Social Mobility Commission report: The findings and recommendations for schools

The Social Mobility Commission has published its annual “state of the nation” report.

Here are the key findings and recommendations about schools:


  1. Geographical differences in attainment for children on free school meals have increased over the past decade, “despite government efforts to boost learning for disadvantaged children”.
  2. London has broken away from the rest of England: disadvantaged children in the capital do better than pupils in any other region at both primary and secondary school. This is despite London having the highest levels of childhood deprivation in the country.
  3. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds going to school in former manufacturing urban areas like Kettering and Doncaster have some of the poorest outcomes.
  4. Remote countryside and coastal areas also perform badly. More than a fifth of the bottom 20 per cent of local authority areas for school outcomes are in these areas.
  5. School quality is hugely variable. Disadvantaged children in Knowsley have “no chance of going to a secondary school rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’”, while in Hackney, all children on free school meals go to “strong schools”.
  6. The most deprived coastal rural areas have 1.5 times the proportion of unqualified secondary teachers of the least deprived inland rural areas.
  7. Areas with low attainment among secondary pupils on free school meals “tend to have higher teacher turnover”.
  8. Schools in densely populated urban areas “benefit from support from nearby ‘outstanding’ schools”, but schools in rural and coastal areas are “isolated”, and “unable to tap into partnership infrastructure for support”.


  1. Regional School Commissioners should be given responsibility for monitoring and managing the supply of teachers within their regions. This should include working with universities, schools and Teach First to “develop sub-regional strategies with the right incentives to attract, recruit and keep teachers”. These strategies should offer “region-wide opportunities for development and progression”.
  2. The government should launch a fund for schools in rural and coastal areas to “explore innovative approaches to partnerships with other schools in order to boost attainment”.
  3. Regional School Commissioners should work with the combined authorities to ensure “coherence between skill development and local industrial strategies”.


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  1. The report’s wrong to say disadvantaged pupils in Knowsley have no chance of going to a secondary school rated good or better. There are only five secondary schools in Knowsley. One of these, Halewood Academy was rated Good in April 2017.
    Knowsley is a very small LA. But of the 51 primary schools with an Ofsted rating, 6 are outstanding, 39 are good, 6 require improvement and none are inadequate.
    That’s not to say there aren’t problems in Knowsley. The report’s right to acknowledge difficulties faced by declining industrial centres, coastal towns and remote rural areas.
    What’s the answer? I don’t know. When areas begin to decline it’s difficult to attract teachers. And when schools in these areas begin to experience recruitment and retention problems then such schools can be locked in a cycle of decline.

    • Why on earth promote Teach For A Bit if retaining staff is an issue? And why do these reports always feel like they are designed to back-scratch friends and create the impression that something is being done? Properly fund schools – as with London Challenge – and things will improve. Quick fixes and yet more bureaucratic oversight aren’t the answer.

      • It’s telling that the report didn’t recommend a national roll out of lessons learnt in the London Challenge. They perhaps realised that this would be very expensive and that it would now be impossible to implement. The London Challenge relied on pan-London co-operation between LAs, schools and other stakeholders. This kind of area-wide co-operation would be impossible – academization has fragmented the English school system.