Interventions needed to promote mobility into working life

Investment in policies which target non-cognitive skills specifically should be considered for older individuals.

While the first few years of life are important in terms of later life outcomes, they are not totally decisive. Interventions aimed at promoting mobility throughout the rest of childhood, adolescence and into working life have potential benefits too.

Evidence suggests that educational performance, higher education and post-compulsory education labour attachment are all crucial to social mobility. Specific policies likely to play an important role in increasing mobility include:

  • the Academy School programme which has been shown to significantly improve the educational performance of schools that contain high proportions of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and are situated in poor communities
  • the Sure Start programme, which provides high-quality early-years education that was previously only accessible by children from more advantaged backgrounds
  • job guarantee, which provides a guaranteed job or training scheme for young people who have been out of work or education for a set period of time.

In addition, apprenticeships used to offer skills acquisition and five years of structured, disciplined relationships with adults. For many young people who have not experienced this at home, the apprenticeship system offered a chance of psychological growth and development so policy moves towards increasing the numbers of apprenticeships may have additional beneficial consequences for health and wellbeing.

A focus on policies to improve the non-cognitive attributes of poor children may also improve mobility2. There is emerging evidence that later inventions may be more effective if they are targeted at skills ranging from, for example, time management to teamwork and leadership skills, and from self-awareness to self-control. There is clear evidence that such skills are highly valued by employers.

Interventions that change students’ decisions at key points (eg, the decision about whether to stay in full-time education beyond age 16), rather than their skills directly, could have a positive impact on education outcomes and hence social mobility. These will be most productive where they also increase subsequent educational attainment.

The fact that early policy interventions have the potential to be more productive than later investments does not preclude the need for later investment, nor does it suggest that well designed late interventions cannot be effective. In fact, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, early investments are most productive if they are followed up with later investments3.

The research evidence confirms that cognitive skills – including basic skills such as literacy and numeracy – are highly valued in the labour market; indeed basic skills have higher economic returns in the UK than in many other countries. However, it is difficult at present to pinpoint effective interventions in adulthood that improve cognitive skills.

Apprenticeships fail to attract employers