In 2033, I’ll be 81, the latest member of our extended family may well see in the next century, if he gets to 83.
Yesterday, 13.12.17, we had Amada Spielman’s HMCI report, where, realistically, she identified groups which may be being less than well served by their educational opportunities. Notable groups were those children with additional educational needs, at either end of need, but particularly those whose needs don’t allow them to easily access offered curriculum.
Today 14.12.17, we have the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, talking of social mobility, in terms of opportunity.
In a previous blog, I reflected on social mobility as a feature of reduced discretionary spending. In all walks of life, opportunities cost in some form, either travel, entry or fees associated with activities. This may be compounded by uniform, kit, or other additional costs associated with the club or group that offers the opportunity. Unless the leaders are volunteers, there is a staffing cost involved. In that blog, I considered the families of two of my children, one living in Lambeth, South London, the other in Cosham, near Portsmouth. One has world class opportunity available free to her children within free short bus or tube rides, the other has travel costs, and a two hour each way trip to access the same opportunity. Local museums offer some cultural experiences, but not on the same scale as London. I also reflected on experiences in visiting a school on the tip of Cornwall, less than five miles from the sea, but whose children had not visited the coastline, largely due to travel restrictions. I had the same conversation last week on the Isle of Wight.
When I decided to become a teacher, some of my family saw this as a means of raising myself above what they had achieved, and, having been “in harness” for a very long career, I did achieve a level of comfort that proved that. However, becoming a teacher was a question of “happenstance”; playing with a mature cricket colleague who had just completed his teacher training at St Luke’s College. He encouraged me to go and have a chat to find out how to do the same. It was the end of June, I walked into the virtually empty college and met a secretary, who phoned through to the science department, where the head of science happened to be. While Tony Staden sat with his sandalled feet on his desk, we chatted about many different things. An hour later, I was back in the office filling in entry forms, to start in the September. The rest, as they say, is another story; if you’re interested, I’ve written it here.
Having someone capable of spotting a talent or interest, with the ability to nurture or signpost and, above all, support, can be the difference between “having a go” and “making a go of things”. This could be a parent, coach or a class teacher; each has a part to play in a child’s holistic development.
Talent may not be sufficient. It may need to be mentored, guided and encouraged. It may need elements of coaching, to focus and refine raw talent to be able to see the necessary progress that encourages self-belief and the willingness to persevere. To support the development of a child to their highest possible level of achievement can involve family sacrifice, of money or time, which can then impact on wider family life.
While some children will have opportunities outside school that enable them to progress in a chosen field, with coaches capable of spotting and coaching appropriately, a potentially larger number will be reliant on opportunities that are offered through their school. Beyond the need to retain a broad curriculum to enhance what has been described as “cultural capital”, the broader curriculum also offers opportunities for experiences that may only be available in that area. If this breadth is not available, then talents may not be spotted by default. If a child cannot experience art, drama or music, for example, how can their natural abilities be seen?
Social mobility is a worthy concept, but it has the potential to become just another mantra; anyone recall “Every Child Matters”, jettisoned by a certain Michael Gove? Social mobility and every child mattering, in my mind, go hand in hand. Social mobility and EBAC may not allow those with aptitudes outside the narrower remit to show their potential. Social mobility might just be supported by personalised opportunities.
So, in social mobility terms, who you know, or who you happen to bump into, might just be the determinant of a brighter or less bright future.
Back to “happenstance”; being in the right place at the right time, with the right people.
Every parent wants the best for their children and, in my case, my grandchildren. The world has changed significantly since I started work, in 1974.
My first house, bought on starting teaching, was a three bed mid-terrace on the Gosport Road, based on four times a teacher income and a small deposit, a wedding present. That same house, today, would probably require ten times a starter income and a significant deposit. This is not the stuff of happenstance. There’s an inevitable impact on an ability to dream, to plan and to see longer term. Life decisions can, effectively, be based on dreams or reflective plans. Some are able to plan their life journeys with some certainty, others may well be more tentative.
The chances are that this may be determined by the “safety nets” that exist, financial or emotional, where “having a go with the possibility of not achieving” doesn’t mean losing everything.
Some talk of entrepreneurialism.
In many ways, for many young people, life has become stuck in this model. To those that have, the opportunity to gamble or take a chance on succeeding in a field is easier than for those who have not. However, there may well be examples of entrepreneurs who started with nothing, and had a go, simply because they had nothing to lose.
Most will get onto the job treadmill, effectively operating as a great uncle did, as journeymen and women, paid by the day; or, in today’s climate “debt slaves”.
The idea of nothing ventured, nothing gained can be inspiring to some, self-defeating to others.
I am beginning to find the political mantras of social mobility to be nothing more than platitudes.
If politicians wanted to really offer hope to future generations, they could revive Sure Start opportunities, encourage community sport and cultural opportunities outside schools, address the issues of specific schools with identifiable support needs.
Of course, this requires money, from different pots. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for some proper strategic thinking that spans rather more than the new year or two to get re-elected. A child starting pre-school now, will leave school in 16 years’ time, 2033, with a working lifetime beyond. Let’s give them all the best possible start and a realistic chance to dream of positive futures.