Social mobility report outlines five secrets to closing achievement gap


A social mobility research study seeks to learn the lessons from the one in nine secondary schools that buck national trends for disadvantaged pupils and outlines the five key strategies that seem to be successful. Pete Henshaw reports.

Schools alone cannot secure social mobility and there are no “simple answers”, education leaders have warned this week.

It comes after a social mobility report said there was “an urgent need” to spread best practice in how schools can overcome the barriers of disadvantage.

Cracking the Code, published by the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, finds that one in nine secondaries are enabling their disadvantaged pupils to far exceed what would have been predicted for them based on national trends. It outlines five key lessons that we can learn from these schools.

The report highlights that six in 10 disadvantaged children – those eligible for free school meals during the last six years – do not reach the benchmark of five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths. This compares to one in three students from more advantaged backgrounds.

It also says that chances to build the key skills of character and resilience, and to access work experience, careers advice, and extra-curricular activities are better for more advantaged students.

The report adds: “From the earliest ages, social background strongly influences who has these other predictors of later success, meaning that the better-off are multiply advantaged when it comes to winning the race for good jobs.”

The report argues that the wide variation in results between schools with similar intakes shows there is potential to raise performance. It highlights achievements in London, where disadvantaged children are now 38 per cent more likely to reach the GCSE benchmark. 

It adds: “It is not only in London that schools are achieving good results for disadvantaged children. Our new analysis shows that in every part of the country there are schools where a higher proportion of disadvantaged children get (better) results than the national average for all children. Nearly 60 per cent of such secondary schools are outside the capital.”

The report acknowledges that the reasons behind this success are “complex” and that “schools cannot do it alone”. However, it highlights the importance of high expectations from teachers, as well as stronger incentives for teachers to work in the most challenging schools, including higher pay.

It outlines five key steps that it argues schools should take based on the experiences of those that have bucked the trend (see list below).

Commission chair, Alan Milburn MP, said that social mobility in the UK is “low and stalling” and that this was most apparent in education. He continued: “But some schools are proving that deprivation needn’t be destiny. They have cracked the code on how to improve social mobility by helping disadvantaged children to excel in education. If some schools can do it, there is no excuse for others not to.”

However, the NASUWT said this week that if politicians are “serious” about this agenda then cuts to education spending would need to be reversed and something done about the 3.5 million children who are living in poverty in the UK.

General secretary Chris Keates said: “Schools alone cannot secure social mobility. Education must be supported by a coherent social and economic policy. The share of the country’s national wealth spent on education is less now than the level spent in 2009/10.”

Meanwhile, the Association of School and College Leaders said that schools must have the “additional support they need” from the government and other agencies.

General secretary Brian Lightman added: “It must be recognised that schools in disadvantaged areas have a much bigger job to do than schools in wealthier areas in helping young people to reach their full potential.

“There is no excuse for low expectations, but schools must have the additional support they need, from the government and from other agencies, to help children overcome the challenges that life throws at them.

“In the most challenging areas, schools are finding it more difficult than ever to recruit staff. Constant changes to the examination system are making it more difficult for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed. These issues need to be addressed as part of the response to this report. There are no simple answers.”

Closing the achievement gap & boosting social mobility

1, Using the Pupil Premium strategically to improve social mobility: The report states: “The most effective schools inform their use of their Pupil Premium funding with data-driven analysis of why, how and where poor children are falling behind. They then seek to deploy that funding to address those barriers.”

2, Building a high expectations, inclusive culture: The report states: “Being ambitious and ‘sharp-elbowed’ for all children, with the school leadership team and governors sending a clear message from the top that they have high expectations of all staff and all students.”

3, Incessant focus on the quality of teaching: The report states: “Placing the provision of highly effective teaching, perhaps the single most important way schools can influence social mobility, at the centre of the school’s approach.”

4, Tailored strategies to engage parents: The report states: “Having high expectations of parents and building engagement and – where necessary – the confidence of parents in dealing with teachers.”

5, Preparing students for all aspects of life not just for exams: The report states: “Supporting children’s social and emotional development and the character skills that underpin learning. It also means working with students to identify career goals early and providing excellent careers advice, treating extra-curricular activities as key to the school experience and – particularly in secondary schools – encouraging a strong focus on working with business and universities.”


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