The chilling chasm in social mobility across England

Posted by Dan Breslin / Monday 01 February 2016 / Inequality
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Should where you are born get to define what you can achieve in life? Most would agree not. But this is the reality facing many children and young people.

The latest report from the Child Poverty and Social Mobility Commission has ranked local areas in England in terms of the opportunities and chances for disadvantaged children to get on. It makes for some worrying reading.

Many coastal areas – including Blackpool and Great Yarmouth – are falling way behind. As are former industrial towns, such as Doncaster. Oxford and Cambridge, both steeped in higher educational excellence, are both identified as ‘coldspots’ - meaning they are among the worst-performing 20 per cent of areas.

There are some bright spots. London and surrounding areas are taking big steps forward. All 32 London Boroughs are classed as ‘hotspots’ – within the top 20 per cent of best performing local authorities.

But whether it is hot, cold or bright spots we are talking about on a cold day in February, ranking local authorities alone isn’t going to make much difference to children. We need to see things change for the most disadvantaged – especially in the earliest years.

We know that children in the bottom 20 per cent of attainment at primary school have a one-in-two chance of still being at the bottom by the time they leave secondary school. Waiting for children to arrive at school behind their peers is simply leaving it too late.

The difference between children being ready to start primary school from the poorest areas and the most affluent is shocking. As the Commission has highlighted previously, only 51 per cent of children from the most deprived areas reach a good level of development – the benchmark for being school ready – compared to 71 per cent from the most affluent.

The Prime Minister has made improving life chances and increasing opportunity central themes for this government. We can all support the focus, but we need to see action to make a difference. This means greater focus on helping children, and their parents, in the early years. It is going to require a commitment and resources, particularly focussed at some of the most deprived communities. We also need to make sure we keep measures at key milestones, such as age five, that show us whether we are making progress.

It isn’t going to be quick or easy to close the chasm between the best areas and the rest. But why not aim to see a map full of hotspots all the time.

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