Word of the day: social mobility

Social mobility is the idea that over their lifetimes or across generations, people from lower-class backgrounds can move to a higher social class. An example of this would be my father, who grew up in relative poverty in Liverpool before the war. He was the son of a factory worker, but he then won a place at a selective school and was sponsored to go to university; he went on to become a teacher and then a lecturer at university, which, in turn, led to his children going to university and doing professional jobs. His family became very clearly middle class.

Social mobility has been in the news in the UK recently because apparently, it has slowed down over recent years and the new government’s solution to this seems to introduce more grammar schools. These are schools which are free, but are selective, so children have to pass an entrance exam (at the age of 11) to get into them. The government believes that in the past, people were better able to progress up the social ladder because bright poor people like my father were able to get into a ‘quality’ school by passing a test. What we forget, of course, is that the vast majority of people who didn’t pass the test ended up in low-quality schools.

The idea that selection improves social mobility certainly seems like a mixed message  and as a recent BBC article makes clear, people often use the same arguments on both sides of the debate! The question, then, should maybe be what other factors may prevent social mobility or enable it to happen – or even if people want it to happen on a large scale, given that according to this survey so many people still regard themselves as working class!

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  • Do people worry about social class in your country?
  • Is there much social mobility where you live? Why? / Why not?
  • Can you think of anyone or a family who is an example of moving up the social ladder? Any examples of them moving down?!
  • What do you think enables or prevents social mobility?
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