Inequality is more important than education in determining mobility
In most countries, education has done little to improve social mobility, which is low in the UK for both high and low earners. The home environment that children grow up in and their work situation are at least as important in determining future prospects. The likelihood of climbing the ladder in terms of income or class is heavily influenced by family background. Home ownership rates are increasingly immobile across generations. The pandemic has also reduced social mobility because children from disadvantaged backgrounds lost more learning hours when schools were closed.
Large disadvantage gaps aren’t just about poor educational provision
The disadvantage gap is similar in all schools, not just underperforming ones, so it is not simply related to poor teaching or other school-related issues. The quality of teaching, increased school funding and tailored interventions can reduce the gap, but many factors are outside school control (family background and circumstances). The slowing of progress in addressing the disadvantage gap in education is linked to a increasing levels of persistent poverty among disadvantaged pupils, necessitating efforts to tackle the ‘social determinants of education’ such as poverty in order to reduce educational inequalities.
Rising levels of poverty and inequality harm children’s life chances
Relative child poverty rates have increased over the last decade, especially in families with one or more children under five, and rates of in-work poverty have risen in tandem. This has exacerbated existing inequalities in terms of health, housing, and educational development. Higher levels of deprivation make it much more difficult for early years education and childcare providers (and schools) to compensate for, or even to reduce, these inequalities between children born into different circumstances.