Social Mobility, Chance or Choice?

A sequel to Born to Fail? Social Mobility a Working Class View (2017), Social Mobility, Chance or Choice? revisits mutuality and asks do we dare to start a new conversation by considering the issues, solutions and impact to the education and social issues that push against the moral questions underpinning social mobility.

  • Blandford, John Catt
  • Education (2019)

Citing the views from interviews with education and business leaders, Social Mobility: Chance or Choice? reflects on the changing skillsets, behaviours and capacities of workers required by employers, business and industry and the inescapable conclusion that the skillsets and capacities will continue to change in ways that are almost impossible for us to predict.

In these contexts, we must question whether the traditional recognised journey of educational achievement - maximising university entrance (and the related assessment) - is still relevant or useful for all children and young people.

Summary of findings

This publication provides an opportunity to introduce mutuality in the context of moral behaviours that inform the why, what and how of character and values education across society.

If we are in a place and at a time when there has to be a new way of thinking, there has to be both a recognition of the great things that have come out of initiatives (in health, social care, and education) and, indeed, recognise what hasn't worked and what isn't working. This means rather than repeating mistakes, or exacerbating them, having a will to change. That will have to come from both sides and is about mutual gain.

Mutual gain happens when people, on all sides of the political spectrum, and across all classes and cultures, own the change and have a role to play.

Perhaps it's easiest to start by saying what mutuality isn't. It isn't pouring money into certain areas of the country without asking the people who live there how they'd like to see money spent - without properly exploring what they need, rather than what others decide they need. It isn't about reshaping those areas in the image of the people giving the money. Nor is it about telling everyone they should get better exam results and aim for university. Actually, it includes resisting the urge to make those numbers a test of our social mobility.

Instead, mutuality is about ensuring everyone has the chance to read, write and engage in maths so they have choices about what they learn, and what they do with that learning. That might be to learn more by going to university, or it might be to learn a trade or to travel the world. Mutuality is about schools and a curriculum that is relevant to their lives and which engages with them, so they can engage with larger society - it isn't a "social distributor of life chances", as the 1973 Born to Fail? study claims.

Mutuality isn't about rescuing people. It's about valuing them and allowing them to develop in their own way, where they are now, or where they want to be. Mutuality is, I believe, social justice and the key to social mobility. Mutuality is also central to understanding the context and behaviours needed for impactful character and values education.

Implications for practice

Reflect as a staff group on the following:

  • Do all children and their families have equal access to education opportunities?
  • Do all leaders, teachers, parents and carers understand mutuality?
  • Are all parents and carers valued as partners in their child's education?


  • State of the Nation Social Mobility Commission, APPG on Social Mobility, Sutton Trust, May 2019
  • Closing the Gap? Trends in Educational Attainment and Disadvantage, J Andrews, D Robinson, J Hutchinson, Education Policy Institute, 2017
  • Born to Fail? Social Mobility: A Working Class View, S Blandford, John Catt, 2017
  • Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential, Department for Education, 2017
  • Time For Change: An Assessment of Government Policies on Social Mobility 1997-2017, Social Mobility Commission, 2017

By Professor Sonia Blandford, chief executive of Achievement for All and visiting professor of education at UCL Institute of Education.

Achievement for All delivers programmes to improve outcomes for children and young people vulnerable to underachievement in early-years, school and post-16 settings across England and Wales.


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