Azara Blog: Education and social mobility

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Date published: 2005/07/31

The BBC says:

As the last few schools closed their doors for the summer holidays this week, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly set herself some homework.

Her self-imposed summer task is to work out how the education system can deliver greater social mobility.

She will present her ideas in the education White Paper due after Parliament returns.

Yet what is social mobility? Some disparage attempts to influence social class as "social engineering".

These critics argue that education is about teaching children skills and knowledge, not about changing people's social class.

This, of course, ignores the fact that school systems have always been designed to shape societies.

After all, the beginnings of mass education in England were rooted in the church's desire, born from fear of godlessness in the burgeoning cities, to teach children to read the Bible.

So Ruth Kelly is working within a long tradition of wanting schools to be an agent of social change. Yet what exactly did she mean by talking about improving social mobility in her speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research?

Does social mobility mean the poor becoming wealthier? Does it mean them getting better jobs? Is it about exchanging one social class for another?

Or is it simply about raising the educational achievement of pupils from the poorest homes in the belief that the rest - jobs, income, and social class - will then follow.

The author, Mike Baker, goes on at length to discuss the various issues, in a reasonable way (unusual for the BBC). Unfortunately many in the Labour Party seem to want social mobility for the sake of social mobility, possibly as part of the (presumed) long gone class warfare where the rich (except for the members of the government and their families) have to be made poor by government diktat.

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