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IOE Blog


Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Social and emotional skills: how early childhood living conditions can support or undermine equality of opportunity

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 7 May 2021

Ingrid Schoon

Children need certain social and emotional skills in order to adapt well to school and later life. This has become increasingly recognised in recent years, most notably by policy-makers. They have focused growing attention on how potential ‘character’, ‘non-cognitive’, or ‘soft’ skills can be developed in children and young people.

Social and emotional competences refer to a set of attitudes and behaviours, including motivation, perseverance, self-control, social engagement and collaboration (See here for more details). There is however no consensus about a key set of core social and emotional competences, and how these are defined and operationalised. Nor is there sufficient understanding of how social and emotional competences develop over time and in context.

New research from the IOE’s Social Research Institute (SRI) published in the British Education Research Journal suggests that some children need more support than others in developing socio-emotional competences, and that they need it at a young age. The support they need (more…)

How can we help more deprived students to choose courses that will lead to higher earnings?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 3 February 2020

The IOE’s new Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO) launches its website today, along with a new blog. Here, Gill Wyness. the centre’s deputy director, shares its first post

Getting more students into higher education (HE) is an important element of governments’ strategies for increasing human capital. Consequently, much academic research has been devoted to examining policies that aim to encourage students into university, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

But less attention has been given to the types of universities students enrol in. Given the high returns for those who attend selective universities and subjects, understanding whether students from disadvantaged backgrounds enrol in less selective courses, which are likely to have lower returns, is important for equalising opportunities.

In a recent research project, colleagues Lindsey Macmillan and Stuart Campbell of UCL Institute of Education and Richard Murphy (University of Texas at Austin) and I examine this question, asking to what extent students are mismatched to their courses, and what are the drivers of mismatch.


Grade prediction system means the brightest, poorest students can miss out on top university places

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 8 December 2016

Gillian Wyness
With UK tuition fees now among the highest in the world, but benefits from having a degree remaining substantial, choosing the right university has never been more important for young people. The government has tried to make this easier by offering more and more information not just on the university experience but on the quality of the institution and even the potential wage return students could reap.
Despite all these efforts to make the decision about where to apply as informed as possible, one issue remains: students still apply to university based on their predicted rather than actual qualifications. And these predictions are not always accurate.
Using information on university applicants’ actual and predicted grades and their university attended, obtained from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), I find only 16% of applicants achieved the A-level grades that they were predicted to achieve, based on their best 3 A-levels. My report for the UCU is published today.
Whilst the majority of predicted grades were within 1-2 points (more…)

Grammar schools: can Artificial Intelligence create a fairer way to assess children?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 16 September 2016

Rose Luckin.
Theresa May’s plans for new or expanded grammar schools in England have brought a torrent of comment, debate, criticism and rhetoric since these plans were inadvertently revealed last week. Most of the discussions seem to have focused on whether or not grammar schools are the right mechanism to aid social mobility. This is an extremely important issue, but let’s put the rights and wrongs of selection and grammar schools to one side for a moment and look at the eleven-plus examination itself.
The eleven-plus is the key to the door of one of the 164 grammar schools in England, or one of the 69 grammar schools in Northern Ireland. The exam is sat by children in their last year of primary school and it varies depending upon where in the country it is taken. In fact, the situation is very complicated, with a wide range of approaches even within the same county. For example, in Yorkshire there are three Local Authorities with grammar (more…)

What does social mobility look like? It depends on your point of view

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 8 June 2012

Chris Husbands 
Social mobility is news. At the Sutton Trust/Carnegie Foundation London social mobility summit last month, leading politicians from all three parties lined up to decry Britain as a country with lower levels of social mobility than almost any other advanced society.
Michael Gove, the Conservative education secretary, has said before that domination of positions of leadership and influence by those educated at private school results in ‘stratification and segregation [that] are morally indefensible’Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem deputy prime minister, has bemoaned the failings of a society “that still says where you are born, and who you are born to, matters for the rest of your life” and Labour leader Ed Miliband declares that “the doors of opportunity are open much wider for a wealthy and privileged few than they are for the many”.
Political consensus rarely holds for long and this is no exception. Proposed solutions spin off rapidly into quite different policy prescriptions. For Gove, the key is for all schools to match the best, so as to expand the opportunities available to children and young people. For him, the key is curriculum and assessment reform so that all schools mimic the best practice in independent – and, he is careful to say – state schools. 
For the deputy prime minister, “social mobility is all about creating a truly level playing field, and a fair race”, so that, for example, universities recruit students on the basis of “objective potential… not purely on previous attainment”. For Clegg, therefore, the pupil premium, which offers schools additional resources for the education of the most disadvantaged children is key, in order to bring more children to the starting line of the “fair race”. For him, it is misleading to conflate social mobility with inequality. 
For Ed Miliband, the solution is different again: it is to “improve opportunities for everyone, including those who don’t go to university. He argues that “we must reject the snobbery that says the only route to social mobility runs through university”.
Unlevel playing fieldThese disagreements are important in policy terms, but they also demonstrate something else:  when we think about social mobility, people “see” many different things. This leads to very different assumptions about what the problem is and what the policy solution should be. Some policy approaches – and Nick Clegg uses the image explicitly – talk about “levelling the playing field”.  The argument is put by the Cabinet Office 2011 Social Mobility Strategy: “For any given level of skill and ambition, regardless of an individual’s background, everyone should have an equal chance of getting the job they want or reaching a higher income bracket.” The job of government is to try to ensure that all can participate in such a race.  
ElevatorFor others, the issue is about access to the top – the elevator  – opening access to the most prestigious universities, the most prestigious jobs and the most influential positions in society. This “elevator” model focuses on the fact that – again in the words of the Cabinet Office paper – “Only 7% of the population attend independent schools, but the privately educated account for more than half of the top level of most professions, including 70% of high court judges, 54% of top journalists and 54% of chief executive officers of FTSE 100 companies”, and considers how these positions can be opened up. This point of view emphasises opening access to “elite” universities and schools – perhaps expanding grammar schools, although the evidence for grammar schools as motors of social mobility is extra-ordinarily thin on the ground.   
Esher-like staircaseA third, quite different, approach focuses on overall social movement: moving all up by expanding opportunity – the constant upward movement of Escher’s optical illusion, referenced in the picture here. Ed Miliband believes that “social mobility must not be just about changing the odds so that kids from poorer backgrounds make it to university”, but about widening routes and increasing opportunities.    
Snakes and ladders boardFinally, and most challenging for politicians, is a fourth idea: that social mobility involves movement down the social scale – from more to less influential positions, from rich to poor. The social mobility strategy is explicit on this “relative” social  mobility but it is hugely challenging for any government: social mobility is something we all agree on when the opportunities are expanding at the top of the system – as they were in the 30 years after the second world war. Much more difficult in times of constraint.
It’s naive to assume that all can agree on an issue as complex and challenging as social mobility which has some powerful implications for the sort of society we are and want to be. But recognising that when we think about it we all ‘see’ different things might help to clarify some of the differences. Level playing fields, elevators, step ladders, snakes and ladders boards: understand the image, understand the point of view.
Picture credits: unlevel playing field, John Kelleher; elevator, Dirk Anger