This generation faces a lifetime of denied opportunities

Mon 16 Feb 2015

Blog - By Nick Isles, Deputy Principal, Milton Keynes College.

Everybody believes social mobility is “a good thing.” 

Prime Minister, David Cameron said, “I want to see a more socially mobile Britain. I want to see a Britain where no matter where you come from, what god you worship, the colour of your skin, what community you belong to, you can get to the top in television, the judiciary, armed services, politics, newspapers.”  Labour’s Ed Miliband believes, “The foundation for my politics is a belief in the equal worth of every citizen. From that flows the idea that everyone should have equal chances to get on and make a better life for themselves.”  Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, went so far as to appoint Dragon’s Den star, James Caan, as the government’s social mobility Tsar.  He has even produced a list of seventeen key indicators regarding how effective efforts to increase social mobility are being (  Twelve of those seventeen factors are explicitly about educational opportunities.  It is my fear that current education funding policies are contributing to a status quo which means thousands of talented, ambitious young people in our country will never achieve income and status beyond that of their parents.

Education spending is protected.  If you’re a university, your students pay their tuition fees up front by taking out the infamous loan.  If you’re between five and sixteen, the government has guaranteed that spending on your education will be maintained through the next expected round of public sector cuts.  If you are aged sixteen to nineteen there are no guarantees whatsoever for the future funding of your education.  No other area of our education system has been told that it is to be left unprotected in this way.

Further Education is possibly the most important engine of social mobility in our society.  It offers aspiration and entry to well-paid, well-respected careers.  Young people who may not come from backgrounds of high educational attainment have the chance to start again.  Those for whom the cost of university appears too high to contemplate can undertake higher education without a loan.  Government understands that these people matter, and it was with them in mind that the leaving age was raised to eighteen.  Many of these teenagers are welcomed into the Further Education sector, but no cash has followed from government; rather, twenty-two per cent of the sector’s budget, almost a quarter of all the money we spend, has been cut.

If you counted on your fingers and toes the number of senior judges, civil service heads, hospital consultants and bosses of multinational companies (other than those who are completely self-made) who trained at a further education college you could keep one glove and both socks on.  But that cannot be a proper reflection of talent in our society when so many people study at FE Colleges.  Starving this sector of cash fundamentally affects the future prosperity of the UK economy and the life chances of so many of its citizens. This makes no economic or societal sense.  Moreover it could be a way to lose votes.

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