A report today from the UK Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission is garnering some headlines today because the study seems to show that there are “non-educational barriers to top jobs” and that “working-class applicants struggle to get access to top jobs in the UK”. But this is a case, I think, of a social study which starts with pre-conceptions, proves them and makes nonsense recommendations. They advise firms to loosen (and downgrade) their job requirements to suit a wider range of applicants even though they don’t have a problem to fill their needs. The commission forgets that education (including of the “working class”) has to suit the jobs available and it is not for the job requirements to be diluted to suit the applicants. If the objective of the commision is to improve the employment prospects of the “working class” then perhaps the education system has to make the “non-educational” factors – which apparently are important – part of the education system.
The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has published research ‘Non educational barriers to the elite profession evaluation’ showing that working-class applicants struggle to get access to top jobs in the UK.
The research is the product of extensive interviews with staff from 13 elite law, accountancy and financial services firms, who together are responsible for 45,000 of the best jobs in the country.
It finds that elite firms are systematically excluding bright working-class applicants from their workforce. Data collected for the project showed that as much as 70% of job offers in 2014 were to graduates who had been educated at a selective state or fee-paying school, compared to 4% and 7% of the population as a whole.
Rt. Hon. Alan Milburn, the Chair of the Commission, said:
This research shows that young people with working-class backgrounds are being systematically locked out of top jobs. Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry. Inevitably that ends up excluding youngsters who have the right sort of grades and abilities but whose parents do not have the right sort of bank balances.
Why can’t the comprehensive schools teach their “working class” students to be posh if that is what is required. Speaking and behaving “posh” is a matter of education not necessarily a matter of wealth. But that is not something that “political correctness” will admit. Of course Alan Milburn is a Labour MP with a vested interest in demonstrating that the “working class” are being hard done by. It is always wealth that must be shown to be the culprit. It could never possibly be the education of the “working class” which is inadequate. But what he, and the commission are actually doing, are perpetuating their preconceptions of the poor, discriminated against, working class.
The recommendations are equally silly:
Dr Louise Ashley of Royal Holloway, University of London, Research Project Lead, said:
Our research finds that recruitment and selection processes which advantage students from more privileged backgrounds remain firmly in place at most elite law and accountancy firms. As such, despite their focus on specific social mobility initiatives, the rate and pace of change is limited.
We make 3 key recommendations for firms wishing to access the widest range of talent to benefit their business and their clients in future; first, amend attraction strategies to encourage higher numbers of applications from students with a wider range of educational and socio-economic backgrounds; second, ensure that these diverse students have access to similar levels of support enjoyed by their more traditional peers, in order to navigate the selection process effectively; third, interrogate current definitions of talent, including how potential is identified and assessed, to ensure that disadvantaged students are not ruled out for reasons of background rather than aptitude and skill.
If speaking “posh” is a job requirement then perhaps the education system has to adjust. Firms will automatically adjust their requirements if they cannot get sufficient applicants who fit.
“Poshness”, however you wish to define it, is a perfectly valid job requirement. Lack of it among “working class” applications is a commentary on their education – not an excuse.