Damian Hinds on social mobility: “We need a plan for people and places that could be left behind”

In his first speech as Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds made a commitment to improving life chances for disadvantaged pupils. 

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Damian Hinds gave his first keynote speech as the newly appointed Secretary of State for Education this morning, at an event held by the Resolution Foundation. The theme was social mobility, and Hinds focused particularly on attainment gaps at the early years and post-16 stages.

Tackling the issue of widening university access, Hinds acknowledged the scale of the challenge being faced, particularly from a regional perspective.  

Overall, applicants from the most advantaged areas of the country are nearly five and a half times more likely to enter the most selective universities than applicants from disadvantaged areas. Hinds called this “unacceptable”. One in five disadvantaged pupils from London go to a top third university, compared to one in 17 from the North East.

He claimed that the government was “challenging” universities to minimise this considerable gap, and pointed to the fact that universities charging the highest rate of fees will be spending £860m of that money next year on access programmes.

“To build our evidence base on what kind of outreach most works,” Hinds announced a new initiative being launched by the Office of Students to “identify and share the best approaches for getting children from different backgrounds into university”. The tender for this initiative went out on Tuesday, and Hinds made a call for “organisations and groups of organisations including, of course, universities, to submit.”

Hinds said that more also needs to be done at the school level to improve social mobility, presenting a series of statistics on private- versus state-school attainment. Seven per cent of children attend private school, but just under than 40 per cent of young people attending Oxbridge are privately educated, and private schools account for 25 per cent of students getting three or more As at A-level.

Questioning whether a traditional university education was the right option for all students, he pointed to the government’s £500m investment in T-level qualifications and announced a review of all non-GCSE qualifications “to make sure the only options available are high-quality ones that employers can recognise and trust.”

He called social mobility a “long-haul” issue that was “not just for the Minister or the government of the day”, and announced “a new big data project that will follow in the footsteps of the American economist Raj Chetty”. Chetty’s Equality of Opportunity Project has mapped social mobility and the chances of success for children across the United States.

“Our project,” Hinds explained, “will look at young people today, from across the country, and where they end up over the next five or six years, and I hope by then we'll have gathered a huge wealth of information that will benefit researchers and policymakers for decades to come.”

Augusta Riddy is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman.