Only by working together will we improve social mobility

Last week the Government called on businesses, civil society and local communities to unite behind the common mission of boosting social mobility and ensuring that all young people have the opportunity to succeed in life. We know that we are in the midst of a social mobility crisis and the resignation of the Social Mobility Commissioners earlier this month only reinforces the scale of the problem. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds start their education eight months behind their wealthier peers and only fall further behind as they progress through each stage of their education. They are also more likely to suffer from mental ill health and are four times as likely to be permanently excluded. Not only do we have a moral imperative to rectify this, there is also an economic imperative. If we carry on down this road, the UK will cease to be competitive on a global stage.

Educational inequality is a complex issue. Too complex for one organisation, institution or even one government to solve in isolation. It is welcome that the Government has emphasised the importance of working in collaboration in the ‘widest coalition possible’ to tackle this issue. And that precisely why the Fair Education Alliance exists – we are a coalition of 95 businesses, education institutions, social enterprises and unions. Combining the talent and efforts of businesses, charities and educationalists provides us with a strong collective voice that we can use to drive the changes needed to improve young people’s lives.

As part of the Fair Education Alliance, members have worked around five Fair Education Impact Goals: early years, schools, wellbeing, careers and post-16 – all areas where the gap between the most disadvantaged young people and their wealthier peers is damagingly wide. It is therefore welcome to see the Department for Education adopt four of these five Fair Education Impact Goals as their key ‘Life Stage Ambitions’. Closing the gap at each of these phases will undoubtedly improve the life chances of so many young people. But while these ambitions are important, the development of softer skills and ensuring that all young people are emotionally healthy must also be a priority for Government - failing to make it such will result in us not achieving the four other ambitions.

Working together we can accelerate the rate of change and improve social mobility to ensure that all young people reach their potential.

Sam Butters, CEO of the Fair Education Alliance

Closing the gap in primary maths

Catherine Knowles, Achievement for All and co-chair of the FEA's Impact Goal to narrow the gap in numeracy attainment.

To close the attainment gap in maths we need to start in the earliest years of education. The best way is by providing focused teacher continuing professional development in numeracy. We would not expect a surgeon to carry out a major procedure without training; driving a car without having had lessons could have catastrophic results. Why should we expect teachers to teach mathematics without being shown how?

It comes as no surprise that England has one of the largest gaps in maths at the end of primary school between their lowest and highest performing pupils across the developed world. The Education Policy Institute report- English Education:  world class in primary?- published 13th December 2017, which looked at the performance of pupils in England in TIMMS 2015 (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) and translated the data to the KS2 equivalent, showed that those at the bottom in England lag very far behind. For those at the bottom, a history of underperformance often follows them into secondary school. In our report, published by the FEA in February- (Achievement for All/ KPMG) Closing the attainment gap in maths: a study of good practice in early years and primary settings-  we highlighted the schooling gap of eight years in mathematics, between the lowest and highest achieving students, uncovered by PISA 2015.

We also showed that in some areas children are better served by some schools than others; in these primary schools, they are delivering a high quality maths education irrespective of children’s social or economic background. Primary schools in England that are getting it right have a whole school approach to maths. Within that, key features include children spending a short time with a teacher before the lesson to go over a concept they failed to grasp in the previous lesson and ensuring that children likely to underachieve are exposed to the same rich maths experiences as their peers. Negative attitudes to maths - amongst staff, children and their parents - are discouraged and the development of number and number sense is central to lessons; in some schools 75% of maths lessons are devoted to number work. Focused teacher CPD is a central characteristic.

The Fair Education Alliance (FEA), currently comprised of 95 organisations, is committed to confronting educational disadvantage. Following on from the Closing the attainment gap in maths report, the FEA annual Report Card 2016/17, placed great importance on CPD in numeracy for primary school teachers, as well as practitioners in early years settings. A recommendation for government, education practitioners, voluntary organisations, and universities, it is highly effective in stimulating improvement in areas where performance gaps remain high, enabling children to better reach their potential.

The large gap in England between the lowest and highest performing children at the end of primary school, will continue to grow over children’s school careers if maths teaching and learning in the earliest years of education are not re-evaluated. Strong maths skills and understanding at age 11 provides a firm base for success during secondary education. Focused and purposeful teacher and practitioner CPD in numeracy provides the answer.


Read On. Get On. launches first robust measure of children’s reading at age 11

The Read On. Get On. (ROGO) coalition has launched the ROGO Index – a new robust measure of children’s reading at age 11 in England [1]. The ROGO coalition has created a more holistic view of how well the nation’s children are reading by bringing together government, commercial and third sector data to indicate whether children are good readers.

Due to the complexities and constraints of national reading assessments, commercial reading assessments are able to test a wider range of children’s cognitive reading skills and thus provide a more comprehensive view of how well the nation’s children are reading.

In publishing commercial reading skills data from GL Assessment and Renaissance Learning alongside government reading skills data for the very first time, the ROGO Index shows that children’s cognitive reading skills have remained consistent over the past three years despite changes in Key Stage 2 national curriculum assessments suggesting fluctuations in attainment [2]. The Index also shows that children’s levels of reading enjoyment and frequency are lower than their levels of cognitive reading skills.

The coalition is calling on the government to redouble efforts to improve children’s levels of reading enjoyment – a call which is further supported by a new research review from the coalition that surfaces the wealth of evidence linking high levels of reading enjoyment with better educational outcomes and improved life chances [3].

In consultation with education experts, academics and teachers, the ROGO coalition has developed a new tripartite model of reading well at age 11. The model asserts that a good reader has strong cognitive reading skills, high levels of reading enjoyment and reads outside school on a daily basis. The ROGO Index measures how well 11-year-olds in England are reading across these three areas using data from the Department for Education, GL Assessment, Renaissance Learning and the National Literacy Trust [4].

The ROGO Index shows that:

  • Children’s reading skills have remained consistent over the past three years according to reading skills data from GL Assessment and Renaissance Learning. National curriculum reading scores declined from 2015-2016 owing to the introduction of the higher standard of the new national curriculum tests
  • Children’s levels of reading enjoyment (75%) and daily reading frequency (50%) are both lower than their levels of cognitive reading skills (85%)
  • Girls outperform boys in all areas of reading

Established in 2014 by a group of 12 charities and educational organisations, the ROGO coalition aims to get all children in England reading well by the age of 11. The National Literacy Trust holds the secretariat for the coalition. The coalition will publish the ROGO Index every year to hold the nation to account for the reading levels of its children.

The ROGO coalition has published a top tips resource for teachers and schools to help boost children’s enjoyment of reading and how often they read outside school, as well as a top tips guide for parents to help encourage even the most reluctant child to develop a love of reading:

[1] Read On. Get On. (2017) ROGO Index. Published by the National Literacy Trust on behalf of the Read On. Get On. coalition.
Available at
[2] Department for Education (February 2017) Five things you need to know about changes to primary assessment
[3] Read On. Get On. (2017) What it means to be a reader at age 11 – valuing skills, affective and behavioural processes.
Published by the National Literacy Trust on behalf of the Read On. Get On. coalition
[4] Skills data:

  • Department for Education, Key Stage 2 national curriculum assessment: % of Year 6 pupils in England achieving level 4 in 2014/15; and % of Year 6 pupils achieving at least 100 in 2015/16 and 2016/17
  • GL Assessment, New Group Reading Test: % of Year 6 pupils in England scoring 85 or above on NGRT tests in 2014/2015
  • (N = 27052), 2015/2016 (N = 37052), and 2016/2017 (N = 44372)
  • Renaissance Learning, Star Reading Test: % of Year 6 pupils in England scoring on scaled scores in Star Reading Tests in 2014/2015 (N = 55419), 2015/2016 (N = 70239), and 2016/2017 (N = 89110)

Reading enjoyment data:

  • National Literacy Trust, Annual Literacy Survey: Year 6 pupils in England in 2014/2015 (N = 1,938), 2015/2016 (N = 2,312), and 2016/2017 (N = 3,155); % of Year 6 pupils in England who enjoy reading either “very much” or “quite a lot”. This benchmark for reading well was decided based on a consultation of 82 teachers in October 2017

Reading frequency data:

  • National Literacy Trust, Annual Literacy Survey: Year 6 pupils in England in 2014/2015 (N = 1,938), 2015/2016 (N = 2,312), and 2016/2017 (N = 3,155); % of Year 6 pupils in England saying that they read daily outside class. This benchmark for reading well was decided based on a consultation of 82 teachers in October 2017

The Fair Education Alliance Responds to DfE's Social Mobility Strategy

The Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential plan published today displays a recognition from the Department for Education that a comprehensive strategy is needed to tackle the UK’s social mobility crisis. We particularly welcome the Education Secretary’s call to create ‘the widest coalition possible’. We know that the problem of educational inequality is too complex for one institution or organisation to solve alone – and that is exactly why the Fair Education Alliance exists. Combining the talents and efforts of educationalists, charities and businesses provides a strong collective voice that drives the changes needed to improve young people’s lives.

The Fair Education Alliance has campaigned around five Fair Education Impact Goals: early years, schools, wellbeing, careers and post-16 – all areas where the gap between the most disadvantaged young people and their wealthier peers is damagingly wide. It is welcome to see the Government adopt four of these five Fair Education Impact Goals as their key Life Stage Ambitions but while these ambitions are important, the Government must ensure that the development of social and emotional competencies is also a priority - failing to make it such will result in us not achieving the Government’s four ambitions.

We look forward to working collaboratively with the Government to deliver their strategy.

The Fair Education Alliance Responds to the Autumn Budget

Responding to the Autumn Budget, the CEO of the Fair Education Alliance Sam Butters said:

Whilst the Fair Education Alliance welcomes the focus on maths education in the budget today, our members have recommended that increased investment focused on early years numeracy is essential. Whilst investment at GCSE and A Level is important, without strong early numeracy skills children will often struggle to develop when they start school which can have an impact on their future attainment and choices.

We also welcome the additional funding for schools in the form of The Teacher Development Premium. Professional development is critical in supporting teachers to help every child to reach their potential, irrespective of their background. The Alliance recommends that this be targeted at schools serving the lowest income communities.

Using sound evidence to bear down on educational inequality

Raj Patel, Impact Fellow at Understanding Society, University of Essex.

Longitudinal studies can help education organisations, business and charities tackle educational inequality because they follow the lives of people over time.

As argued by many, we should not take the level of educational inequality as a given. Other developed countries demonstrate better performance. The coming together of education organisations, business and charities in the form of the Fair Education Alliance to tackle this most critical of issues represents a significant step in improving the prospects for thousands of young people.

Educational inequality is a factor across all the stages of education and it is important to tackle the problem as children grow up, move through the system and into the labour market. Each stage of education matters as it opens up or restricts further opportunities – and the high costs of inequality means that identifying ‘what works’ has to be central to mission.

The interaction between institutional performance, parental background, household circumstances, non-cognitive and language skills, aspirations and behaviours, gender, ethnicity, disability, deprivation and geography all combine to create a complex environment in which to address the problem. Indeed, the effects of policy and practice at all stages of education can only be properly measured over a (long) period of time.

FEA members can now access a major research resource in the form of a world leading longitudinal household panel survey called Understanding Society. This is an independent scientific and policy resource for explaining the changing circumstances of people in the UK and understanding the causes and consequences of deep-rooted social problems.

The Study’s explanatory power and causal insights come from its unique longitudinal design, which annually tracks the same young people and adults over time. Understanding Society is a multi-purpose study, with data on demographics and key domains: education, family, mental and physical health, subjective wellbeing, employment, income, expenditure, wealth, time use, behaviours, housing, transport, neighbourhoods, attitudes and more.

It can be used to examine the interaction between factors associated with young people, their household circumstances and (currently) school attainment to help pinpoint where effort may be best targeted. As FEA members work in and beyond education they have the capacity to understand different dimensions to the problem and leverage effort. Equally, members can use the data and evidence to influence policy, particularly where societal changes or policies external to education risk putting breaks on effort - or can help accelerate the goal of reducing the gap.

 The Study is relevant to many aspects of tackling educational inequality, for example:

  • Understanding who is making progress or getting left behind and explaining variations between groups and pathways.
  • We know that low attainment is linked to poverty but this not simply due to economic circumstances. Social and cultural factors also matter. What parents do matters but doesn’t explain the entire picture, whilst some children from low income backgrounds have strong compensating resources.
  • Learning more about the role of social and emotional wellbeing – with new fields of research examining factors such as stress. There is, for example, little current evidence to show that low aspirations are an important mechanism.
  • Evaluating the impact of relevant policies and their interaction with education by looking at the picture before, during and after the policy to help drive innovation and policy effectiveness.

A diverse range of education, youth and family research is being undertaken with the data, with already a number of papers published. For example, one study examined how young people’s aspirations are affected by gender, ethnicity and class whilst another looked at the impact of different schooling systems on income inequality in local areas.

About Understanding Society

Set within a household context, the Study follows the lives of all individuals within 40,000 households (initially, in 2009 at Wave 1) and incorporates the long-running British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), which started in 1991. Children aged 10 to 15 undertake a self-completion questionnaire and join the adult panel at the age of 16 (Rising 16s).

Consents from panel members have also been collected for linkage to external administrative data, with linkage to the National Pupil Database for England (NPD). This includes attainment data from ages 5-18 as well as absences and exclusions. Understanding Society is also linked to identifiers of schools that children attend or recently attended. The combined data allows research into issues such as:

  • segregation
  • the effect of school characteristics on educational and other life outcomes
  • parental school choice

How to access the data and latest evidence

Whilst experts at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) provide the scientific leadership for Understanding Society, the data are released through the UK Data Service (UKDS).

For researchers and analysts Understanding Society’s ‘Getting Started’ Section and the Education Topic Guide is a good place to start. Evidence users can access findings through our Insights publication, which in 2016 included theme on education, or by searching the publications database. If you prefer a face to face briefing about the Study please contact Raj Patel (

Raj Patel is the Impact Fellow at Understanding Society, University of Essex.

Resilience matters

Cornelia Lucey, Partner at The People Project

The People Project.png

The People Project is led by two female directors. At the People Project we have a vision for a world where all are emotionally agile – this is where people feel resilient, perform at their best and then help others to do the same.

We are two coaching psychologists with over a decade of experience in both the education and corporate sectors. Through our research and careers (including many years in Teach First schools campaigning for educational equality) we have identified that resilience is the foundation of emotionally intelligent and authentic leadership. In turn, resilient leaders create cultures where their colleagues are able to feel and perform at their best. Resilience is therefore the cornerstone for every child’s development too.

It was with this insight, and with our training and research in psychology, that we set up the People Project. We now work with individuals, teams and organisations to develop resilience and performance.

We know the challenges that people face in the 21st century workplace – be it a teacher or child in a school, or a senior leader in a charity or corporate organisation - and we have the skills and experience to support people to flourish. Our work is particularly applicable to issues around retention, engagement and performance. Every day we help teachers, senior leaders and corporate organisation to create meaningful change – and we’re very proud of this.

So why have we decided to partner with the FEA and particularly the IG3 working group? We are a boutique consultancy, but with the FEA we are stronger. Alongside the fantastic partners in the IG3 group we can more widely share our expertise and approaches for adults who work with children. We want to share our resource to make sure resilience development is the right of all children, teachers, professionals – not just for the few.

Recently we attended the Teach First ‘Challenge the Impossible’ conference with over 5,000 educationalists at Wembley Arena. There we heard a headteacher, Marcus Shepperd, talk about his experience of developing as a leader. He discussed the importance his mother placed in instilling resilience in him, and how he strives to instil resilience in his students in a myriad of ways. He said: “A lot of children are told they will not do something. It’s our job to say you can and you will. It’s exponentially hard – but we will not stop.”

And Marcus took the words out of our mouths – because we too at the People Project will not stop until nationally our schools, workplaces and communities understand and know how to build real, sustainable resilience. Without a foundation of resilience, you cannot learn and you cannot lead – and who wants to settle for a society like that?

Born to Fail? Social Mobility, A Working Class View

Professor Sonia Blandford

In July 2017, sat in my home office reflecting on the end of another full and mainly productive academic year, there was a realisation that as a working class Professor I might have something to contribute to the social mobility debate. A view that would be immersed in my experience, contributing to the class consciousness that has been subject to media activity and political debate over the last year.  My aim in sharing thoughts on social mobility is to question the injustice of the current prevailing view of social mobility, that the working class have somehow failed and they should become more like the middle class. That is, pass the required exams to go to university, get a degree or two, buy their own house and live a healthy life, contributing to society and the economy. Not too dissimilar to my own story in some ways, but lacking the notion of family, and the tribal effect of the working class. What is needed is an alternative way of thinking about social mobility a way of thinking that crucially listens to, engages and involves the working class in determining what their future should be.  An alternative way that values partnership, mutuality and collaboration and which, by doing what is right, creates opportunities for all. What would different look like if we addressed working class questions, if we responded to old questions with new thinking?


Why do working class children not achieve?

The need to understand how and why children can learn is fundamental to pedagogy – how teachers teach.  Getting it [teaching] right for the working class remains an ongoing challenge in many schools. An appropriate starting point might be to increase understanding of how working class, disadvantaged and SEND children learn, and refocusing teacher training and professional training on the majority of the population in schools, identifying what is needed to prepare children for work. It is also about changing the mindset of the adults and services around the school to improve the outcomes for all children. I have long since known that if you change the attitudes and behaviours of adults you improve the attitudes and behaviours of the child.


Why do working class families not participate fully in early years provision?

Sure Start Children’s Centres were the main vehicles for ensuring good quality family services and provision were located in accessible places and welcoming to all. The aim for every Sure Start Centre was to improve outcomes for children and families. [1] There are some fine nursery settings that take that approach today. If we want working class families to fully participate in early years we need to see more of the same - to share the benefits of early years education by building a respectful relationship with families, and sustain that to help ensure growth and school readiness.


Why is there not the will to stop the growth of disadvantage among the working class?

Part of the problem is the context of UK poverty has changed. Poverty is no longer just an issue for people out of work or living in social housing. It impacts on people with disabilities, people who’ve become ill and had to give up work, people in work, young people (including some just out of university), people renting from private landlords. The drive for welfare reform has been seen as an answer to the problems of disadvantage, but it’s failed to understand this changing context and so the better ways (better housing, investment in communities - or reinvestment where cuts have decimated good work - and a continued drive to grow employment and provide good jobs that provide an income on or above a living wage).


Why is school considered not relevant by the working class?

A curriculum that is not socially and culturally relevant, that presents more barriers than opportunities will not engage children in learning.  The national curriculum in England has been developed on knowledge and learning experienced by the middle class. There are solutions to this dilemma that, if implemented, would address the needs of all children.  The first is to break down the barriers to learning by providing opportunities for all children to participate in social and cultural activities, sport, the arts, debating, volunteering, wider community based provision, museums, trips and much more. The second requires us to relate the curriculum to the social context of the child and their future.  All communities have a rich heritage, which can provide significant resources. In terms of their future, learning about the workplace can begin in primary school, increasing ambitions, breaking down barriers, and providing relevance to learning. Increasing access to learning for all children should be the benchmark of a successful school.


Why is working class success only measured by exam results?

The annual media frenzy that follows primary phase national curriculum assessments (SATs) and secondary phase GCSE exam results only serves to remind the majority of the working class families that their children are disadvantaged, with private and grammar schools forming the majority at the top of published league tables. For the minority of working class students who do achieve, this is a demonstration that passing exams is a possibility at primary and secondary. Though recent primary SATs serve to prove the difficulties for those without the related social and cultural capital to respond to questions in the English paper.   EPI Closing the Gap research [2] reminds us that it will take decades to ‘close the gap’. A more meaningful assessment at secondary phase would be destination outcomes. Measuring student’s outcomes by where the examinations take them. If exam results are to be a single judgment of success, all forms of examinations should be considered providing a more rounded picture of what each school has to offer.  


Why is there a lack of ambition for the working class?

There is no evidence that the working class cannot achieve - in education, employment, housing and health. There is also no evidence that the working class are any less likely to have a desire for success than others. What there is, though, a lack of societal ambition outside those spurious targets (like university entry) that only concern 50 per cent of the population at best. To increase ambition for the working class there needs to be a mutual understanding of what is available in terms of alternatives, and engagement with the working class about what they actually want. By talking and listening ambitions can be shared - a do with rather than do to approach.


So, are the working class born to fail?

Research would indicate that rather than reducing the chances of failure within the working class over the last forty years, we have increased the possibility in housing, education and social care. This should not have happened, nor should it be allowed to continue. Back in 1973 authors of the Born to Fail report referenced Tawney, The continuance of social evils is not due to the fact that we do not know what is right, but that we prefer to continue doing what is wrong.  Those who have the power to remove them do not have the will, and those who have the will have not, as yet, the power’.   

And there is no evidence that the attainment gap cannot be closed for all children, regardless of background, challenge or need. To recommend a national ambition set at 50% will allow excuses and caveats; creating a barrier to change.  Evidence has shown (Impetus Foundation, 2014 [3], Rowntree Foundation, 2016 [4] , PwC, 2016 [5] ) that the key to change is to develop an approach that engenders self-belief, building the core in every child at the earliest stages of their development, Aspiration, ‘I can’, Access, ‘I do, Attainment, ‘I have’, and Achievement, ‘I am’.

Ultimately, it is about taking responsibility, owning a shared moral purpose and shared ambition and integrity that can provide the opportunities and resources needed for all children and their families to achieve. This is social justice in action, and possibly, social mobility that really works.

Extracts from ‘Born to Fail? A Working Class View’




Professor Sonia Blandford is one of the country’s foremost experts on Improving the education and aspirations of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. She focuses on providing the leadership in schools to create equal chances for all. Sonia was named in Debrett’s 2016 list of the Top 500 Most Influential People in the UK, and is among the 2016 Women of the Year. She is Vice Chair and Founding Trustee of the Chartered College of Teaching.
She is currently founder and CEO of the award winning educational charity Achievement for All, which provides programmes to improve outcomes for children and young people aged two to 19 years, vulnerable to underachievement, in 4,000 early-years, school and post-16 settings in England and Wales; and visiting professor of education at UCL Institute of Education.

[1] House of Commons Library (2017) Sure Start (England) Briefing Paper Number 7257, 9 June 2017. Available at:


[2] Andrews, J., Robinson, D., Hutchinson, J. (2017), Closing the Gap? Trends in Educational Attainment and Disadvantage. London: Education Policy Institute. Available at:   


[3] Impetus (2014), Make Neets History in 2014. London: Impetus Available at: 


[4] Tinson, A. et al. (2016), Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2016. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available at:


[5] PwC (2016), Achieving Schools: Social Impact Assessment Final Report 2016 London: PwC. Available at:


Something is missing if we want to make education fair

Tom Ravenscroft, Founder & CEO, Enabling Enterprise


Education in England is not fair. It is to the credit of the Fair Education Alliance, of which Enabling Enterprise is an enthusiastic founding member, that we have begun to see this as not a natural state of affairs, but as a fixable problem.

Addressing it is frequently highlighted as a priority in politics by all parties. That over eighty organisations have committed to collaborate to address the gap is heartening.


What are we making fair?

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The challenge is that when we talk about making education fair, our minds most immediately drift to differences in academic attainment. It is clear and compellingly wrong that the most disadvantaged students should be almost twice as likely to miss out on achieving good passes in GCSE English and Maths as their wealthier peers.

It is unsurprising that we place so much emphasis on rebalancing grades, because we want to be rigorous and measurable. And the most robust things we feel we have are exam results.

But a good education is not just exam grades. A good education, of course, involves building a great deal of knowledge and understanding of the world. It should also develop character – that is, the ability to make thoughtful, ethical choices – and good mental health. Finally, it needs to build the ability to do.

And this is often the missing piece: the essential skills that our children and young people need.


The missing piece: Essential Skills


The essential skills are often badged in different ways – soft skills, life skills, enterprise skills, employability skills, or study skills. Whatever the badge, this set of skills covers the ability to work with others, to creatively problem-solve, to self-manage and to communicate effectively.

I have come to realise over the last eight years running Enabling Enterprise and in writing my new book, if we just focus on the grades of our students to make education fair we are missing something fundamental – for three compelling reasons.

The first is that these are skills that are inherently valuable in their own right. Employers, colleges and universities are crying out for these skills. The latest education and skills survey from the CBI highlighted that just 23% of employers prioritise the qualifications of school and college leavers over their skills and attitude. Similarly, the University of Cambridge highlights critical study skills that undergraduates need to succeed – academic qualifications are not enough.

The second reason, is that if we just remove inequalities in grades, we still do not make education fair. Work from the Social Mobility Commission has showed that two young people from different socio-economic backgrounds who have achieved the same grades still go on to have different trajectories in the rest of their lives. The main reason? Differences in parental networks and soft skills.

The third and final reason is that building essential skills does not have to mean neglecting building knowledge. At Enabling Enterprise, we work with children from as young as 3-years-old to give regular lessons in the eight essential skills we focus on: teamwork, leadership, creativity, problem-solving, presenting, listening, aiming high and staying positive. As students build their competence in these skills, their ability to learn also soars.

Private schools are investing hugely in activities to build these skills, complemented by parental networks and a wide range of extra-curricular learning opportunities. We need to rebalance the playing field here.


Working together

What is exciting is that through the efforts of Enabling Enterprise’s almost 300 partner schools we have seen that it is possible for every child and young person to build their essential skills. They take as rigorous an approach to these skills as any other academic learning: assessing the students’ skills at the outset, delivering dedicated teaching time just on the skills, continually practising and reinforcing those skills, and then taking students out of the classroom to apply them with employers.

Through the Fair Education Alliance, we are now working with partners including Teach First, Ark, Career Ready, BITC, Family Links, the National Literacy Trust and others to develop a shared language and approach to building these skills.

By working together, and elevating the value of essential skills, we really can ensure that education becomes fair.


Tom Ravenscroft is Founder and CEO of Enabling Enterprise, an award-winning social enterprise working with schools across the country to build the essential skills of 3- to 18-year-olds. His first book, entitled ‘The Missing Piece: The Essential Skills that Education Forgot’ is published by John Catt Educational Publishing in October.

You can find out more about the tools and resources mentioned in the blog at


The Fair Education Alliance Response to the Education Secretary's Conference Speech

Responding to the Secretary of State for Education’s announcement of a loan reimbursement programme, the Chair of the Fair Education Alliance Sir Richard Lambert said:

The Secretary of State’s speech today is a welcome step towards improving teacher retention in the UK. We are in the midst of a crisis and it is essential the government takes action such as this to incentivise top people into low-income schools where they can make the biggest difference. 

Just last month the 86 organisations of the Fair Education Alliance highlighted teacher retention as a key barrier to addressing the persistent gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their wealthier peers. In the report we recommended financial incentives such as loan forgiveness as a way of solving this crisis. We therefore back the government’s initial commitment to loan forgiveness for teachers in shortage subjects in the most disadvantaged areas. We look forward to hearing more about this proposal in due course. This need to be rolled out quickly and have its effectiveness evaluated.

The educational state of the nation: the FEA’s Report Card 2016-17 round-up

The English-Speaking Union is a charity and membership organisation, delivering oracy skills for debating, public speaking and in the classroom. Their Branch Education Officer, Alex Bailey, writes about the launch of our 2016/17 Report Card. 

As the ESU is a member of the Alliance, myself and a couple of colleagues attended the launch, eager to find out what the latest report card would reveal. The evening started with a foreword from Chair of the FEA, Sir Richard Lambert, who reminded the audience of just what has changed since the last Report Card was released in April 2016 – Brexit, a snap general election and Donald Trump.

There are many explanations for these events and one common theme is that vast numbers of people feel left behind, neglected by wider society and worried about what the future holds. This, he stated, makes the aim of the FEA, to close the gap between the least advantaged and their wealthier piers, more relevant now than ever.

When the departing Director of the FEA, and host of the evening, Lewis Iwu, invited the first question from an audience member, he drew their attention to a detachable microphone installed in the back of the seat in front of them. There was a collective expression of surprise from the audience when we all realised every seat in the auditorium was equipped with microphones built in to our seats. Lewis reminded us ‘this is 2017 people’ as he encouraged everyone to contribute to the live tweets and active commentary projected on to a large screen which sat behind the panel. A fitting backdrop for a notable theme of the evening – social media.

Digesting information in the digital age


Panellist and campaigner for mental health Natasha Devon opened by recalling a worrying surge of calls to Childline in the aftermath of the referendum verdict. The young people phoning in weren’t necessarily thinking through the political, or economic repercussions of the future, but were scared by the barrage of headlines and negative news being sent directly to the devices in their pockets. ‘Things weren’t like this 10 years ago’ Natasha reminded us, referring to the massive shift in the way young people have started to interact with the world in such a short space of time.

Audience member Rachael from Business in the Community asked the panel how we might equip young people with the skills and resilience to deal with uncertainty and worrying information in the digital age.

Natasha put forward three clear solutions:

1. Critical thinking – the ability to question and decipher the deluge of information, especially in relation to social media

2. Healthy coping strategies for stress – we know there are therapeutic benefits related to practising sport, art, music and drama, so let’s not demote these subjects in the interest of a ‘rigorous curriculum’

3. Emotional literacy – the ability to use words and be heard and understood. These don’t have to be taught in PSHE but can be implemented in a ‘whole school approach’.

Also advocating for that very approach was Executive Headteacher of School 21 and former adviser to Tony Blair, Peter Hyman. He started with an appraisal of the ‘regimented’ and ‘rigid’ approach of some modern inner-city schools. He praised Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney for its exceptional results and spoke of ‘shooting into the system’ the idea that you can take a failing inner-city school with some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country and turn it into one of the most successful.

However, he then went on to call the tough approach to behaviour in schools a ‘deficit model’ and pointed to the Charter Schools in America where the model originated. He argued that students of those schools, despite doing well in their exams, have struggled at college and university where they are faced with a less rigid environment. The approach doesn’t teach students how to be agile thinkers and hold those critical skills which employers most value – character development, resilience and problem solving. He referred to his approach to education as being one of ‘head, heart and hand’.

Lewis rounded up with the final ‘silver bullet’ question to the panellists:

On what single issue would you place our collective energy to achieve maximum results over the next five years?


Former Lib Dem Schools Minister David Laws summarised another common theme of the evening by saying that we need to collectively ensure that school funding and focused efforts at closing the gap remain a firm priority for government in the years ahead.

Natasha Devon called for a radical shake-up of the education system and said we need to have a serious conversation about creative thinking and its place in preparing children for the future.

Director of Admissions and Outreach at Oxford University, Dr Samina Khan, emphasised the importance of teacher recruitment and retention.

The final word was from Peter Hyman who called for us to get behind oracy and make it a national programme.

By focussing on eloquence of speaking, building confidence and setting out a well-being agenda we can prepare our young people across the country for the fast-changing future.

Alex Bailey                                                                                                                                    Branch Education Officer, The English-Speaking Union

Poorest children almost 13 months behind wealthier peers at GSCE.

The Fair Education Alliance (FEA), a coalition of 86 organisations, has today published its third annual State of the Nation Report Card in association with founding corporate supporter and lead sponsor, UBS. The report finds that educational inequality remains deeply entrenched in the UK and outlines a number of policy recommendations for improving social mobility. The country is in danger of failing to hit is social mobility targets by the end of this parliament. The report’s findings include:

  • Marginal progress on some indicators over the last year - the gap in literacy and numeracy at primary has narrowed from 8.4 months to 8.2 months
  • The GCSE achievement gap has narrowed from 13.1 months to 12.8 months
  • On current trends, the nation will fail to meet the coalition’s national targets for tackling educational inequality by the end of this parliament
  • Children attending schools serving low-income communities fare the worst in the South East, both in terms of the lowest GCSE attainment and the largest gap compared with schools serving high-income communities. The gap in this region is still the largest in England, at 18.7 months. This compares to a national average of 12.8 months
  • Children from more affluent families from state schools were almost four times as likely as young people from low-income families (3.8 times) to go on to join a higher-tariff university in 2016.
  • One in forty children who were eligible for free school meals, went on to one of these higher-tariff institutions, compared with almost one in ten better-off children.

In response to the findings, the coalition of 86 has proposed a number of recommendations. These include:

  • School Funding: A commitment from the government that national spending should not decrease in real terms on a per pupil basis.
  • Destinations and Careers: - Every primary and secondary school in England should have a designated and trained senior leader responsible for developing and delivering a whole school approach to destinations
  • Grammar Schools - The government should continue to resist calls to expand selective education in the future.
  • Measurement of Social and Emotional Competencies: A framework of measures should be available to all schools in the UK to support their knowledge of the social and emotional competencies of their students.
  • Early Years: The government should commit to ensuring that every group setting serving the 30% most deprived areas in England is led by an early years teacher or equivalent by 2020.


Sir Richard Lambert, Chair of the Fair Education Alliance commented:

“Inequality in education is still deeply entrenched in our country and our Report Card is a stark reminder of the scale of the challenge. The government must address the funding crisis in schools – freezing school budgets in a time of rising inflation will only make the journey more difficult. As the UK seeks to reposition itself in the world, it becomes more crucial than ever that our young people are able to fulfil their potential irrespective of their parental background.”


David Soanes, UK Country Head UBS:

The Report and the Impact Goals themselves are also a clarion call to action: they place the spotlight firmly on the most pertinent issues in order to raise awareness and influence policy, but also to illustrate the wasted potential, to individual lives and to the UK economy. We cannot become complacent; these recommendations should set the tone for policy and practice – together action is needed through replicable and evidence-based approaches. Much more needs to be done.


About the Fair Education Alliance:

The Fair Education Alliance was launched in June 2014 and is a coalition of 86 of the UK’s leading organisations from business, education and the third sector. The aim of the FEA is to work towards ending the persistent achievement gap between young people from the poorest communities and their wealthier peers. 

The FEA believes that England must meet five impact goals to be achieved by 2022. The Report Card reports on progress on each.

1.     Narrow the primary school literacy and numeracy attainment gap

2.     Close the gap in GCSE attainment

3.     Ensure that young people develop key strengths including character, wellbeing and mental health they need to support high aspirations

4.     Narrow the participation gap in post 16 education or training

5.     Close the graduation gap, with a particular focus on the most selective universities

UBS’s UK Community Affairs Programme

For over 30 years, UBS's strategic Community Affairs programme has consistently addressed economic and social deprivation in the London Borough of Hackney, supporting community initiatives in education and social entrepreneurship. Through carefully selected, and rigorously managed multi-year partnerships, a central objective of the programme is to break the link between disadvantage and poor skills and attainment. Impact has been achieved through a combination of targeted financial support and employee volunteering. As a founder member of the FEA UBS continues to seek out, promote and support practical solutions and programmes working in partnership to tackle educational disadvantage.

David Soanes, UK Country Head, UBS, chairs UBS's Community Affairs Committee which oversees this programme. Externally David chairs Business in the Community’s Education Leadership Team.


UBS provides financial advice and solutions to wealthy, institutional and corporate clients worldwide, as well as private clients in Switzerland. The operational structure of the Group is comprised of our Corporate Center and five business divisions: Wealth Management, Wealth Management Americas, Personal & Corporate Banking, Asset Management and the Investment Bank. UBS's strategy builds on the strengths of all of its businesses and focuses its efforts on areas in which it excels, while seeking to capitalize on the compelling growth prospects in the businesses and regions in which it operates, in order to generate attractive and sustainable returns for its shareholders. All of its businesses are capital-efficient and benefit from a strong competitive position in their targeted markets.

Teachers face significant barriers to addressing emotional health in education survey finds. The Fair Education Alliance warns new government not to drop this agenda

The Fair Education Alliance (FEA) - which represents over 85 leading business, education and voluntary organisations - today publishes a new report, Reflections on Emotional Health, Wellbeing and Character in Schools,

The report identifies some of the reasons why emotional health remains a significant issue in the education system, where there is existing good practice, and provides support for school staff and policy makers to take action.

The group’s report follows their survey of 500 school staff about social and emotional health in education, highlighting the need for action. The key findings were:

  • Insufficient time (71%) and a lack of available budget (59%) were cited as the biggest barriers to addressing Social and Emotional wellbeing in schools.
  • 94% thought it was very important to identify children who require specialist support for wellbeing or social and emotional development.
  • Having clear next steps for pupil development (83%) and being easy to use (70%) were identified as being the key priorities for social and emotional wellbeing measurements.

Dame Alison Peacock, Chief Executive of the Chartered College, commented:

"This report marks the start of an important project that considers a whole-school approach to improving children's health and wellbeing. Young people's time at school often marks such a formative period in life and therefore it is important that teachers and school leaders can work together to help develop our children to become more confident and resilient citizens for the future. I look forward to following the Fair Education Alliance's work in this area."

Bea Stevenson, Co-Chair of the FEA’s wellbeing group, commented:

“We recognise the importance of ensuring that children’s emotional health not only remains high on the policy agenda but also that schools and practitioners are given the support they need to implement change. We hope that this report supports both these aims and are committed to working in cross sector partnership to embed understanding and good practice across the school system.”

Jennifer Shearman, Senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Canterbury Christ Church University and contributor to the report, said:

“This report showcases the power of cross-sector mobilisation to send a strong message about educating the whole person.  Here academics, university professors, corporate leaders and leading third sectors organisations speak with one voice about why addressing emotional health in all children is so important, and how it can be achieved. We are committed to making policy change a priority through our collaboration and partnership.”

We can do maths

Many people in this country are happy to say- ‘I could never do maths’- but would be ashamed to admit that they can’t read. We have seen a successful drive to improve reading standards, but maths still lags some way behind. One clear theme emerging from the recent study of good practice in early years and primary maths (FEA, 2017) is the centrality of positive attitudes and a can do mentality in driving improvement and enjoyment in maths; in many of the schools and settings it was purposefully identified as an area for change.

And why does it matter? Evidence shows that achieving Maths GCSE at grades A*-C provides a powerful base for success in life; other research indicates that by 10 years old children’s maths attainment can be an indicator of their future earnings; those who do well at maths at age 10 are more likely to have higher earnings in adulthood. Children begin school at the age of four or five with considerable differences in maths skills and understanding; some primary schools in some areas of England address this well. Children tend to perform better at maths in primary school than they do during their secondary education (DfE, 2016). Nonetheless, the gap in maths performance at age 11 between children from economically disadvantaged families and their more advantaged peers still exists and widens significantly during secondary school. In 2016, just over half of all children from economically disadvantaged families achieved the expected level in maths at age 11 (58%). This compared to their more advantaged peers where 76% achieved the expected level (DfE, 2016). This means that a significant proportion of children from economically disadvantaged families leave primary school without the basic maths skills to succeed at secondary school and beyond. It does not have to be like this.

The recent FEA (2017) maths report shows that primary schools and early years settings that are getting it right are delivering a high quality mathematics education irrespective of children’s social or economic background. With a whole school or setting approach to maths not only are children achieving and enjoying maths, but so are teachers and parents. 

Professor Sonia Blandford

Founder and CEO, Achievement for All

Read "Closing the attainment gap in maths: A study of good practice in early years and primary settings" here.

The Fair Education Alliance's response to the Spring Budget 2017

The Brexit vote was a wakeup call to the fact that our country’s institutions leave far too many people behind while others thrive. Given this context, the decision to focus on grammar schools in this budget is disappointing. It represents a maldistribution of resources.

The Chancellor should have helped millions of children in existing schools cope with over £3 billion in real terms cuts – a situation that will affect staffing, buildings and extracurricular activities, all of which would help the nation’s children to succeed, irrespective of their background.

Instead, resources will be directed into schools for the select few that will get into grammars. Parents already face pressure to spend money on preparing their children for entrance tests so it is unlikely that families who are just about managing will be able to secure spaces at these selective schools for their children.

Despite our differences over this policy, we recognise that the government shares the same aims as we do - to create a society where every child can realise their ambitions. We are looking forward to continuing our work with the government on building an agenda that includes investing in early years education, supporting teaching and leadership in schools and strengthening careers advice for young people.

Lewis Iwu, Director of the Fair Education Alliance

The forgotten group: middle attainers on SEN Support

Middle attainers on SEN support can be a forgotten group in schools; with teachers focussing on stretching the most able and raising the bar for the lowest achieving 20%, those in the middle with additional needs fail to make expected progress.

At a national level, the profile of those on SEN support shows the three most common additional needs as moderate learning difficulties (27%), speech, language and communication needs (21%) and social and emotional and mental health issues (17%); additional needs are likely to overlap within these categories. Those on SEN Support are also more likely to come from socio-economic disadvantage than their peers without an identified SEN and are less likely to move out of this category during their schooling. But it does not have to be like this.

An inclusive approach with frequent and rigorous interrogation of pupil data improves both progress and attainment for children and young people on SEN Support. This is of particular importance for those whose prior attainment is somewhere in the middle. If they fail to make the expected progress by KS2, they start secondary school behind and are less likely to ‘catch up’ by KS4. At 16 they move on and may not have the skills needed to gain employment or the minimum qualifications needed for further education or training; instead they repeat the same learning with a post 16 provider. 

Ofsted is quite clear, in their review of SEND in 2010, education providers which achieved the best outcomes for their pupils/students with SEN had high aspirations for their learning and focused on enabling them to become as independent as possible; this has not changed today. Getting the best outcomes for those in the middle attaining bracket on SEN support means school leaders and teachers asking questions about their progress and attainment: what challenges do they face in learning? what challenges do they face in accessing learning? and where are the gaps? Comparisons can be made with pupils/students with similar prior attainment, using national, local and school level data sets. 

The SEN reforms introduced in September 2014 have gone some way to close the gap for those on SEN support. Identification of need is more accurate and happens earlier, more teachers engage with specific professional development and SENCOs, qualified to Masters level through the National SENCO Award, provide the practical day to day guidance. But more can still be done. Until every school in England develops an inclusive approach, with teachers and leaders asking challenging questions about learning and outcomes, those on SEN Support, in the middle attaining band may never progress beyond the middle. 

Professor Sonia Blandford, Founder and CEO Achievement for All


Closing the numeracy attainment gap

The Fair Education Alliance - which represents over 75 leading business, education and voluntary organisations - today sets out the practical steps that schools and government can take to improve maths results among children from the least privileged backgrounds.

The FEA’s numeracy group, co-chaired by Achievement for All and KPMG, has identified what makes some schools serving poorer communities successful in improving outcomes in maths. It lists the policies that should be adopted more widely in order to improve the chances of children from the poorest backgrounds and so dramatically improve social mobility in England.

The group’s report follows the latest PISA results which highlighted a very large numeracy gap between the highest and lowest performing students in England - equivalent to about 8 years of schooling and one of the biggest across OECD countries. This achievement gap begins long before they start primary school and only widens throughout their education.

The FEA is calling for the adoption of a number of policies to drive progress in closing the numeracy attainment gap. 

A national maths professional development programme (subject knowledge and pedagogy) for early years settings which includes better support for practitioners in assessing and supporting children’s progress in maths.
Data recording – the FEA's numeracy working group proposes that the current Ofsted inspection framework is changed so it looks for greater evidence of how well settings are supporting children’s early maths development.
Parental engagement - evidence shows the centrality of parent engagement for better outcomes in children’s short and long term learning and development. All early years settings and primary schools should have focused approaches to developing this further.
Transition - continuity in approaches to maths support children’s understanding and further development. There needs to be a focus on continuity in approach and practice from early years to primary school and primary to secondary school and beyond.
Action research/individual research projects - focused teacher/practitioner CPD builds teacher and practitioner skills and confidence in teaching maths. They become confident in performance and attitude. This is further developed through action research in schools and early years settings or teacher/practitioner individual projects.

You can read the full report here

Untapping potential in early years practitioners

Everyone agrees, high quality early education has a positive impact on children’s learning, development and well- being leading to better academic, social and emotional outcomes.  The Fair Education Alliance Reports (2015, 2016) and previous Nutbrown Review (2012) placed teacher quality firmly at the heart of improving outcomes for all children in early years settings.

The recent report by Save the Children- Untapped Potential: How England’s nursery lottery is failing too many children (2016)- suggests that children who attend a nursery with a highly qualified member of staff are almost 10% more likely to reach the expected level of development by the time they start school. Although the number of early years settings employing a member of staff with Early Years Teacher Status is increasing, many do not have this. The government is addressing the issue. 

In the meantime there is a lot that can be done. This involves developing existing practice across the four areas of leadership and management, working together, progress and learning and health, happiness and well- being. This is what Achievement for All is doing through the award winning Achieving Early programme.  Since 2014, the charity has worked with over 200 settings across England and Wales and supported more than 2000 early years children who were at risk of achieving poor outcomes. 

During the Achieving Early pilot involving 388 children vulnerable to underachievement, the proportion of children reaching an age-appropriate level in key areas, including communication and language, and personal, social and emotional development, rose by 50%. Out of the 33 settings inspected during the two years of the pilot, the number of outstanding settings rose from two to eight. Two of these settings were previously graded as requires improvement. The number of good settings increased from 17 to 29, while the number previously rated Inadequate dropped from five to zero. This could be the response to the improving outcomes in early years settings; by untapping potential in early years practitioners.

Sonia Blandford, CEO Achievement for All


The Fair Education Alliance's response to Theresa May's mental health announcement - 9th January 2017

The Fair Education Alliance welcomes the Prime Minister’s announcements about increased support for the mental health of young people. In particular, the Alliance is encouraged by the focus on training for school staff and on preventing mental illness. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds can be more at risk of poor mental and emotional health. If we are to succeed in closing the achievement gap between the poorest and wealthiest in society, it is essential that resources are available to help schools serving disadvantaged communities, including the development of a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing.

Fair Education Alliance: “In the global race for excellence in education, PISA scores show the UK standing still”

The Fair Education Alliance (FEA) anticipates that the 2016 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) will be a “wake-up call”, for the UK in a series of essays entitled “Building a World-Class Education System that is Fair”. The FEA is calling for the debate around this week’s PISA results to focus on closing the gap between pupils from low income families and their wealthier peers as a way of improving England’s performance. 

Sir Richard Lambert, Chair of the FEA, commented
“PISA should be a wake-up call. If we don’t act with speed to close the gap in performance, our country risks becoming an underachieving offshore island which in the next decade or two will watch much of the rest of the world go racing by. 

The success of countries like the Netherlands and Finland also make it absolutely clear that it is possible to combine high performance with high levels of equity in education. We now need new policies and systems in place to meet that ambition”

The essays also set out practical recommendations for reducing educational inequality and closing the performance gap to the highest achieving countries in the world. In particular: 
•    Claire Read from Save the Children: argues that we must invest more time and resources into supporting young people before they arrive at school, as it is proven that children supported by positive early environments go on to perform more strongly in later life
•    Catherine Knowles from Achievement for All: says there needs to be a greater focus on the ‘essentials of numeracy’ in the early years of education and across all primary schools
•    Brett Wigdortz from Teach First: argues that a world-class education system is within reach in the UK, but we must address urgently address the teacher shortage and promote the profession, especially to ease the shortage in Maths and Science teachers
•    Jess Tanner and Miranda Dobson from Family Links and The Nurturing Schools Network : say that socially and emotionally competent pupils can be a mark of success in itself and that we must to do more to recognise that wellbeing and happiness at school are also crucial to educational outcomes