New ethnicity, gender and social mobility report from the social mobility commission


On 28 December 2016, the social mobility commission released a report exploring the transition from school to the workplace amongst several types of pupil group. In particular, the commission was interested in why White British males are less likely to be unemployed, and have more social mobility options, than females and those who are Black or from an Asian Muslim background.

In early years, the socio-economic gap was largest amongst White British or White Other students than any other ethnic group. The report went on to outline that “disadvantaged White British and White Other pupils are the lowest performing groups at primary and secondary school”. Across all key stages, White pupils perform worse in English and Maths (with the exception of Early Years Foundation stage) than any other ethnic group. Finally, in terms of higher education, White British from poor backgrounds were much less likely to attend University than any other ethnic group. The authors did acknowledge that there was much disparity within the White British and White Other socioeconomic group. However, they argued that White pupils were more likely to be in employment than students from other ethnic groups based, in part, on the following three reasons:

  1. There appears to be a “black penalty in secondary … education”. The authors outlined that Black children start school with scores broadly in line with the national average but, during their secondary education, they are the pupil group “most likely to fail their Maths GCSE  … [and] … most likely to be excluded from school”. Indeed, only 63% achieve a C or more in Maths GCSE compared to the national average of 68%. This was particularly the case for Black boys, who “do substantially less well than their female peers particularly at Key Stage 4”. In terms of special educational needs and exclusions, the report also found that “21.7 per cent of Black Caribbean pupils are identified as having SEND compared to 15.2 per cent of all pupils, and Black Caribbean boys were three times were more likely to receive a fixed period exclusion in 2013-14 than the average pupil”.
  2. There is a “broken mobility promise for Asian Muslims, particularly women”. Promisingly, the report outlined that “young people from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds are more likely than ever to succeed in education”, with educational attainment amongst these ethnic groups improving faster than any other. However, “discrimination in the workplace puts some groups, in particular Muslim women, at a disadvantage preventing them from translating educational attainment into labour market returns”.
  3. Finally, females are more likely to underperform in STEM subjects compared to their male counterparts. The authors argue that this contributes towards girls being less likely than boys to take STEM subjects during further or higher education. Although many subject choices are “gendered” a “low uptake of STEM subjects by females may constrain their social mobility”.

This is a particularly interesting report for governors and trustees who want to understand the specific challenges facing different pupil groups in their school(s). All governors and trustees should know their school(s) well and be aware of context and demographics. A useful starting point for understanding demographic makeup is RAISEonline or the FFTAspire governor dashboard. To access these resources, speak with the headteacher or a member of your senior leadership team. Also, see the NGA guidance centre for further information on many of the themes covered above.

Published: 06/01/2017, by Tom Fellows
Last Updated: 05/09/2018, by Tom Fellows