Social mobility is something that all educators aim for, but there are things that you need to consider first

Beware the American dream

It simply isn’t true that anyone can be anything they want in life, so long as they work for it. We must encourage young people to set their goals high, but our role as educators is to educate. Are we clear ourselves on the way in which our society seems to reject the notion that social mobility might be determined by forces beyond our control? Twisted themes in the media around the undeserving poor, benefits cheats and scroungers don’t help. Have we lost sight of the noble desire for equality of opportunity as a starting point for all our young people? And in practical terms, is there even space in the timetable for existential enquiry around politics, society, history and democracy unless they are part of the curriculum of your chosen GCSE and A-level subjects?

Metacognition, political and social awareness and self-knowledge in bucket loads

Let’s not ask “what do you want to be when you grow up” but “who are you, what are your interests and skills, where are you willing to invest your effort? What kind of lifestyle are you after? Do you know anything about the people that have that lifestyle?” Just as young men and women need to know about homophobia, racism and feminism, so too do they need to understand the simple facts about class differences in society. No child should leave school without a clear understanding of themselves as a member and product of society, and without questioning what they want — and how they might make that happen. This way, schools really could ensure success, for life.

Packing off a young person to an elite university doesn’t plug the gap of social and cultural capital

Grades aren’t enough

Schools might be seen to push some students to get into a top university, while denouncing their disadvantaged background, to become a banker or lawyer. Schools do their utmost to have high expectations for all, laying on music tuition, debating, rowing, fencing and arts education.

Packing off a young person to an elite university having helped them to gain great grades at GCSE and A-level, taught them violin and rowing, is a start but it doesn’t plug the gap of social and cultural capital. Middle-class students will have access to culture, professional contacts and support throughout their journey in life. Who is going to help disadvantaged students get and fund an internship? Whose connections do they tap into for job opportunities?

Sustainable solutions should be the only solutions

When it comes to interventions for students, there is a glut of methods, outcomes and claims — and groovy branded jackets, highly designed logos and flashy websites. I am the last to advocate for privatisation of the education sector, but I like the social enterprise model — it has to be self-sustaining as a business but has social responsibility firmly at its heart rather than the often distasteful for-profit mantra of “return for shareholders” or the woolly and unrealistic governance of some charities. To know they are spending public money wisely, schools will want to see regular impact reports, will need a contract and must hold the organisation to account for the quality and completion of the work as described.

Arrival Education runs Success for Life, a four-year programme that combines workshops, personal development, mentoring and corporate partnerships. www.arrivaleducation.com