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Work in progress: few positives, widening divisions

Work in progress: few positives, widening divisions

🕔13.Jul 2017

Given the news agenda of the last few weeks and months, it’s perhaps not surprising that the recent report from the Social Mobility Commission received relatively little attention. But its contents make stark reading and should grab the attention of our new(ish) Mayor and others, writes Kevin Johnson.

A raft of other reports, including this week’s Taylor Review on Modern Working Practices and today’ s Social Market Foundation report on Inequality in Education, might help shape the thinking of Mayor Street as well as local enterprise partnerships ahead of an expected White Paper on Industrial Strategy in the Autumn.

The headlines from the Social Mobility Commission’s review of the last twenty years might not be surprising. But they are pretty damning.

Two decades of government efforts to improve social mobility have failed to deliver enough progress in reducing the gap between Britain’s ‘haves and have nots.’ Time for Change warns that without deep-seated reform, social and economic divisions in British society are set to widen with consequences for community cohesion and economic prosperity.

While the report says that some policies – such as increasing employment and getting more working- class young people into university – have had a positive impact, overall the report concludes that ‘too little’ has been done to break the link between socio-economic background and social progress.

The Commission, headed by former Labour and Conservative ministers, says that over 20 years new divides have opened up in Britain, across geographies, income groups and generations – and that many policies of the past are no longer ‘fit for purpose’.

It comes up with five key lessons from the past and makes these recommendations:

  • Governments should develop a strategic cross-departmental social mobility plan
  • 10 year targets should be implemented to ensure public money is spent effectively
  • public policy should be subjected to a new social mobility test
  • future budgets should identify how public spending addresses geographical, wealth and generational inequalities
  • Governments should be more active in building a national coalition with councils, communities and employers to improve social mobility.

The Commission finds that: “geographical inequality amongst the poorest children in England has increased as attainment in London schools has improved far faster than the rest of the country.”

Furthermore, it says that in the regions the scale of Government investment in efforts to create jobs and prosperity has simply been outweighed by the economic drift of wealth and employment to London and the South East.

The standard – or even existence – of careers education comes in for particular criticism. The report states that the number of young people receiving careers advice or work experience has fallen and more new apprenticeships have gone to older workers than younger ones.

The report calls for careers advice and support to be available in all schools via greater emphasis on destinations measures plus increased training and time in the curriculum.

Time for Change says Governments have largely absented themselves from addressing progression in employment and elitism in professions, as well as being too tentative in addressing market failures in local and regional economies.

It calls for socio-economic diversity in professional employment to become a priority by encouraging all large employers to make access and progression fairer.

Time for Change was published in the same week as BPS Birmingham, the group which represents the business, professional and financial services sector, staged its annual Professional Services Week.

Five days of events aimed at 14-16 year olds, Professional Services Week set about engaging and exciting them about future opportunities in the city’s biggest sector.

The Mayor was among those who helped to lead one of the ‘Business Walks’, introducing pupils from Handsworth Girls School Academy to the Colmore Business District (main picture). He said:

Business and professional services are one of our key sectors here in the West Midlands, so encouraging the next generation is really important.

This was a fantastic opportunity to spread the word and hopefully inspire a few youngsters to think about the potential of a career in this diverse and rewarding industry.

One week of talks and walks will not bring an overnight revolution, but the signs are that more firms want to do more to reach into more schools from all parts of the city.

Councillor Brett O’Reilly, Birmingham city council Cabinet Member for Jobs and Skills, also took part in the week by addressing pupils from Rockwood Academy at Gowling WLG.

Baroness (Estelle) Morris, the chair of the Birmingham Education Partnership (BEP), made the keynote address for the Week.

The former Birmingham Yardley MP said Birmingham has a higher proportion of good and bad schools and the gap is significant. She also said that the city is good with the brightest pupils but poor with the challenged.

The city is home to some “excellent innovative and entrepreneurial heads” so improving poor schools in Birmingham is possible, the former Secretary of State for Education and Skills argued.

Baroness Morris also highlighted issues with careers and business engagement, saying provision is very “patchy” in Birmingham. Whilst better structures are still being put in place, there remains a long way to go she said.

It’s the best performing schools that have both the resource and inclination to reach out and therefore it is by and large only those schools that have any interaction, argued the ex-Labour minister.

Through its executive director, Hilary Smyth-Allen, BPS Birmingham is acting as Enterprise Co-ordinator for the Careers and Enterprise Company in the Greater Birmingham area. It is tasked with recruiting at least ten Enterprise Advisors from the professional and financial services sector to be matched with schools to raise the bar on quality careers advice and guidance for all pupils.

Last week, a report from CityUK – the industry body for UK-based financial and related professional services – issued a strategic vision document prepared by PwC.

A vision for a transformed, world-leading industry relies on building the “prominence of hubs in regional and national centres, developing specialist roles and ensuring a strong supply of local talent with relevant skills.” It says that of the additional £16Bn in industry GVA by 2025, some 70% of the additional output will come from cities outside of London.

Among the report’s 35 recommendations is a call on firms, regulators and Government to:

Improve the attractiveness of working in the financial and related professional services industry as a career choice to younger generations and talent from across the increasingly diverse work force.

The Mayor has limited powers in skills and no control over schools. But with the WMCA’s Productivity and Skills Commission currently absorbing consultation responses, the appointment of a Director of Skills and the drafting of an Industrial Strategy White Paper which the Government says will be place-based, Andy Street has an opportunity to argue for more powers and to shape local solutions to education and employment needs.

Urban Communications – sister firm of Files publisher RJF Public Affairs – acts as strategic communications advisor to BPS Birmingham.

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