the world of the public sector. I had an ideal which inspired me—that to help individuals and communities succeed, we must facilitate the ladders of opportunity for people to make the kinds of steps forward that they want to make.
Government, both central and local, works best when it nurtures our human instincts to succeed and to build a better life for ourselves and our families. Government works best when it helps people to realise that potential and does not unwittingly stifle it, locking them in to a cycle of dependency and despair.
On being elected to Westminster City Council in 2006 and then, in particular, since serving as its leader, I have sought to weave the ladders of opportunity into my work. Despite the world-renowned tourist destinations and nationally significant economic dynamism of areas such as the West End, Westminster is a city of contrasts. Sitting cheek by jowl with some of the most desirable postcodes on the globe are pockets of severe deprivation, experiencing levels of poverty comparable with the highest in the country. In one of our wards, 50% of the residents are unemployed, and 50% of those have mental health issues. In another of our wards, 100% of the children are deemed as living in poverty.
In this day and age, in the very centre of our nation’s capital, no one should find themselves in that situation, and I have been determined to create the education, skills, housing and social support that Westminster residents need to succeed in their ambitions. I have committed the city council to tackling long-term unemployment as its number one priority. We have 10,000 long-term unemployed people in Westminster, many with complex issues, including mental and physical health problems. Tackling this worklessness is not easy, but we are succeeding. We are also supporting parents on low incomes to find better paid work to help tackle child poverty. Success can be achieved only with the local authority, employers and other partners working together to ensure that people can access jobs, training, apprenticeships and work placements. I am glad to see that the opportunity areas proposed by the Government suggest just such an approach.
As cabinet member for housing, I completely reinvented the way that we approached investing in our housing stock, not only to deliver over 1,000 new homes but to build an economic regeneration in our deprived areas. It was underpinned by my belief in building communities with the right infrastructure and jobs for local people, as well as homes.
In giving our children the best possible start in life, Westminster’s troubled families programme has gone from strength to strength, as my noble friend Lord Farmer has mentioned. I am aware that recent coverage of the scheme has not been positive, but that certainly does not reflect the experience in Westminster, as we have turned round the lives of more than 1,500 families.
In January this year, the Social Mobility Commission published an index setting out the differences between where children grow up and their chances of doing well in adult life. The City of Westminster was ranked first out of all local authorities in the country for providing social mobility. That was because 85% of children eligible for free school meals in Westminster attended a secondary school rated outstanding or good by Ofsted. Only 8% of young people eligible for free school meals are not in education, employment or training one year after completing their GCSEs—the seventh lowest rate in the country.
It is my strong belief that no child’s life should be defined by their circumstances, and I am convinced that as a country we must redouble our efforts to promote social mobility. I welcome the Government’s clear commitment to this and very much hope that, as a Member of this House, I can make a contribution to support this.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow my noble friend Lady Couttie’s exceptional maiden speech. She comes to this House not only with a wealth of experience in business and at the top of local government but with expertise in a wide variety of other roles; for example, as governor of Imperial College and a member of the London LEP. As a Westminster councillor for 10 years, including, as we have heard, four years as leader, she has a reputation for listening and consulting, as well as for running what is widely regarded as one of the most efficient, competent and innovative local authorities in the country. I know that she will not mind me telling the House that she has also battled with cancer and has spoken out about it publicly because she feels, rightly, that not enough people talk about their experiences, which can be so helpful to those struggling with the disease.
My noble friend also comes with a significant heritage. I hope it is not inappropriate to pay tribute also to her mother, Dame Marion Roe, a Conservative MP elected in 1983 at a time when there were only 13 Conservative MPs—the same number as in 1931. Dame Marion has been a wonderful support to many new women MPs and I am delighted to welcome her very able daughter to our Benches today. With her 25 years in leadership roles we look forward to significant contributions from my noble friend in the future.
I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Holmes for introducing today’s debate in his usual inspirational way. His own story of social mobility, from a working class background in Kidderminster to becoming Britain’s most successful Paralympian—amassing nine gold, five silver and two bronze medals across four Games, including a haul of six golds at Barcelona in 1992, followed by an amazing, stellar career outside active competitive sport—is an inspiration to us all. If we could bottle my noble friend’s spirit, character, personality and resilience and parcel it out, we would have no further challenges with social mobility in this country. My noble friend talked about role models and there can be none greater than him. Like all noble Lords, I am totally in awe of his achievements.
Theresa May, from her first speech as Prime Minister, has been unwavering in her commitment to social mobility. The need to redouble efforts to target disadvantaged pupils is obvious and urgent. Recent research published by the Education Policy Institute shows that there is still significant work to do to create an education system that offers opportunity for all and not just those living in the most affluent postcode areas or from the most privileged social backgrounds. No one is in any doubt that social mobility means many different things to different people. It is complex and multifaceted and can include poor health. Obesity, especially, is a major contributor to social immobility. I welcome the recent launch of the Centre for Social Justice’s inquiry into childhood obesity. As noble Lords will know, although I would like to focus more on that aspect in my speech, there is not enough time to do so today.
What is also needed is an understanding of the fact that some of the things that hold children back are not just deficiencies of the state and its machinery. These obstacles cannot all be reduced or removed by ministerial instruction or legislation or even by additional funding. We need an acceptance that some obstacles are social, some cultural, and some have their roots in the families and communities where those children grow up. You cannot legislate for higher parental ambition or better social connections.
However, a great start has been made by reorganising government so that the levers which manage and control the life chances agenda are now firmly within the Department for Education and supervised by Justine Greening, who, with colleagues such as Stephen Crabb and Robert Halfon, had prepared much of the life chances and social mobility policy work in advance of her move to education.
Much has been made of the background of the Secretary of State. It is indeed remarkable that she is apparently the first person to hold the job who was educated at a comprehensive school—although that background is actually far more common in the other place than many realise or understand. However, attitude and understanding are more important than her education, and Justine Greening is now in a position to do something about it. Anyone who cares about making Britain a country where your place in life depends on your talents and efforts should support her ambitions and programme. She says that her own background as the comprehensive-educated daughter of a Rotherham steelworker has given her the inspiration to fight for social mobility from inside government. Talking about her vision of a levelled-up Britain, she says:
“When I was growing up in Rotherham I knew there were kids getting a better start than me, but it would never have helped me to have their opportunities taken away. That wouldn’t have suddenly improved my life; it would have made theirs worse, and it certainly wouldn’t have done Britain any good at all. So for me this levelling up is about us saying we need to have opportunity and potential for children who currently don’t have it. It goes beyond education to some of the work we’re doing on apprenticeships, and about businesses saying what can they do to find those rough diamonds that are coming through and fast-track them through the system, even if perhaps they don’t have that kind of network that some other people might have. It’s about us as a country deciding that social mobility, and people being able to get to the top wherever they start and whoever they are, is one of the defining features of Britain for the 21st century. It should be something that we’re recognised for. People talk about the American Dream, but what we’re talking about”,
“is how do you create the British Dream”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, one of my heroes, for introducing this debate in such a wide-ranging way. I have also enjoyed the contributions from other Members of the House, including the excellent maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie.
This Government, like Governments before them, expressed the wish to improve the lot of children who do not achieve all that they might. I suggest that that success has been limited due to complex factors. Many of these factors in the UK mitigate against those children who are deprived in some way. Many parental options are limited to those in the upper and middle classes. A worrying fact pointed out by the OECD report last year and echoed by the Office for National Statistics said that the UK has the worst performance of intergenerational earnings mobility compared with other OECD countries.
I want to touch on what denies and what facilitates progress. To start at the beginning, the Early Intervention Foundation has provided much valuable research on the importance of brain development in the early years, the need for language stimulation, and for books and toys. This points to the need for positive parental care action, but parenting classes are thin on the ground and mainly absent in any school curriculum. We are neglecting the most important job of all: parenting. Early years education, discussed admirably by my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley, is not about testing, as she said. It is about developing self-esteem, self-confidence, resilience and curiosity, as well as intellectual confidence. These are the bases for success, good relationships and mental health. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, would agree with that.
Childcare is shown to have positive effects if it is of high quality. A Select Committee carried out an inquiry into affordable childcare last year. I was delighted to be involved in its work. We took valuable evidence from a number of sources. The Government’s extended childcare offer will provide more support for many working parents. However, local provision varies in quality. We found that, too frequently, the most deprived areas have the poorest quality of childcare. There is not enough flexibility in the system, which can be difficult to negotiate for parents. What are the Government doing about this?
The Select Committee on Social Mobility, chaired by my noble friend Lady Corston, produced an excellent report on social mobility in this Session. It states that factors that may influence social mobility include coming from a poorer background, low educational attainment, family background, gender, ethnicity, health, special educational needs, disability, and where a child grows up. Comparisons have been made between the north of England and London, where the excellent London Challenge, established by the Labour Government, transformed the lives of many children. This was a well-designed and targeted intervention. The Sure Start programme, sadly being dismantled by this Government, was another successful initiative. On the other hand, we have the troubled families initiative, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, costing over £1 billion with disappointing results. Why? I agree on the importance of families. I say yes to initiatives and innovation, but they need to be based on firm evidence, consultation, appropriate targets and good monitoring, and, as the noble Lord said, the need to integrate.
On secondary education and grammar schools, why the Government wish to return to a flawed, divisive system I cannot imagine. I went to a grammar school. I was a working-class girl there. At that grammar school, only a fraction of the top stream went on to higher education. I know that that was a long time ago.
There was a debate on grammar schools in your Lordships’ House on 13 October. Grammar schools do not work for everyone. Those not selected, or those in lower streams of grammar schools, may feel that they have failed. What a waste. As my noble friend Lady Andrews pointed out in her riveting speech in that debate, the idea that grammar schools promote social mobility is a nonsense. I quote her:
“The fact that the heyday of the grammar schools between 1950 and 1970 coincided with significant social mobility driven by economic and technological change is just that—a coincidence”.—[Official Report, 13/10/16; col. 2014.]
We must not go backwards. We should explore what positive models work in other countries and what progress has been made in our own country. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, who I see has disappeared in a puff of smoke, inspired the university technical colleges. He said that he could not be here today; he was, but he has gone. He told me yesterday that in July 2016, 1,292 students from these colleges left with excellent results and only five were not in education, employment or training. This is from a comprehensive intake.
Good schools promote holistic education and life skills: the arts, sport, programmes of social development and so on. I agree entirely with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. They are not full of stress in pupils and teachers, as well documented by many researchers. They are models of social mobility. Unfortunately, I see no coherent plan for the education and development of young people in this country. I have pleaded before for an overall strategy for youth in this country, embracing education, health, sport, the arts and social skills. What I see at the moment resembles a kaleidoscope, constantly being shaken to change the place of the pieces. The patterns, by chance, settle down into different formations, but they are fragile and confined. Attempts at improving social mobility need better planning, cross-disciplinary action involving parents and children, and a dedicated strategy. Does the Minister agree?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Holmes on the debate, which is very timely. I am also delighted to have been here for the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Couttie. I served for 10 years on Westminster City Council and my husband served for 25 years, so I am particularly delighted that she comes from that background.
It was interesting listening to the speeches. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for example, stressed the need for more development and encouragement in the ages of nought to five. I absolutely agree, because I was chairman of social services. In some of the ethnic groups, their only idea of how to care for their child was to keep them sedated and sit them in a big cardboard box in the kitchen while they did other work. Those children made no progress because they had no stimulus or outside interest; whereas other families were very active in encouraging their children to take interest in things, and they were given incentive and encouragement. That is very important.
My family background is that my grandparents went to Australia and ended up in Parkes because that was the end of the bullock train. You could not go any further. Then, by chance, my father got an education. There was one rich family in this town, which still has only about 10,000 people, who came to my grandfather, who ran a small dairy farm and said, “The education at this college is all paid for, and my boy won’t go, so I would like you to send one of your children”. It was offered to the eldest son, and he said, “No, it’s too late for me. I think the next boy should go”. That was my father.
My family said, “No, we cannot really spare him because we have got to get round and sell the milk”. The eldest boy said, “Well, I will do a double round”. Through that, my father got to that college, and he went from there to Sydney University. It was the first ever graduating year of pharmacy from Sydney University. Later, he was the deputy premier of New South Wales, and apparently the world’s only Minister for Public Health and Motherhood, so he achieved quite a lot. There were nine children in our family, and I think, because of that, he realised how very hard it is, and he brought in child endowment, which here we call child benefit, to help families.
He met my mother at Sydney University. She was very keen on education, and she had had to come from Queensland because there was no university there. She graduated in 1912, and was determined that all her children would get an education. My father did very well financially, but after he died things went terribly wrong, and the last two children did not get a penny. That was probably good for me, because I had to turn around and do something for myself. My father had believed we should all be worthy of our place in society. We should not just be sitting back because someone had made a financial success of things. That proved to be very important.
I think it is very important for all children to have encouragement from their families. They can have that encouragement only if the families know what the opportunities are and have an interest in the child achieving something. It is not a straightforward situation.
I found, in dental practice in Old Street, which was never smart in my day, in the 35 years I was there, the real problem was that so many of the parents or grandparents had very little English. This is where we can see the relevance of the statement that has been made today, that adult education is important, not only child education. People would come in for treatment, and a child would have to accompany them to explain what the problem was and then to translate what the dentist said to the parent or grandparent. Those women were completely cut off from society. I remember that Keith Joseph always said, “You can’t teach your children how to wash clothes unless you know how to wash clothes”. I think this is true. This cycle of deprivation has to be broken if we are going to give people opportunities for social mobility.
I see that the report issued by the Library mentions that the OECD in 2010 said that it is easier to advance in Australia and Canada than it is here. I think that is only because those countries are so much less developed. What concerns me more is a statement that London is pulling way ahead of other parts of the country in terms of opportunities in education. That should not be. It is very important that all the other big cities do everything they can to help their people.
Things need to be done to encourage people, particularly the young. Opportunities, encouragement, and a feeling that one can achieve something are important. Two things that I speak on pretty regularly I will comment on briefly. One is housing. Social mobility is pretty closely linked to having somewhere decent to live, where you can make a success of life. Therefore, there should be more social housing and more housing to rent and we should make sure that these holiday people do not take over valuable accommodation.
Another thing is nursing. I think we went too far—I think it was the Blair Government that did it—in saying that you had to have a university degree to become a nurse. Some of the very best nurses I know could never have got five As to get in. They were in a different category of nurse, and they were very good indeed. We should bring back that second tier in nursing which still exists in Canada and Australia. They brought in the A-levels and the superb university degrees, but they maintained that middle level as well. That is such an opportunity and a way for people to get social mobility, to enter a profession of that type and feel proud to be a member of it.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, for initiating this important debate. I was so pleased that he talked about effective careers advice and the need to start that in primary schools. He also mentioned the importance of the early years, a subject I will be coming to. On my behalf and that of my noble friend Lord Addington, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie, on her excellent maiden speech, a clarion call to redouble our efforts. She really is a glutton for punishment, because I notice that she is speaking at 5 pm in Grand Committee. I am very impressed. I do not think there are many people who would make another speech on the same day as their maiden speech.
As a number of speakers have said, our society must ensure through our policies that every person can have a quality of life and the opportunity to improve their circumstances, regardless of their background, where they live or who they are.
As we have heard from a number of your Lordships, the Prime Minister promised on taking office that she was committed to putting social reform and social justice at the heart of her Government. Promoting social mobility, particularly for the most vulnerable, will be crucial to creating a society that indeed works for everyone. A range of issues has to be tackled if the Prime Minister’s words are to become a reality—poverty, employment support, welfare, housing, public health, mental health and family support. Many of your Lordships have spoken eloquently on these issues. The excellent report of the Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, makes a raft of recommendations. I was taken particularly by its focus on what it called the overlooked middle; that is, that group of 16 to 19 year-olds who are neither going on to do A-levels nor in the NEET group. The report talked about better mechanisms for co-ordination between FE and employers at a local level, plus better national-level support on things like tracking and data on this group, which are currently very poor. I was interested to read in Hansard the debate in another place on Merseyside schools and was delighted for the first time to see a Minister in this Government talk about how important was further education. I thought that that was a real sea change. Linked to the work that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has been doing, there are real possibilities there. Perhaps the Minister will tell us when the House can expect to debate that report.
Members will no doubt have been sent a large number of detailed briefings ahead of this debate from a wide range of organisations—and I would like to thank them. As one reads through each briefing, it becomes apparent that one issue above all is seen as the way to tackle social mobility. That, of course, is through education. To paraphrase that American political slogan: it’s education, stupid—and crucially in the early years. As Action for Children says, significant evidence points to a child’s education in the earliest years as being central in shaping the rest of their lives. The NAHT points out that, by the age of 11, poor children lag on average nearly 10 points behind their peers in educational progress. That attainment gap grows ever wider as they progress through the rest of their schooling, affecting their life chances in the most dramatic—some may say, the most disturbing—way.
What is the proposal of our new Government in using education to help social mobility? Yes, it is the reintroduction of grammar schools. Where grammar schools exist, they do nothing to increase social mobility. Creaming off 20% of the brightest children does not help other local schools; it does not help that all important pupil-peer support; it has the potential of taking the best teachers away from other schools; and it does not help a local community. Every piece of independent research carried out confirms that grammar schools do nothing for social mobility. I suggest to the Minister that if a grammar school landed on the catchment area of his Pimlico Academy it would not help his school by creaming off the brightest, and it would do nothing to help social mobility. If the Government are intent on this policy—it is doubtful that they would get it through—then why not move away from the rhetoric and carry out some proper analysis and evaluation? Let them ask the NFER, for example, to do the research and then we can formulate policies based on proper research. As Russell Hobby of the NAHT wrote in the Times Educational Supplement, the Government’s grammar school plans are based on anecdote and not on evidence.
By the time children reach the age of 11, it is too late to tackle many of the disadvantages they face in relation to education and development. If the Government are truly focused on increasing social mobility, they should invest in early years. Research shows that children’s life chances are often determined before they even enter primary school. This means that if we are really to achieve change, it can happen only if there is a strong focus on families with pre-school-age children. Children’s centre provision must remain at the heart of policies to effect social mobility and they must remain flexible to fit local needs. Can the Minister update us on any plans the Government may have to evaluate children’s centres, and to see what creates a successful children’s centre and how we can learn from that?
Let us remind ourselves that 10,000 young people leave care every year. These children are some of the most vulnerable in our society. Research shows that young people leaving care are more likely than their peers to have poor outcomes in a whole range of areas. In recent years it is to be celebrated that governments have done much to formulate policies which will help these young people, but much more needs to be done.
A key factor influencing the social mobility of a young person is their ability to find full employment. Care leavers and young people with special educational needs often face particular challenges finding work, and more intensive help and support are needed. It is important that the Government’s recent commitment to provide support for employers to take on care leavers and those young people with special educational needs is fulfilled, particularly in the role of apprenticeships.
Career education is a key component of employment and skills provision, but the current offer is delivered through a range of initiatives and providers, making it patchy and fragmented. Can the Minister say when we are likely to see proposals come forward on careers education?
We have been trying to tackle the causes of the prevention of social mobility for a considerable time. I am absolutely sure about the sincerity of successive Ministers and governments. I have found myself agreeing with everything that has been said in this debate. I was particularly taken by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about the nought to five year-old group and the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, about the family hub. On many occasions I have seen how children have succeeded against all the odds. As parents, we would do everything for our children. That everything includes things that many families do not possess—family support and networks.
An interesting NFER report landed on my desk the other day on how parents choose the school their child goes to. Parents from low-income groups let the child decide, or select the school already attended by siblings. Those from higher-income groups undertake research on possible schools and attend open evenings.
There is not one single silver bullet that will achieve what we all want to happen, but if we are prepared to listen and learn from good practice and the research available we will continue to make good strides.
My Lords, this has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate and I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for placing the debate on the agenda and in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie, on her maiden speech and in welcoming her to the House.
Many influences in society affect people’s lives and it is incumbent on Governments to devise and deliver policies and programmes that enable citizens to flourish and grow. Citizens and parents in particular must also take advantage of available opportunities. All that is in an ideal world, of course, but in the great mix of things there are folk who may be less able to move on and up. In the interests of the rest of us, the call goes back to government to intervene.
I absolutely agree that early years interventions are hugely important. But sometimes life is not quite so straightforward and pesky changes intervene. Let us take the world of work as an example. In the lifetime of most of us in this House, a person could leave school with zero qualifications and walk into a job, which may have been a bit boring but which—because it was a buyer’s market and because the trade union movement was on the case—might have paid quite well. If that job did not suit, there was always another one down the road.
For those who suddenly woke up and realised that they could and should have done better at school, there was always night school and employer-supported day release. Not so now, of course. Any halfway decent job that a person could walk into requires the applicant to have at least five good GCSEs, A levels and/or a university degree.
Aside from apprentices, about whom more later, applicants without any of the above find themselves in jobs paying the minimum wage or, worse still, part of the “gig economy”, delivering goods and packages as fast as is humanly possible and listed as self-employed: no security, no status and no stake in society.
I make these comments because I firmly believe that good employment opportunities are the key to upward mobility. But, of course, good employment opportunities stem from good education, and the ability to make the most of these chances goes back to a decent start in life. Take what used to be called the Sure Start programme: launched by Labour in 1998, it recognised this issue, targeting children and families in areas of high deprivation and aiming to boost their life chances. Changes have been made to the programme since then, with funding reductions and a transfer of responsibility to local authorities.
Criticism of these changes by Norman Glass, one of the founding architects of the scheme, points in particular to a shift from child development to childcare and towards getting mothers into work. Would the Minister care to comment on these changes? Such initiatives require considerable long-term intervention, and I would have thought that in the case of the Sure Start programme, where the parents’ behaviour was identified as being in need of attention, getting mothers into work would not have been a priority.
Obviously, the free pre-school policy is to be welcomed. It is available across areas so that children from a mix of backgrounds are involved, and we know that it gives children a good start when they then attend primary school. But what does the Social Mobility Commission say about how opportunities manifest themselves across educational areas in England? In producing the Social Mobility Index, it has assessed the best and worst-performing schools, largely using free school meals as the indicator. The results show that 20 of the 25 best-performing areas for schools are in London. Rural and coastal areas figure highly in the bottom 25—very similar results to the analysis carried out on youth mobility indicators. Labour’s London Challenge scheme has seemed to be pretty influential and successful here. However, when the Social Mobility Index moved on to look at which areas proved best for adult social mobility, the tables were turned. Using indicators including housing and pay, only one London borough came into the top 20 this time, while five London boroughs were in the bottom 20 areas.
Life in these times does not always follow a smooth path. Jobs for life are long gone. A person may get a good education and be doing quite well, but changes to the labour market, combined with high housing costs, can mark the beginning of a downward spiral so that any upward mobility can be forgotten, and geographic mobility is a non-starter. We need therefore to pay greater attention to the churn in the jobs market. People are living longer. Work is often short-term or otherwise insecure, and opportunities for retraining are few and far between.
This brings me neatly on to apprenticeships. I know that much work has been done on this subject and that the Government are keen to tighten up the definition of an apprenticeship—all that is welcome. Welcome also is the availability of adult apprenticeships, because that plays to my point above on the need for retraining. However, I am concerned about much of this programme.
First, the Government have committed to the provision of 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. That is 5,500 apprenticeships every week over the five-year period. Seriously, Minister? Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to tell the House how this is progressing, and at the same time assure us that the desired level of quality is also being achieved. This week, the House received a Written Statement in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Nash, entitled “Supporting Apprenticeships”. The second paragraph points out how an apprenticeship can unlock a brighter future for “those just about managing”. That is a really unfortunate phrase, which speaks volumes about the attitude in this country to vocational versus academic learning. Could the Minister explain the thinking behind this?
Secondly, the Statement comes from the Department for Education and yet contains no mention of the role of schools in helping young people to make choices, including a move, where appropriate, towards apprenticeships and vocational learning. Again, can the Minister tell the House how we can get over the conflict between schools being tick-boxed against academic achievement and, in part, funded via the numbers of students remaining in the sixth form as against recognising the tendencies of some young people towards a more vocational career? A number of employers have complained to me that schools will not allow them in to talk to the students about apprenticeship opportunities, yet this route can lead to satisfying and often lucrative jobs—the path to social mobility indeed.
One good course of education for later learners comes via the trade union movement. Always known for its commitment to education and learning, the union record is long and proud. The TUC acts as the umbrella for the Unionlearn programme, delivered in workplaces, often lifting up people’s literacy and numeracy skills, and consequently their chances of moving on and up in the workplace. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that funding for the programme, popular among employers as well as employees, will continue to be supported.
I cannot leave the area of education without saying something about grammar schools, which are not universally well received, to put it mildly. Toby Young, that stalwart supporter of free schools, has expressed reservations. Writing in the Spectator, he points out that grammars take in on average four times as many children from fee-paying prep schools as they do children on free school meals. He also quotes a 1959 report which showed that, even then, only 3% of grammar pupils came from unskilled manual backgrounds and that they were less likely to go to university. Indeed, I fell into that category myself.
Many other aspects of this subject have been covered, but a shortage of time means I must conclude my remarks.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Holmes for tabling this debate. I echo my noble friend Lady Jenkin’s comments about what a wonderful role model for social mobility he is. I thank all who contributed to this debate. It is clear that we all share the view that social mobility is essential to making our country one that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Couttie on her maiden speech. Her role as leader of Westminster Council—the most socially mobile local authority, according to the Social Mobility Commission, as she said—means that she brings with her excellent insights into this issue. I pay tribute to her work on the troubled families programme. I have had the pleasure of dealing with her in my role as an academy sponsor in Westminster, and I therefore know that she will bring considerable intellect and clarity of thought to your Lordships’ House.
Children from many different types of families lack access to the opportunities they need to succeed, and this Government are determined to tackle that, not only for the most disadvantaged but for those parents who work but, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, struggle to get by—those who are “just managing”. There are social mobility cold spots up and down the country, as a number of noble Lords mentioned, where too many children start school behind, too many schools are not good enough, progress to the best universities is limited to the very few, and too many children go home to families where no one has worked or possibly ever worked. Gaps in cognitive skills by family background start off large, as early as age three, and get larger as children progress through education. Our recently launched opportunity areas will be at the forefront of tackling the causes of these gaps.
We agree that there is a need to level up the playing field to ensure that for all children, it is talent and hard work that determines success in life, not the lottery of one’s birth circumstances. When less able but better-off children are 35% more likely to become high earners than bright but poor children, we know there is a problem that we need to fix. This issue goes beyond the education system, and I welcome the steps taken by professional firms to recognise talent and not background, including changing A-level criteria and creating new apprenticeship routes into top jobs. This marks real progress but there is further to go. Education is a crucial part of the answer to reverse this problem. By prioritising knowledge and skills, the right advice at the right time and the need for challenging life-shaping experiences, the education system can support everyone. The Department for Education now has higher education, further education and skills back within its remit. I will not dwell on how we lost them in the first place.
The noble Lord, Lord Livermore, made a powerful speech on how socially immobile our society is, and asked about the need to consider the impact on the social mobility in policy development. Having all the educational levers in one place means that we can make sure that each part of the system leads fluently to the next and sets all children up for successful careers which play to their individual talents. This gives us an exciting opportunity to make education a driver of social mobility. He referred to the question of a social mobility factor. The social mobility impact is essential to our policies and we are testing our new policies in the department against this. I also echo the comments of my noble friend Lady Jenkin about the particular personal driver of the new Secretary of State for Education in relation to social mobility. I see this in evidence every day, and it is impressive.
As the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, early years are so important. It all starts from the earliest days and weeks. High-quality early years education lays the foundation for a child’s education, opening the door to a future opportunity. Attendance at a preschool can result in an increase of seven GCSE grades or equivalent at key stage 4—the equivalent of getting seven B grades compared to seven Cs. Parents are their child’s first educators and need to know how best to support development and instil a love of learning, because we know that when children start behind, they stay behind. Our What to Expect, When? guide sets out the development expectations at each stage so parents can properly support their children to reach these milestones.
I reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Prosser, that the Government recognise the vital importance of early intervention and the crucial role played by education and children’s services in providing it effectively and promoting good outcomes for children and families. The Early Intervention Foundation has been funded for three years by the DfE and other government departments, and further funding has just been agreed for the 2016-17 period. As well as doubling free childcare for eligible parents of three and four year-olds, we have expanded the entitlement for two year-olds from our lowest income families.
The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, asked about the decision to move from Sure Start local programmes to Sure Start children’s centres and the transfer of responsibilities for the programme to local authorities. This decision was taken by the previous Labour Government. The local authority duties in relation to children’s centres were set out in the Childcare Act 2006 and would have been debated at that time. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, particularly stressed the importance of the years zero to five. It has been particularly encouraging, since we enabled free school applications for primaries to include nurseries, to see how many primary free schools have included applications for nurseries. The points she makes are powerful and I will discuss them with Minister Dinenage. The noble Baroness may be pleased to hear that the Secretary of State visited a children’s centre in Norwich last week.
My noble friend Lord Farmer asked about family hubs and children’s centres. The Prime Minister has been clear that tackling poverty and disadvantage and delivering real social reform will be a priority for this Government. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, also asked about our thinking and plans for children’s centres. We will provide further detail in due course and will make it clear how stakeholders and the public can contribute. I very much hope that my noble friend Lord Farmer will contribute to this, as I personally have considerable empathy for his family hubs concept.
My noble friend Lord Farmer talked about the troubled families programme. In June 2013, as part of the first troubled families programme, 150 employment advisers were seconded from Jobcentre Plus to work in local authorities and offer direct support to help troubled families into work. In total, more than 18,000 families in the first programme saw an adult come off out-of-work benefits and move into continuous employment. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked about the Select Committee on Social Mobility. The Government’s response was published in July and the debate in the Lords on that has not yet been tabled.
We want all pupils to have access to a good local school. Today, there are more than 1.4 million more children in a good or outstanding school than in 2010. We are doing more to bring in and support excellent teachers, leaders and school sponsors in all parts of the country to turn around schools that are not delivering for young people and which are all too often attended by the most disadvantaged. We believe that all good and outstanding schools that have the capacity to do so should be able to expand to meet the demands of parents in their local area.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Prosser and Lady Massey, asked how grammar schools will help with social mobility. Selective schools have a track record of closing the attainment gap, adding value for all children, but even more for the most disadvantaged children who attend them. That is why we want more disadvantaged children to have the opportunity to attend selective schools, and we want a commitment from those schools to take steps to ensure that disadvantaged children get places. However, we accept that grammar schools as they currently operate admit too few disadvantaged pupils and that they could do more to raise standards for all pupils in the areas in which they are based. That is why our proposals will ask them to do more.
We have been clear that this is not about returning to the binary system of old, but about creating a system in which new and existing grammars contribute in a meaningful way: improving educational outcomes for all pupils and increasing access for disadvantaged pupils.
More high-quality teachers are essential to lift the horizons of children who are not currently fulfilling their potential. We are continuing our commitment to develop teacher and leadership capacity. We recently announced a £75 million investment fund for innovative professional development projects aimed at strengthening teaching and leadership in the areas of the country that need this most, including the opportunity areas.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked about sports bodies getting involved. We are doing this under our free schools programme. We recently approved a free school involving Saracens rugby club. We have a number of football clubs involved in AP schools, and we hope shortly to bring other sports clubs into the free schools programme. He also asked about progress on emphasising SEN. Following the Carter review, we have much strengthened ITT teacher training standards in relation to SEN. The new framework published in July includes explicit content on SEND that will improve the quality of training for teachers entering the system. In order to be awarded qualified teacher status, teachers must demonstrate a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with SEND, and be able to use and evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support those with special educational needs and disabilities. Trainees must also recognise signs that may indicate SEND and support those pupils’ needs. Representative bodies in the sector are working on guidance to ensure—
On that point, which I almost made earlier, will the Minister pay special attention to the growing indications and evidence that some children who have “suffered”, as it has been put, from social and educational disadvantage—particularly those on the autism spectrum or with Asperger’s syndrome—are particularly well equipped, it seems, for tackling cyber and digital communications issues? This is important not only for them but for the nation: they seem to have a particular proclivity for contributing to the national development of cyberspace.
I will take that point back. I remember, many years ago, visiting a high-end SEN boarding facility where I was shown two satellite photographs of Iraq and asked if I could spot the difference between them. I could not. The teacher said that neither could the computer. But one of our former pupils could. Representative bodies in the sector are working on guidance to ensure that the new framework is properly embedded by providers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, asked about our expectations for apprenticeship starts. We are taking action to support the growth of apprenticeships to meet our 3 million commitment, working with large and small businesses to begin or expand their programmes, setting new expectations for public sector bodies and through public procurement.
Measures proposed in the Enterprise Act will also protect the term “apprenticeship” to prevent misuse by providers in England, ensuring it is associated with high quality. Investing in a high-quality technical offer is not only the right thing to do; it is also important because we know that at least half the population do not choose to go down the route to higher education. For this reason, we must ensure high-value alternatives that serve students from all backgrounds, but in particular those from lower income families who are most likely to choose these routes. My noble friend Lord Holmes asked about the Institute for Apprenticeships; it will be fully operational by April 2017. The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, talked about some employers finding it difficult to get access to schools to talk about apprenticeships; we are aware of this issue and we are considering how best to address it. Under our skills plan, young people will be free to choose between the academic and technical options, and they will be able to switch between them at key points. We want them to make informed choices based on the career they want to enter, not their social background.
My noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked about careers guidance. Good careers education and guidance should give people access to the information and data they need to make informed decisions on education, training and employment options, including the routes into technical education, apprenticeship and higher education. Young people should have a good understanding of the world of work and the skills needed to do well in the labour market. A planned careers programme can help all young people to make important decisions, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds who are still all too often held back by a lack of support. We know that the more interactions that school children have with the world of work, the more likely they are to do better in their studies. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, also asked when we plan to announce our proposals on careers. We have already done so, in the sense that we are investing £90 million in careers education over this Parliament, including funding the Careers & Enterprise Company to continue its excellent work, under the guidance of the very able young woman Claudia Harris. This organisation has made an excellent start and it will be looking particularly at the opportunity areas. Since August 2016, the company has appointed more than 1,100 enterprise advisers and 78 enterprise co-ordinators in its enterprise adviser network, connecting more than 900 schools in 37 out of 38 local enterprise partnerships.
We are investing £20 million to increase the number of mentors from the world of work to support 25,000 young people at risk of underachieving by 2020. This year, we have introduced destinations data which provide clear and comparable information on the success of schools and colleges in helping all their students take qualifications that offer them the best opportunity to continue in education or training. Primary Futures was mentioned—I have visited it and agree that it is an excellent programme for primary schools.
We also know that young people need access to wider experience and extra-curricular activities as well as the workplace. A lack of these experiences can widen gaps. Business has made it clear that the right attitudes and attributes matter much more to employers when recruiting than academic results alone. Supporting schools to develop well-rounded and resilient pupils is a priority for this Government and we are continuing to work with a range of partners to ensure that this happens. We should draw on the experience of schools such as Kings Langley in Hertfordshire, which I visited recently. From being in the bottom 3% of schools in the country in 2002, it is now flourishing and attributes much of its academic success to its focus on developing the character of all its students, with a particular commitment to three core values: stickability, self-regulation and empathy. It also has a very impressive programme of engagement with parents.
My noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, highlighted the role of the National Citizen Service. We are working with the service to expand it considerably. We have just announced that it will benefit from more than £1 billion over the next four years, so that by 2021 it will cover 60% of 16 year-olds. I have to say that having personally been slightly involved when it was first established, I am delighted about this and must pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Wei who was involved in designing this programme. When he first explained it to me I have to say that I was a little sceptical, but he knocked it into shape and it is wonderful to see it flourishing so well. The independent Ipsos MORI evaluation found that 82% of pupils who attended it considered it very satisfactory.
My noble friend Lord Holmes asked about the opportunity areas, and what exactly they would do. We launched the opportunity areas to provide £60 million of additional funding to support social mobility coldspots. In these areas, we will focus our ideas and resources on young people. We will work with the local areas to identify the priorities and the action that needs to be taken. We expect this to include an increase in high-quality teachers in schools, summer schools run by local universities, advice for young people on what subjects to study to get into a good university, and introductions to employers to help them understand the world of work. They will also be given priority in existing schemes—for example, Teach First—and we will incentivise our best academy sponsors to work in these areas. We shall announce other areas in the coming months.
I now turn to the final points made by my noble friends Lady Jenkin and Lord Holmes regarding health and sport. Childhood obesity is the great health challenge of this generation. We have one of the worst records on childhood obesity in the developed world—one in five children leaves primary school obese. The Government’s approach is to help children and families to recognise, and make, healthier choices and to be more active, supported by schools and the NHS. But we cannot do this alone, and everyone has a part to play to help children improve their diets, be more active and lead healthier lives.
As announced in the strategy, many new DfE policies are expected to make a direct contribution to reducing the incidence of childhood obesity, such as the doubling of the primary PE and sport premium to £320 million from September 2017. As well as this, there will be a review of school food standards to reduce sugar consumption, and from September next year there will be £10 million per year to expand breakfast clubs, so that children have a nutritious start to their school day.
My noble friend Lord Holmes asked about the sugar tax. In the 2016 Budget the Government committed to using money from the sugar levy to double the sports premium from £160 million to £320 million. This funding is committed to 2020, and will help drive up the quality and breadth of PE and sport provision, and increase participation so that all pupils develop healthy and active lifestyles.
The increased funding for the premium will play a key role in helping to tackle childhood obesity. We are working with DCMS, the Department of Health and the sector to agree how this funding will be allocated, and are exploring the options for strengthening accountability arrangements and guidance, to ensure value for money.
I conclude by thanking all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. There is no quick fix for social mobility—but we are committed to addressing the challenges that exist, so that we can make Britain a country that truly works for everyone.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken the time to participate in the debate, not least my noble friend Lady Couttie, who made an excellent maiden speech. It is clear that, at whatever age and whatever stage, social mobility matters—and there are precious few policy areas that do not have a role to play. Security and stability are the bedrock of mobility. A nation where every individual, regardless of background, has the opportunity to achieve their potential: I believe that is a mission that we can all completely get behind.