Educational Opportunities for Children and Young People from Working-class Backgrounds

The educational opportunities available to children and young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are important to social mobility. This House of Lords Library briefing provides background information on this issue ahead of a debate on the subject scheduled to take place on 5 March 2020.

Successive studies and reports have identified educational attainment as one of the factors that influence an individual’s ability to improve their socio-economic position in life. The educational opportunities available to children and young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are therefore important to social mobility.

The Social Mobility Commission, which monitors progress towards improving social mobility in the UK and promotes social mobility in England, has reported on inequalities within the education sector between disadvantaged children and young people and their more advantaged peers. It has reached the following conclusions about key educational stages applicable to young people:

  • Early years: children from working-class backgrounds still suffer disadvantages compared to their more affluent peers, even from birth.
  • Schools: disadvantaged pupils start schooling behind their peers in terms of attainment, but good schooling can increase their chances of getting a well-paid job in the future.
  • Further education and apprenticeships: twice the number of disadvantaged 16 to 18-year-olds are in further education than in school sixth forms, meaning further education institutions are a key tool for improving social mobility.
  • Higher education: increasing numbers of students from low income families are entering university by age 19, although their better off peers are still much more likely to do so.

Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 includes a public sector duty to reduce inequalities of outcome resulting from socio-economic inequalities. This duty has not been brought into force in England because governments at Westminster have decided not to take the provision forward. They have instead introduced or continued policies aimed at helping improve educational opportunities for children and young people from lower-income backgrounds. In contrast, the Scottish Government has brought the duty into force and the Welsh Government has consulted on doing likewise in 2020.

  • Lords Research Briefing LLN-2020-0066
  • Author: Thomas Brown
  • Topics: Education