What is Social Mobility?

As the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission publishes its 1st Annual Report since the General Election into the ‘State of the Nation’, I wonder if we have lost track of what Social Mobility represents.

Social Mobility is a simple concept – the ability of an individual (or group of individuals) to improve their quality of life; from that currently experienced, or from that of their forebears.  Simple enough it would seem?  So why are we doggedly monitoring seemingly inappropriate metrics?

Over the years I have observed numerous well-intentioned initiatives that have key performance indicators applied to them in order to ‘monitor progress’.  Unfortunately, more often than not, these metrics are at best inappropriate; and at worst responsible for driving perverse behaviour that is counter to the aim of the project.

Whilst it is wholly right that a cross-party commission assesses governmental progress, it is imperative that they do so against the correct goal.  The Commission’s report offers an assessment of – inter alia – GCSE grades; underperforming local authority schools; educational achievement of disadvantaged families; and employment levels.

Undoubtedly, these refer to key targets that must be met and improved on – but they are not indicators of social mobility.  Social mobility will be enhanced and assured by the performance of all governmental departments; but let these metrics define their progress.

Social mobility will be improved by engendering the right ethos, attitude and motivation.  Let the Department for Education agonise over GCSE grades and the ‘attainment gap’ between the disadvantaged and the privileged; their work will increase social mobility but is not an indicator of it.

Whilst the Commission’s report is at times scathing on the use of rhetoric, it is culpable in the use of its own desire to see a ‘one-nation Britain’ (whatever that is) or ‘adopting a zero-tolerance approach to schools that fail to meet the government floor standards’ (I’m hoping we’re not actually referring to building regulations, here).  But perhaps we should not be damning in our criticism of rhetoric; as it is perhaps the intangible and non-quantitative facets we should in fact be interested in.

Entrepreneurship, leadership, ambition, motivation, desire.  These are the tenets of true social mobility and must be engendered across the social spectrum along with the vow to ‘do no harm’.

So how do we measure ethos?  Frankly, we don’t – and until as a society we can readily accept that the things we covet are not always measurable or reportable, then Social Mobility may never be truly achieved.

That we can measure certain aspects of performance is no guarantee of their validity or relevance.  Some things simply cannot be measured.  Let’s embrace this fact and concentrate on creating the will and desire to prosper – however we quantify prosperity.

Over to you.  What does Social Mobility mean to you?  Do you believe it can be measured; or have you had your fill of metrics and performance indicators?  Why not let everyone know in the comments section below?

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