The rhetoric of social mobility continues… yet disadvantaged pupils continue to fall behind

skills gap

By Heather Cameron

Despite continued investment to improve social mobility, it has been estimated that at the current rate of progress it will take 50 years to close the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils in England.

Recent analysis of government data shows the gap between the most disadvantaged pupils and their non-disadvantaged peers has actually worsened over the past decade.

The research, conducted by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), found that while there has been some progress in closing the gap for disadvantaged pupils (those eligible for the Pupil Premium), this has been slow and inconsistent. The gap has also been shown to vary between areas.

And, perhaps most worryingly, for pupils described as ‘persistently disadvantaged’ (i.e. those that have been eligible for free school meals for 80% or longer of their school lives), the gap has widened – leaving these pupils over a year behind their non-disadvantaged peers at the end of primary school and more than two years behind at the end of secondary school.

Widening gap

The attainment gap is evident in the early years, continuing to grow throughout school.

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were found to be 19.2 months on average behind their peers at the end of Key Stage 4. While this represents a narrowing of the gap by 2.7 months since 2007, this is not consistent across the board. And the gap for ‘persistently disadvantaged’ pupils increased by 2.4 months over the same period.

The EPI analysis indicates that the disadvantage gap grows by five months between Key Stage 1 and 2, and by 10 months between Key Stage 2 and 4.

Persistently disadvantaged pupils are shown to fall even further behind at all phases. For them, the gap grows from six months at the end of Key Stage 1, to 12 months by the end of Key Stage 2 and 24 months by the end of Key Stage 4.

It is argued that the differential rates of progress pupils make need to be tackled to stop the gap from growing throughout the stages.

Indeed, the issue can’t be solved with a one size fits all approach, particularly as there is significant variation across the country.

Variation

The disadvantage gap between local authorities ranges from no gap to seven months in the early years, five to 13 months at the end of primary school and one month to over two years at the end of secondary.

The gap is generally smaller in London, the South and the East at around 16-18 months at the end of secondary. In comparison, the East Midlands and the Humber, the North and the South West experience a much larger gap of 22 months. The largest attainment gap was found on the Isle of Wight, where disadvantaged pupils were 29 months behind their peers on leaving secondary school.

The gap was also found to become worse in rural areas. In Cumbria and Northumberland, for example, the gap widens from nine months at the end of Key Stage 2 to over 25 months by the end of secondary.

But there is also evidence of particularly good performance and notable improvements made in recent years. In Newham, disadvantaged five year-olds perform as well as non-disadvantaged five year-olds nationally, on average. And in Richmond-upon-Thames and Windsor and Maidenhead, the gap for disadvantaged secondary school pupils has closed by over six months since 2012.

This would suggest that there is certainly potential for dramatic improvements in reducing the gap in other areas.

Government action

As an historic problem, successive governments have taken action to address it via investment and targeted interventions. The current government is also working to address the issue, including through Opportunity Areas.

The EPI suggests that while this may be a good start, there are other areas across the country that are not covered by these where “social mobility is stagnating or even worsening”. And it also highlights that the system continues to fail to meet the needs of certain vulnerable groups, including those with special educational needs and disabilities, those from Gypsy Roma or Traveller communities, and Black Caribbean children.

In addition, recent commentary from the Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, raised concerns over schools focusing on exam results at the expense of the curriculum, leading to many disadvantaged children being shut out from acquiring a rich and full knowledge:

“It is a risk to social mobility if pupils miss out on opportunities to study subjects and gain knowledge that could be valuable in subsequent stages of education or in later life.”

It has been suggested that government pressure to improve performance has led to a focus on exam and test results. But Spielman argues that this is a mistake on the part of school leaders as it should “not be taken as read that higher scores for the school always means a better deal for pupils”.

Final thoughts

Clearly, while it shouldn’t be forgotten that progress has been made, a lot more needs to be done if the disadvantage gap is to close any time soon.

As the EPI concluded: “If we carry on at this pace, we will lose at least a further three generations before equality of outcomes is realised through our education system.”


If you enjoyed reading this post, you may also like our previous blogs on education-related topics.

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How to tackle unconscious bias: Step 1 – read this!

What is unconscious bias?

Although levels of explicit prejudice are falling, discrimination continues to be a problem for many sections of society.  One reason for this may be ‘unconscious bias’.

Unconscious bias is “a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.”

Everyone has some degree of unconscious bias.  Unconscious thoughts are often based on stereotypes and prejudices that we do not realise that we have.

From a survival point of view, these brain ‘shortcuts’ are a positive and necessary function – they help us to make snap decisions in dangerous situations, for example.  However, in everyday life, they can negatively effect rational decision-making.

Types of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias has different forms.  One common form is Affinity bias – the subconscious preference for people with similar characteristics to ourselves (sex, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, educational background etc.).  In 2015, the CIPD reported that recruiters were often affected by affinity bias, resulting in the tendency to hire ‘mini-mes’.

The Halo effect involves the tendency for an impression created in one area to influence opinion in another area.  For example, a disproportionate number of corporate CEOs are over six foot tall, suggesting that there is a perception that taller people make better leaders, or are more successful. Similar patterns have been observed in the military and even for Presidents of the United States.

The Horns effect is the opposite of the ‘Halo effect’ – where one characteristic clouds our opinions of other attributes.  For example, the perception that women are ‘less capable’ in certain occupations.  A review found that female psychologists and women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) departments were just as likely to discriminate against female candidates as their male counterparts.

The same qualities can also be perceived very differently in different people – for example, assertiveness in a man may be perceived more positively (‘strong leader’) than in a woman (‘bossy’).

Impact of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias not only influences our body language and the way we interact with people, it can also negatively influence a number of important decisions in the workplace, including:

  • Recruitment
  • Promotion
  • Staff appraisals
  • Workload allocations

As well as being unfair, decisions based on unconscious biases are unlikely to be optimal and can result in missed opportunities.  Where unconscious bias also effects a protected characteristic, it can also be discriminatory.

How to mitigate unconscious bias

So, now you know what unconscious bias is, what can you do about it?

The good news is that it is possible to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias. The first step is to become more aware of the potential of unconscious bias to influence your own decision-making. Large organisations such as Google and the NHS are already providing unconscious bias training to their staff.

You can take this awareness further by taking an Implicit Association Test, such as that provided by Harvard University.  This will help to identify and understand your own personal biases.

Other ways to help reduce the influence of unconscious bias include:

  • Taking time to make decisions
  • Ensuring decisions are justified by evidence and the reasons for decisions are recorded
  • Working with a wider range of people and get to know them as individuals, such as different teams or colleagues based in a different location
  • Focusing on positive behaviours and not negative stereotypes

At the corporate level, ways that organisations can help to tackle unconscious bias include:

  • Implement policies and procedures which limit the influence of individual characteristics and preferences, including objective indicators, assessment and evaluation criteria and the use of structured interviews
  • Ensure that selection panels are diverse, containing both male and female selectors and a range other characteristics where possible (ethnicity, age, background etc.)
  • Promote counter-stereotypical images of underrepresented groups
  • Provide unconscious bias training workshops

Tackling unconscious bias is not just a moral obligation; it is essential if organisations are to be truly inclusive.  By making best use of the available talent, it can also help to make organisations be more efficient and competitive.


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The disability employment gap – what needs to be done to change employer attitudes to disability?

Disabled parking (1).jpg

By Heather Cameron

‘Employment rates amongst disabled people reveal one of the most significant inequalities in the UK today’ (The work, health and disability Green Paper, 2016)

The government’s recent green paper highlights the extent of the disability employment gap in the UK, showing that less than half (48%) of disabled people are employed, compared to 80% of the non-disabled population.

Despite an increase in the number of disabled people in work, this employment gap between the disabled and non-disabled population has remained largely static at around 30 percentage points for the past decade. There are nearly four million disabled people in work, but research has shown that more disabled people have fallen out of work than moved into work, while the rest of the population has experienced movement in the opposite direction.

The government’s manifesto ambition is to halve the disability employment gap by 2020 – equivalent to 1.12 million more disabled people in work – but at the current rate of progress, it has been suggested that it would take more than 200 years for the employment gap to halve.

At a time when the UK’s employment rate is at its highest level since records began, with almost 75% of the working population in work, this is a disheartening statistic.

Barriers

This suggests that disabled people continue to face significant barriers to work. Some that are regularly cited, include:

  • physical barriers such as access to transport and accessibility within places of work;
  • a skills and qualifications gap between the disabled and non-disabled population, with disabled people only about half as likely to go to university as non-disabled people, and less likely to take up an apprenticeship;
  • insufficient support for disabled people;
  • insufficient support for employers; and
  • employer attitudes.

Employer attitudes have been cited as an ongoing issue which appears to stem from a lack of awareness and understanding.

A recent survey of recruiters found that 95% said companies are ‘fearful’ or ‘unsure’ about hiring disabled people. And analysis from disability charity Scope, suggests that employer attitudes haven’t improved over the last four years.

A new report from the Work and Pensions Committee found that many employers are not sure of their Equality Act duties, or are unwilling to make adjustments for disabled employees. It also suggested that there may be ‘discriminatory or unhelpful attitudes’ about the capabilities of disabled people.

Employers’ views

Indeed, employers themselves have highlighted the challenges of employing disabled people. Recent research from Disability Rights UK, which surveyed businesses from across the UK, reveals that one in 10 businesses believe they are unable to employ disabled people.

It also found that the biggest challenge to employing disabled people is that applicants aren’t always willing to be open about their disability, with around half of respondents (47%) saying that it would help if job applicants were more willing to be open about their health condition. Other challenges highlighted include:

  • fellow staff or line managers not having sufficient training to support disabled colleagues, and the lack of accessibility of some businesses for people with certain types of impairments;
  • concern that disabled people are more likely to take time off work;
  • difficulties in discussing the management of disabilities;
  • the cost of modifying equipment, making it expensive to employ disabled people; and
  • concerns that disabled people will claim discrimination if the job does not work out.

Such concerns are often misplaced, however. The survey indicates that businesses feel constrained by a lack of information about the adaptions they may need to make, and the support available to them. It seems that not enough people are aware of Access to Work, the government scheme that provides grants for adjustments to support people with disabilities or health conditions in employment.

And not all attitudes were negative. The vast majority (84%) of respondents said that disabled people make a valuable contribution to the workplace; and more than four-fifths (82%) considered disabled people as productive as non-disabled staff.

Final thoughts

The research clearly demonstrates that more needs to be done to tackle the disability employment gap. The Work and Pensions Committee report concludes that the government will stand little chance of halving the gap unless employers are fully committed to taking on and retaining more disabled people.

In particular, a transformation in attitudes to disability employment and support for disabled people will be required.

As the government’s green paper argues, “real and lasting change will only come about if we can also address negative cultural and social attitudes about disabled people and people with long-term health conditions.”


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Gender pay gap – will it ever close?

égalité des sexes

By Heather Cameron

Last Thursday was labelled ‘Equal Pay Day’ – the last day of the year women effectively stop earning relative to men – just one day later than the previous year.

According to the Fawcett Society, this means women are in effect ‘working for free’ until the end of the year as a result of the gender pay gap.

Given that it is 46 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced ‘to prevent discrimination, as regards terms and conditions of employment, between men and women’, it is dispiriting that considerable inequalities remain between men and women’s pay.

How much of a gap?

The Fawcett Society has calculated the current gender pay gap for full-time workers at 13.9%.

Recent research by Deloitte suggests that the gender pay gap will not close until 2069 unless action is taken to tackle it now. It shows that the hourly pay gap between men and women is closing at a rate of just 2.5 pence per annum, and in some cases is even widening.

The study also notes that men receive considerably higher average pay even in female-dominated occupations, such as teaching and caring.

And new research from New Policy Institute (NPI) found that, although things have been improving with higher employment rates and increases in earnings, the formal employment rate for women is still lower and female weekly earnings are still less than 70% of male weekly earnings.

The research also highlighted that significant barriers continue to prevent women entering the labour market, particularly when it comes to high-paid, secure, quality jobs.

The overall global situation would appear even worse as the most recent Global gender gap report from the World Economic Forum indicates that the gap could take 170 years to close.

In terms of the economic impact, the gender pay gap has been highlighted as a particular issue in relation to the UK’s low productivity problem.

It has been suggested that equalising women’s productivity could add almost £600 billion to the economy, and that 10% could be added to the size of the economy by 2030 if the millions of women who wanted to work could find suitable jobs.

Causes

The gender pay gap has been attributed to four main causes by the Fawcett Society:

  • Discrimination – often women are still paid less than men for the same job and unfair treatment remains common, especially around maternity
  • Unequal caring responsibilities – women continue to play a greater role in caring for family
  • A divided labour market – women are more likely to be in low-paid and low-skilled jobs
  • Men in the most senior roles – men continue to make up the majority of those in the highest paid and most senior roles

Deloitte’s research similarly highlights that women are disproportionately more likely to enter low paid industries or sectors.

However, it emphasises that one contributory factor to the gender pay gap occurs before labour market entry, when boys and girls decide what to study at school and in further education. Three times more boys than girls take computing and 50% more boys than girls study design and technology.

This is significant because the gap in starting salaries between men and women who have studied Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, and who go on to take jobs in these sectors, was found to be far smaller.

Way forward

Deloitte’s research therefore suggests that increasing the participation of females in STEM subjects and careers could help reduce the gender pay gap.

Nevertheless, it also notes that as there are several causes, no single measure will be enough to eradicate it.

The government’s policy to introduce mandatory gender pay gap reporting for all large companies employing more than 250 employees has been welcomed as a step forward. But there are concerns this is not enough. The NPI research suggests that it could go further, with extension of the duty to companies employing 50 people.

In addition, encouraging take-up of the voluntary living wage and boosting pay in sectors that have been traditionally low paid and have predominantly employed women are suggested as ways to help speed up the reduction of the gender pay gap.

The NPI report calls for ‘a multi-dimensional policy response, sitting underneath a clear gender focused employment strategy’ to reduce gender inequalities and the subsequent pay gap.


If you enjoyed reading this, why not take a look at some of our other posts on equalities issues

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Hitting the glass floor: the impact of social background on earnings

 

By James Carson

How much does family background matter when it comes to your job prospects later in life? That’s the focus of a report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission which examined the relationship between social background, childhood academic ability and adult success in the labour market.

The study looked at the lives of 17,000 people born in Britain in the same week in 1970 to examine the impact of social background on earnings. It was specifically looking for evidence that initially low attaining children from affluent backgrounds were more likely to succeed in the labour market than their more gifted peers from less advantaged families.

Demography and destiny

The study found that :

  • low attaining children from better-off families have a greater chance of being highly successful in the labour market;
  • high attaining children from less advantaged family backgrounds are less likely to be in a high earning job as an adult.

The report  suggests that more advantaged, better-educated parents ‘hoard the best opportunities’ for their less academically inclined children to help them overtake more gifted but poorer peers.

Examples of how they do this may include:

  • investing time and resources in education to help children showing early signs of low attainment to recover and achieve good qualifications;
  • providing better careers advice and guidance;
  • placing a high value on ‘soft skills’, such as self-confidence, decisiveness, leadership and resilience, which employers ultimately value;
  • prioritising school choice;
  • helping their children into internships and employment through informal social networks.

Breaking the glass floor

Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, believes the findings highlight a social scandal:

“It has long been recognised that there is a glass ceiling in British society that prevents children with potential progressing to the top. This research reveals there is a glass floor that inhibits social mobility as much as the glass ceiling.”

Among the suggestions the report makes to remove barriers that block downward mobility, are:

  • reducing inequalities in parental education through adult skills programmes;
  • ensuring children from less advantaged backgrounds have access to the support and opportunities available to their peers, including good careers information and guidance;
  • improving school quality in disadvantaged areas, improving access to high-quality schools and universities and removing financial barriers to higher education;
  • taking action to reduce ‘opportunity hoarding’: including tackling unpaid internships, and encouraging employers to remove barriers in the recruitment process that inadvertently prevent those with high potential from disadvantaged backgrounds being successful.

Levelling the playing field for children from less advantaged families won’t happen overnight. But the report underlines the importance of making an immediate start to ensure adults of the future achieve success because of merit and effort rather than parental wealth and status:

“A society in which the success or failure of children with equal ability rests on the social and economic status of their parents is not a fair one.”


Further reading

We’ve blogged recently on related issues – widening participation to higher education and how inequal access to work experience opportunities is limiting social mobility.

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Sharing the caring – tackling the cultural and financial barriers to Shared Parental Leave

Baby hand in father's palmBy Donna Gardiner

New Shared Parental Leave legislation came into force in England, Scotland and Wales on the 1st December 2014.

The legislation provides much greater flexibility in regards to how parents care for their child over the first year of his or her life. Specifically, a new mother can opt to curtail her maternity leave (subject to a minimum of two weeks), and have the child’s father or her partner take any of the remaining weeks as Shared Parental Leave.

Anticipated uptake and impact

The aim of the legislation is to encourage more men to share childcare, drive greater gender equality in the workplace, and eliminate discrimination around maternity leave. The government estimates that around 285,000 couples will be eligible to share leave from April 2015, and that take up will be around 8%.  However, it is not clear whether significant numbers of fathers will take up Shared Parental Leave in practice.

On one hand, there does appear to be evidence that fathers will welcome the new proposals. Research conducted by Working Families found that many fathers wanted to increase the amount of time they spent at home with their children. Indeed, many fathers, particularly those in the 26-35 age group, felt resentful towards their employers because of their poor work-life balance.

These findings are echoed by the IPPR, which found that one in five fathers wanted to change their working patterns, and another one in five wanted to spend more time with their baby, but couldn’t because of financial or workplace reasons. Another report found that over half (57%) of fathers working full time wanted to reduce their hours to spend more time with their children.

Cultural and financial barriers

However, despite the apparent desire among fathers to spend more time with their children, considerable barriers remain. Continue reading