Cracking the code to achieving social mobility for young people

In their latest report, Cracking the code: how schools can improve social mobility, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission Policy have turned their attention to schools, asking the question “what can schools themselves do to address social mobility?” Through a series of literature analysis, expert consultation, surveys, focus groups and a new analysis, the SMCP have taken a broad look at the potential for schools to make a difference, what barriers still exist, and what the schools that have “cracked the code” have in common.

The first key finding of this report is that schools absolutely can make a difference to social mobility – many already are. For example, earlier this year the Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report on the so-called “London Effect” (covered here), but in other areas across the country too there are schools where children from disadvantaged backgrounds are outperforming the national average for all children.

The current indicators for achievement of the schools referred to above is “five good GCSEs including English and Maths”. Criticism of this method centres around a focus on the pupils on the C/D borderline at the expense of those way below this standard or those capable of much more. From 2016, a new framework for measuring school performance will be introduced, which is based on two measures: the progress (“Progress 8”) and absolute attainment (“Absolute 8”) of students across a set of eight subjects.

Analysis by the SMCP suggest that most schools would not have been shifted much in their position, had they been ranked on these new measures in 2012-13. However, there were some who were very significantly affected. The new accountability system is a shift in focus for schools regarding their performance, and adds a new dimension to arguments for improving social mobility. Whereas the teachers who partook in the report informed the Commission that they were already passionately committed to social mobility for moral reasons, the new measurements add a hard “business case” edge.

This means that schools really do have to rethink how they are addressing underachievement in their pupils, particularly those from poor backgrounds. One of the biggest influencing factors on achievement is teacher quality and expectations. The government still needs to find ways to incentivise the best teachers to teach in the worst schools. In addition to this, the report found that 25% of teachers agreed that some of their colleagues had lower expectations of students from poor backgrounds – this too must be addressed.

There is no one answer; success is made up of a series of small changes. The report highlight five key steps to improve students’ life chances:

  1. Using Pupil Premium strategically to improve social mobility
  2. Building a high expectations, inclusive culture
  3. Incessant focus on the quality of teaching
  4. Tailored strategies to engage parents
  5. Preparing students for all aspects of life not just for exams

At Bridge Builders Mentoring, we are particularly interested in points 1, 2 and 5. The Bridge Builders Mentoring programmes we run in schools are usually partly or fully funded by Pupil Premium funding, as a strategic tool to improve the attainment of boys from disadvantaged backgrounds through mentoring. Mentoring with successful businesspeople who’s aim it is to inspire and encourage their mentees to think about what they want from life and how they can get it, contributes to higher expectations and beats down barriers. Through mentoring, work experience and skills workshops the students can broaden their horizons and develop the skills needed for the next steps after school.

If your school would like to launch a Bridge Builders Mentoring programme, please get in touch today by calling 0333 200 4703. We can connect your students with credible mentors with a wealth of experience, deliver high quality training courses and we will also work with you to gather the data required to produce reports that monitor the progress of students. We look forward to hearing from you.

Helen Robinson