The Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, made his first major speech on social mobility at an event hosted by the Resolution Foundation, discussing the plans that are being put in place to close the attainment gap and boost the success of children of all ages, regardless of their background because, “everyone should have the chance to fulfil that spark of potential which exists in all of us”.
Progress has been made since 2010 across all stages: the gap in early years development has fallen by 14 per cent, 88 per cent of children are now being taught in Good or Outstanding schools, the number of 19-year-olds without GCSEs in maths and English is now at a record low and we have more disadvantaged students going on to university than ever before.
However, Hinds made the point that while this progress is a strong start, there are still a number of challenges that we need to tackle in order to close the gap further.
Starting from the bottom
In a new report by the Department for Education (DfE), research found that the biggest impact in changing someone’s future path starts in the early years and Hinds stressed that the government has prioritised extending high quality pre-school education and childcare including:
- 15 hours of free early education a week for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds, in addition to;
- 15 hours free childcare for all three and four-year-olds, which was doubled to 30 hours for working parents
The same research report also found that children eligible for free school meals when they are at school are 23 per cent less likely to be in sustained employment at the age of 27, compared to their peers. The figure (25 per cent) is also similar for those children with special educational needs.
Being able to provide better support from a young age will no doubt help the transition of starting school. However, we’re currently still faced with children turning up unable to communicate or having never read a book. In fact, The Secretary of State said that more than a quarter (28 per cent) of children finish their reception year without the early communication and reading skills that they need to thrive. Hinds pledged that the government wants to focus on tackling this by cutting this statistic in half over the next 10 years.
While disadvantaged children might only be approximately four months behind at age five – which you think we could easily rectify – by the time they reach GCSE level, they are around a year and half behind their peers, which quite frankly, is not acceptable.
If we don’t do something about it from an early stage, then children with poor vocabulary at age five are more than twice as likely to be unemployed when they are aged 34.
Boosting home learning
While Hinds’ initiatives to better support a pre-school environment are a start, inevitably he pointed towards the fact that most of a child’s time is spent at home. Therefore, there needs to be better provision, advice and guidance around home learning and what we can do to help improve our children’s language and literacy.
Official statistics show that four in five high income parents now read at least once a day to their pre-school child. This compares to just over half on average of low income parents.
So what can we do to improve this?
Hinds wants to look at launching a campaign – similar to that of successful initiatives like the 5-a-day campaign – that will provide simple solutions that the whole nation can get on board with. As part of this, he is inviting businesses, broadcasters and organisations to get involved and attend a summit in the autumn to explore the different ways that we can boost early language development and reading at home.
He also made a nod to technology and how we should perhaps incorporate it into helping develop communication and reading skills. And while there are of course many apps and online resources already available, it can be difficult for parents to work out which ones would be the most beneficial. Therefore, Hinds revealed that the DfE will be launching a competition that will give families free access to high-quality apps.
Moving up the years
As part of his speech, Hinds also spoke about the post-16 options that are available for young adults. The Secretary of State emphasised that young adults should always reconsider whether a traditional degree is the route for them, referencing the government’s commitment to boost awareness around technical education. Hinds ensured that the reforms will allow for technical education to be on par with A-Levels and high-quality apprenticeships and will be seen as a ‘first-class option through our £500 million investment in T Levels qualifications’.
To ensure that all young people regardless of their backgrounds are given access to the wide range of opportunities available to them post-16 and 18, Hinds stated that a new initiative will be launched to invite organisations to submit bids to share the best approaches for encouraging and getting more children – from all backgrounds – into university.
It’s clear that progress around social mobility is being made, however, there is still a lot more to do and as Hinds concluded: “It’s time to raise our ambitions, to expect more and to expect better for every child, whatever their background.
“And to build a country where everyone can make the most of themselves.”
Some other announcements during his speech included:
- Launch of a capital bidding round of £30 million to invite leading schools to come forward with projects to create new high-quality nursery places, demonstrating innovative approaches to closing the gap for disadvantaged children
- Investing £20 million to train and develop early years professionals, focusing in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country
- Major piece of research on how extracurricular activities, networks and development of ‘soft skills’ can influence social mobility, the gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers and the solutions to tackle this
- A new big data project that looks at young people across the country and where they end up over the next five years in order to better inform researchers and policy makers.