Social Mobility Commission to relaunch with £2m research budget

Ministers have allocated £2 million in research funding to the rejuvenated Social Mobility Commission, a year after all of its commissioners quit in despair over government inaction.

The Commission, which advises the government on issues such as educational disadvantage, teacher supply and the isolation of rural and coastal schools, will relaunch at an event at Westminster Kingsway further education college today with a new chair and board of 12 commissioners, including one academy leader.

Dame Martina Milburn, the commission’s chair, will also announce that the government has allocated an extra £2 million to “commission new research and evidence from next April”.

This will enable us to start expanding our research base and deliver on our role to promote social mobility throughout the country

The additional £2 million for research is a significant cash-boost for the organisation, which received just £610,000 in government funding in 2017-18.

“I am delighted the government is showing its commitment to the Social Mobility Commission by providing an initial £2 million for research and evidence in our first full year of operating as a new Commission,” said Milburn.

“This will enable us to start expanding our research base and deliver on our role to promote social mobility throughout the country.”

It follows a period of significant turmoil for the organisation, which sits within the DfE and monitors progress towards improved social mobility and provides advice to ministers on social mobility issues.

The Commission has been without a chair or board since last December, when ex-Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn resigned, taking the remaining four members with him.

At the time, members including former education secretary Baroness Shephard complained of the government’s lack of progress towards a “fairer Britain”.

The SMC has been in turmoil since Alan Milburn stood down as its chair

The government announced in May that Dame Martina Milburn, the head of the Prince’s Trust, would be the Commission’s new chair, but rejected calls from MPs for additional powers for the body.

The parliamentary education committee had recommended that the Commission be given the power to publish impact assessments on social justice in legislative proposals. MPs also wanted a social justice minister appointed, and said the commission should be renamed “the Social Justice Commission”.

At today’s event Milburn will introduce the 12 new social mobility commissioners, including business and media figures and academics. The board includes just one school leader; Sammy Wright, the vice principal of Southmoor Academy, Sunderland.

“We are a group of people with real-life experiences who are prepared to challenge government, business and society as a whole, to create a fair system where people can thrive,” said Milburn.

Damian Hinds, the education secretary, said: “Whilst potential and talent is evenly spread, the opportunities to make the most of it sometimes aren’t, which is why the work the Social Mobility Commission do is so important and why we are investing £2 million to expand its research and spread good practice.”