Five Propositions that Explain Why Schools Struggle to Improve Social Mobility (FORUM 1)

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Format: Article

Publication date: March 1, 2016

BERNARD BARKER, KATE HOSKINS

Government plans to increase social mobility in the United Kingdom place a strong emphasis on improving education to ensure more equal life chances for everyone. As Secretary of State for Education between 2010 and 2014, Michael Gove declared that he was ‘determined to do everything I can to help the poorest children in our country’ transcend their backgrounds and progress to leading positions in the land. This policy goal is consistent with the widespread perception that a better life depends on working hard at school to gain qualifications and entry to prestigious universities. This article argues, however, that government-mandated improvements in teaching, the curriculum and examinations are unlikely to achieve their desired goal. Five propositions are presented to illustrate the strength of the varied obstacles to social mobility. Deep structures, including poverty and class and gender inequalities, shape the lives of families and individuals in ways that are not easily changed by educational intervention.

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