Disadvantaged students can have a competitive edge, says social mobility charity

Published: 31 Jul 2018

Press statement in response to Damian Hinds first speech on social mobility

We’re really pleased that Damian has spoken so passionately about social mobility this morning and launched a number of research projects and plans to improve the chances of young people in a number of ways.

In particular, we applaud his focus on the gaps between disadvantaged young people and their more privileged peers attending university.

Our work provides fantastic evidence of the life-changing impact you can make to this age group (14-19) through improved exam results and the development of their skills. This big picture approach and a tailored, individual focus on every student so that you tackle the barriers that are holding them back is what is needed to see a marked difference in the number of young people achieving their potential.

We work with around 1,000 disadvantaged young people a year in areas of the UK where progression to university and social mobility are at their lowest. Of last year’s Year 13s, 76% went to a university – 47% of these were a leading university – compared to 23% of state school students and 65% of independently schooled students.

We begin our Scholars Programme, a comprehensive, evidence based four year programme, at Year 10. As Damian stated, young people from a disadvantaged backgrounds can be up to 19 months behind their peers by the time they take their GCSEs.

High ability young people within the ‘disadvantaged’ criteria in particular are the most significant underperformers.

Progress 8 data shows that disadvantaged young people achieve on average four grades lower in their GCSEs than the national average – purely because of their background.

These results are devastating. It impacts A-level choices and grades. The compounding effect means that each of these young people will not have competitive qualifications required for higher education and will be one of the key barriers to entry into the best universities for these young people. It then limits their access to internships or the possibility of securing the job they were capable of. These results are damaging and are costing our economy, now.

Our Scholars achieve seven grades higher across their GCSEs than they would have done. Their results in core subjects such as maths and English on average exceeds those of their more privileged peers.

This is just one part of the picture, but cannot be focussed on in isolation – it is imperative that strong academic attainment goes hand in hand with the development of soft skills.  Skills such as leadership and resilience are fundamental to the social mobility challenge because academic results alone are not enough on their own – if a young person does not have the skills to promote themselves at interview or to write a personal statement, they will not reach their full potential.

Our ‘Skills4Success’ underpin all of our programmes. In collaboration with corporate partners we have researched the essential employability skills and personal skills that these young people need to compete with their peers – such as project management, problem solving and communication skills. Throughout every intervention we have with the young people on our courses we focus on the development of critical skills. Last year, 85% of the young people on our Scholars Programme said they increased their resilience, 79% increased their self-confidence.

In addition our students run their own extra-curricular volunteer projects in their schools, such as STEM clubs and peer mentoring. 98% said they have improved their communication skills, 96% improved their organisational skills and 95% said their leadership skills had improved.

This, combined with their improved exam results, empowers our young people to make ambitious decisions about their future, ensures they are fully-equipped to do so and it gives them the competitive edge over their more affluent peers. It levels the playing field and ultimately, it will give us a stronger economy and a society that doesn’t leave people behind.

There is no single reason for the potential of students not to be realised. It may be low self-esteem, lack of role models or under-developed skills. So the only way to solve the problem is to personally address the individual’s needs. It’s what we do at Villiers Park Educational Trust and it’s what our education system needs to do so that every pupil is able to thrive and equally compete for opportunities and success – not only with their peers from their school or their local town, but with their peers from across the UK.