It's better to be rich and mediocre than poor and bright in the UK, admits Education Secretary

Experts say UK ‘among least socially mobile countries in Europe’

Will Worley
Friday 31 March 2017 13:49
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Rich children’s advantages stay with them through life
Rich children’s advantages stay with them through life

Lower-achieving pupils from rich families earn more than talented poorer children, the Education Secretary has admitted.

Justine Greening was speaking at a conference on social mobility, which she described as a “cold, hard, economic imperative” for the country.

Ms Greening drew on her experience growing up in Rotherham as she outlined the challenges faced by poorer families.

“Children from high-income backgrounds who show signs of low academic ability at age five are 35 per cent more likely to become high earners than their poorer peers who show early signs of high ability,” Ms Greening said.

She added: “Graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds who do make it to the top jobs still earn, on average, over £2,200 a year less than their colleagues who happen to have been born to professional or managerial parents – even when they have the same educational attainment, the same role and the same experience.”

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Ms Greening said a “postcode lottery” of education funding was to blame, along with a failure to prepare vocational workers for progressing in their careers.

Last year, Prime Minister Theresa May made improving social mobility a priority for the Government.

In January, she vowed to fight “burning injustices that undermine the solidarity of our society”.

But campaigners have warned of the challenges facing the Government.

A Social Mobility Commission poll conducted last year found that 45 per cent of Britons believed “where you end up in society is mainly determined by your background and who your parents were”. Just 29 per cent of people believed Britain was meritocratic.

Alan Milburn, chair of the Commission, said “a new and far bigger national effort” was needed to reduce poverty and improve mobility.

“That will mean long-term and fundamental reforms to our country’s education system and local economies and in the labour and housing markets,” he explained.

Paul Gregg, professor in economic and social policy at the University of Bath, added: “For children educated in the 1980s, Britain had an unenviable record of being a society where a person’s origin determined their destiny.

“Being among the least socially mobile countries in Europe and performing less well than it has had in previous generations, this has made social mobility a key issue for social policy in the UK.

“The policy challenge now is how all actors in society – from government to schools to employers – can best contribute to turning this around for the current generation of school-aged children.”

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