Policy updates

Seven connections to help us create change

22 July 2021

Learn about Action Tutoring’s conversations with local MPs this summer.

We know that what happens on programmes is important. But in an average session, do the pupils and their tutors feel how significant their actions truly are?

Extra marks are gained, concepts are grasped for the first time, new future chances open up slightly more each time a pupil turns up and tries. But beyond individual growth, what happens matters on a greater scale. Everyone involved in our programmes is part of a nationwide movement, where people show up in the belief that a great education can make a more equal society.

Sometimes an opportunity arrives to show pupils and tutors that their efforts are being noticed. At 12pm on Friday 2nd July our Programme Coordinator, Sam, was about to set up for the usual afternoon session at Heathfield Primary School in Nottingham. Things felt a little different, though; two journalists and a camera person were expected at the school reception. The Member of Parliament for Nottingham North, Alex Norris, and our Interim CEO, Jen, would soon be arriving.

Not long after our first programme launched in Nottingham in 2019, Alex agreed to visit an Action Tutoring partner school to see the work being done. When the pandemic closed school doors, the visit couldn’t go ahead. Alex still helped us to get the word out to others at a crucial time via his newsletter.

It was an exciting moment, then, to finally welcome Alex to a session at Heathfield Primary School in July this year. Sam told us about the atmosphere on the day. “The pupils buzzed with a mixture of excitement and nervousness at the opportunity. Their heads were down and focused despite copious distractions. Some were even more studious than usual in a bid to impress their local representative!”

This was a chance for everyone to celebrate the admirable effort pupils had made since November. Sam could see how motivated they were to show off their work and quiz the MP. “The challenging questions they posed to Alex were certainly testament of this, as well as their working-strewn whiteboards which they returned to me at the end of the session.”

Less than a week later, a similar moment was about to happen at Ark Victoria Primary Academy in Birmingham. The committed MP for Yardley, Jess Phillips, had already witnessed local tutors working with pupils at another partner school back in 2018. But this time, circumstances were quite different. At 8am on Thursday 8th July, just before Jess arrived, tutors were logging in from Birmingham, Cambridgeshire, Exeter and beyond, ready to lead a productive and joyful final session with the Year 6s at Ark Victoria.

Justina has been tutoring at the school since last November and helped her pupils formulate questions to ask Jess Phillips during the visit. “It has been an incredibly rewarding experience to volunteer and support the learning of year six pupils remotely, at a primary school local to me in Birmingham.

“Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic over the last year, my pupils have shown enthusiasm, been willing to learn and have continued to make progress. I’m really looking forward to next year.”

This was the last session for Year 6 at Ark Vitoria after a big year. Another exceptional tutor, Elaine, has been on this journey with the pupils whilst living elsewhere in the country. “As the school year draws to a close, I am really reflecting on how lucky I have been to be able to work with the pupils at Ark Victoria Primary. They have been so cheerful and worked so hard – a great reminder to try our best when sometimes things seem too difficult. I work with Action Tutoring because I want to help young people achieve their best and am always amazed by how receptive the pupils are to the tuition – they always make me want to do more.”

Action Tutoring is hugely grateful to Alex Norris and Jess Phillips for their time and support for these pupils. Their active interest in our work locally has provided a special end to a year of hard work by all involved in our programmes. It has also already helped Action Tutoring forge new connections in the wider community.

Action Tutoring reaches out to local leaders each year, to highlight the benefits of our work and seek support in raising awareness of what we do. This summer, Action Tutoring has met with seven MPs nation-wide to share the progress its pupils are making in their constituency, despite the additional barriers these pupils face. This seven includes two members of the House of Commons Education Select Committee. Programmes succeed because of the hard work of people in the community – whether that’s the young people themselves, volunteer tutors or the essential school team. These conversations have helped us celebrate and showcase these efforts. Going forward, we hope that deepening these connections will help us to sustain and grow the impact of our work for the unique and vibrant children and young people on our programmes.

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George Floyd’s death, one year on

25 May 2021

On the first anniversary of the death of George Floyd, Action Tutoring HR and Safeguarding Manager, Jasmin Bemmelen, reflects on the steps the organisation has since taken to improve diversity and inclusion across the charity.

Equality, inclusion, diversity – words that have been buzzing across the world since the death of George Floyd, one year ago. As a result of this event, a problem that has existed for years resurfaced in many people’s minds and the public mood reached a breaking point. His death woke many of us up to the fact that inequality and exclusion are still a reality and that now is time to make the change happen. 

These topics are a priority for me as the HR and Safeguarding Manager and the lead for diversity and inclusion at Action Tutoring. Questions such as: ‘How can we change processes and mindsets within a short period of time?’; ‘How can we become a more inclusive employer?’; ‘How can we support our staff on the journey of fixing implicit bias?; ‘How can we break the status quo and dare to have brave conversations about topics that we believe are ‘taboos’ or ‘not appropriate’ to have?, are constantly on my mind. 

Working with a wide range of stakeholders (pupils, teachers, tutors, parents and guardians, funders and staff), we knew we had to start the journey of implementing new diversity and inclusion policies, in order to generate the change we want to see across the charity. As part of this, I created a working group that meets monthly, to propose and work on positive actions for the wider team. Every day, we are discovering more elements of our work that we can improve. We are constantly adjusting to become as inclusive and diverse as we possibly can and I believe that this will continue to improve over time. 

We need to break down the concepts of inclusion and diversity and convert them into tangible actions, turning them from abstract ideas to concrete steps, so that everyone can get on board. 

As a result, we have been implementing ‘everyday actions’ to encourage diversity and inclusion at Action Tutoring, such as: 

  • ‘Broaden your horizon’ Club – providing a safe space for staff to share their thoughts and ideas, whilst learning more about topics they might not have visited or thought about before.Team members come forward with topics they would like to discuss and resources are shared at the club meetings.
  • Adopting the HALO code – we have adopted the very first code that protects Black employees who come to work with natural hair and hairstyles associated with their racial, ethnic, and cultural identities.
  • Lunchtime catch-ups and socials to celebrate and create awareness of important dates – (e.g. International Women’s Day; International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia; Eid and Ramadan).
  • Inclusive email signatures – our signatures now have the option to include gender pronouns, recognising the need for pronouns in today’s culture, so that applicants and employees feel comfortable to do the same so that everyone can be addressed correctly.
  • Long emails and newsletters now recorded for audio format – for those who prefer to digest information in an auditory way.

Through this process, I soon realised that my own expertise is limited and that if we want to challenge the status quo, external support for our recruitment processes would be needed. Receiving a equality, diversity and inclusion grant and with it the consultancy from the TPP, a recruitment expert consultancy, means we come one step closer to a more diverse team and a more inclusive working environment. We can start becoming the change we want to see in our society, which can ultimately increase our positive impact on the pupils, tutors and schools that we work with.

This anniversary has helped me to reflect on the positive actions we have taken so far, as well as how much more we need to be doing. Going forward, increasing diversity and inclusion across Action Tutoring is a journey that we are committed to continuing on.

To keep updated with the policies we continue to implement at Action Tutoring, please  read our blog and subscribe to our newsletter.

Open up the doors

20 August 2020

This GCSE results day, CEO Susannah Hardyman explores how Ofqual’s exam grading system reproduced the long-standing disadvantage that Action Tutoring exists to tackle, and looks at the consequences of the government’s grading U-turn for this and next year’s school leavers. 

Unlike the A Level ‘fiasco’, as it is being widely termed in the media, this GCSE results day we know what’s coming – the government’s U-turn on Monday awarded centre assessment grades (CAGs) to pupils for both A Levels and GCSEs following outcries of injustice at the A Level grading system used.

Initially, instead of using CAGs, the government planned to use an algorithm developed by Ofqual for this year’s results. While overall this produced A Level results that looked broadly in line with last year’s, it didn’t take long to reveal that some big injustices lay under the surface. 40% of grades had been downgraded from the original CAGs submitted by schools and colleges, infuriating pupils and teachers, and when studied more closely it emerged that:

 

Why did this happen? The algorithm favoured smaller class sizes, where there were fewer pupils for teachers to rank, and also subjects with fewer entries like Classics. Both factors favoured the private school set-up and disadvantaged significantly larger colleges.

 

Further outcry ensued when it transpired there was no clear plan for an appeals process, with a lack of clarity on A Level results day on whether appeals would have to be paid for by schools and pupils (which would put those who are better-off financially at an advantage). Ofqual initially published appeals guidance on its website on Saturday, only to rapidly take it down again a few hours later.

 

This blog from our friends at the The Access Project – a charity that works to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get into top universities – described the challenges faced by pupils that had not been given the grades they’d hoped for as they battled through the clearing process. These students suddenly found themselves in the midst of disappointment, having to advocate for themselves and argue their case to admissions tutors, a skill that many would not be equipped with if they didn’t have strong support from teachers and families.

 

The U-turn on Monday to award CAGs at GCSE and A Level has resolved some problems. I believe that given the circumstances and concerns that had emerged, it was the right thing to do. However, there is no doubt that other issues have been created, as highlighted brilliantly in this piece by Maria Neophytou, Interim CEO at Impetus, one of Action Tutoring’s largest funders. Evidence shows that disadvantaged pupils are more likely to have grades under-predicted by their teachers, so CAGs still can’t guarantee a fair result – a concern flagged very early in this process and a key one for Action Tutoring. Universities now face a huge challenge as more pupils than ever receive the grades they need to secure places, creating a huge pressure on admissions. Deferring may be the answer for some, but it will not be straightforward filling their year out in the middle of a recession. This also creates more pressure on places next year.

 

Inequality in education in the UK is not a new problem. That is exactly why Action Tutoring has existed since 2012, to tackle the attainment gap, with successful results. Lockdown has exacerbated these inequalities whilst also bringing them to the public’s attention. But, as Chair of the House of Commons Education Committee, Rob Halfon MP, said this week: This is a long-term problem which was hiding in plain sight in GCSE results before this year’s extraordinary events. It requires a long-term, targeted solution to tackle the persistent disadvantage.” 

 

Ultimately all of this matters because pupils’ lives and futures are at stake. Grades make a difference to where you can study, the course you can take, the jobs you might be considered for. It was a favourite mantra of my headteacher at secondary school, emphasised at the start of every September while informing the whole school assembly on that summer’s performance, “Grades open doors,” – they may not be the only thing that gets you through the door, but they give you a fighting chance of getting it open. When I was dropped off at university by my parents, feeling totally overwhelmed and unbelievably lucky to have been offered a place at Cambridge, the college had this beautiful huge door that opened up to the grounds. My mum looked at it and said, “See – Mrs Freeman was right. Grades opened doors.”  Yet, last Thursday, it must have felt to many pupils that Gavin Williamson was slamming the door firmly shut.

 

It’s precisely because grades open doors that GCSE results day matters so much. For pupils to progress into further education, employment or training, they need at least to meet national standards in English and maths. Action Tutoring focuses relentlessly on those at risk of just missing out on these pass grades, because without them, prising those doors to opportunity open becomes much harder. It would have been a travesty if GCSE pupils had faced the same results day as those picking up their A Levels last week, with all manner of longer term consequences for disadvantaged pupils who were more likely to be downgraded by the algorithm.

 

With the government having made the decision to trust teacher judgment (and now looking set to rely on school based assessment for BTECs too, albeit with a very last minute change affecting half a million pupils), given the incredible circumstances we find ourselves in this year I would much rather risk grades being over-inflated than underestimated, with everything pupils have already been through. For anyone moving from Year 11 to the next stage in their life, getting back into learning again since school closures in March will be an enormous challenge and the job market will not be favourable for young people for a long while to come. Giving them the benefit of the doubt with their grades would seem to be the least we can do to help them with their next step, rather than risking giving them grades that under score them.

 

Whilst at Action Tutoring we had to say an abrupt goodbye to our Year 11 cohort, we are looking forward to getting back to what we love doing in September: running tutoring programmes, building pupils’ confidence and seeing their satisfaction as they finally grasp concepts they’d struggled with. With the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) on the horizon, the unprecedented need for catch-up support and now the option to run our programmes online, we know it’s going to be busier than ever. We are calling for the National Tutoring Programme to be extended beyond one year. Pupils need and deserve sustained support and the NTP could have the real potential in the long run not just to help pupils catch up from lost learning from covid-19, but to work to close the attainment gap in the UK further. However, we can’t deliver on our mission without the hundreds of volunteers that sign up to tutor with us every year. Would you or someone you know consider being one of them, or spreading the word to others? You really can help to open those doors for pupils, at a time when it’s never been more needed. 

 

Susannah Hardyman, CEO.

COVID-19 set to further widen attainment gap between the UK’s 28% of disadvantaged children and their more affluent counterparts in state education warns charity CEO

2 April 2020

Susannah Hardyman, CEO of education charity Action Tutoring discusses COVID-19 and the impact of school closures on children from less well-off backgrounds. 

March 2020 marked a seismic shift in education, with schools nationwide closing their doors to all but the children of key workers and the most vulnerable, whilst grappling to implement online solutions in a bid to provide effective teaching and learning to pupils. The shift also prompted unprecedented demand from affluent parents for private tutoring – an industry with an annual income of over £2bn – keen to shield with online support their children from spring/summer learning loss.

But what about the 28% of pupils in state education deemed as disadvantaged – pupils who may not have access to high bandwidth broadband to facilitate remote learning and likely won’t have space to work in which to work easily in cramped accommodation.  Currently every year 75,000 disadvantaged children leave school without basic qualifications in English and maths. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are not less academically able, but lack of access to tools and resources means currently only 41% of this group pass English and maths GCSEs, compared to 69% of all other pupils.

Motivation is also set to prove a challenge. We all know that it is far easier to engage with a pupil in person than it is to motivate them to work online, especially if their parents are not available to support and encourage them or that child is struggling academically. Forcing attendance of online sessions will, I believe, be highly difficult to enforce or even encourage. 

Sadly, it seems inevitable that the current national crisis will further widen the attainment gap. While many schools are doing all they can now to mitigate this, and are proving themselves in so many ways as the fourth emergency service, disadvantaged children are going to need more support than ever before to catch up in the months to come. That support will no doubt need to take many forms, but tutoring is a well known, effective intervention that can play a big role in raising attainment.  

As a key provider of school-based intervention programmes incorporating tutoring solutions provided free to disadvantaged pupils, Action Tutoring is calling on the government to provide catch up funding for disadvantaged pupils once schools are back to normal business in addition to the Pupil Premium funding. This could enable schools to provide extra support such as additional tuition for disadvantaged pupils – who are already 18 months behind their more affluent counterparts by the end of secondary schools – to help prevent them from falling even further behind. In the short term, Action Tutoring, along with other organisations, are lobbying the Department for Education to provide laptops and broadband access to those that need it to facilitate home learning more easily.

Whilst exams may have been scrapped for this year, learning is for life and not just for exams. Good standards in English and maths in particular are crucial to progressing well in further education, employment or training. Schools will be and are doing all they can safely to alleviate the immediate impact of the current crisis on their pupils. This crisis has seen an incredible outpouring of community spirit, whether through food banks or local groups setting up to look out for their neighbours. But COVID-19 is going to have a long lasting impact on society. 

Volunteers and charities will be needed more than ever before, backed by the government, to help schools pick up the pieces and enable their pupils, whatever their background, to flourish in every way. The immediate volunteer and charity efforts are hugely encouraging but as many are saying, this is going to be a marathon not a sprint. Those efforts are surely going to be needed for a long time to come.

Over the last few years Action Tutoring has built up healthy reserves, which we are very thankful for at the moment. We are also grateful to our many funders who are standing with us through this period. However, we are facing a loss of income due to not being able to deliver in schools. Therefore, any donation would be very gratefully received to help us compensate for this and ensure we can be in a strong place to be ready to support our pupils as soon as we can safely do so. 

We also hope to engage many more volunteers to ensure we can help these pupils get back to where they should be.  

Apply here to volunteer or visit our fundraising page to donate – thank you for making a difference in a very challenging time.

We are also working hard to prepare an online offering of our tutoring model.  It’s still early days, but please do register your interest here if you would like to hear more about these developments.

How party manifestos can deliver fairer education this December

15 November 2019

As the election fast approaches, it’s unlikely education is going to be at the top of the list on manifestos or necessarily a priority in voting decisions. Yet, as Nelson Mandela so famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” So many other issues dominate the debate in this election. But failing to invest in and prioritise education not only damages the potential of individuals, but damages wider society too. We all stand to benefit from a strong, holistic education system, which in turn fuels employment, a strong workforce and a strong economy.

I’ve been chatting to the Action Tutoring team about what they think the next government should prioritise for education. Our staff spend a huge amount of time in schools up and down the country, they hear first hand from teachers and pupils on a regular basis and see all too often the challenges that both face. Here are a few highlights of what we, at Action Tutoring, would love to see in the parties’ manifestos and from the next government:

Increase funding for all schools and protect the Pupil Premium

No doubt this is the most obvious place to start! We see daily how hard teachers are working with stretched resources, but there’s no doubt that money helps and schools have been ever squeezed over the last few years. Schools should have the budget to ensure there is a safe, warm, comfortable place for excellent teaching and learning to happen. We’d love to see not only an increase in funding for schools, but in particular protection for Pupil Premium funding, with schools sufficiently well resourced so that the Pupil Premium really can be used to support those it’s intended for and not just to plug other gaps in the system.

Early intervention to close the attainment gap

Although Action Tutoring works with children in Year 5 and above, we’d advocate to see early intervention made more of a priority by the next government. We know that the disadvantage gap has already opened up before children even start school and that high-quality early intervention can make a big difference to a child’s learning and attainment down the line. Yet the full allowance of 30 free hours of childcare is only available if parents work at least 16 hours per week and is not yet universal. Surely an easy way to make a difference here would be to open up the 30 hours of nursery provision, regardless of whether parents are working or not, to make sure children facing disadvantage are not left behind.

Further commitment to reducing teacher workload

Here at Action Tutoring we hugely admire the teachers in our partner schools. They work so hard to make a difference for their pupils. Yet, we see how stretched they are in so many directions and the toll that their workload takes. There has been much said recently about reducing teacher workload and it’s something the current Education Secretary has expressed a commitment to continuing to work on. We want to see this priority reinforced, so that teachers can focus on the real reason that most come into the profession: to make a difference to children and young people. We think a reduction in workload would make a big difference to teacher recruitment and retention too, another pressing issue in education.

I want the government to commit to increasing budgets to allow for additional funding for CPD for teachers. So many training opportunities don’t exist anymore and CPD for teachers is at the worst I’ve ever seen it in my career. Quality-first teaching makes the biggest difference to all learners – that’s what the government commitment should be.”

– Assistant Headteacher at an Action Tutoring partner school, Brighton

Invest in pupils’ wider wellbeing

Since Action Tutoring started in 2012, we’ve seen a significant increase in concerns raised by both teachers and volunteers about pupils’ mental health and wider wellbeing, with teachers now warning that pupils’ mental health is at a crisis point. We think this is an issue the next government cannot afford to ignore, with greater investment needed in CAMHS to ensure shorter waiting times for referrals, plus better support for teachers to deal with these issues. Teachers can’t do everything and we would advocate for more services, such as each school having an in-house counsellor to support pupils’ wellbeing.

The next government must recognise the importance of investing in our youngest citizens. This will only be achieved through investment in the provision of outstanding outcomes for pupils that include their mental health and wellbeing alongside their academic standards. Schools need to be fully inclusive, including with the expectation of zero exclusions, funded adequately to be able to educate all mainstream pupils with sufficient additional SEN [Special Educational Needs] provision across the country. Education ministers need to value more the excellent work of Ofsted and all the staff who work across the teaching profession.”

– Headteacher at Action Tutoring partner school, South London

Post-16 opportunities

Post-16 education isn’t Action Tutoring’s main focus, but we certainly hear a lot about it from teachers and charity friends working in the post-16 space. Further Education has been poorly funded in recent years, with many considering it at crisis point. The current government pledged an additional £400m but reports say this still leaves colleges 7% down on their 2010 figures: clearly more is needed if this is an area the UK wants to take seriously. And we absolutely think it should: young people leaving secondary school are at a critical point in their lives and the right qualifications and support can set them up to flourish personally and contribute to society.

It’s not all about what happens post 16 though; careers support varies hugely from school to school and is often not introduced until late into the pupil’s school journey. We would love to see a commitment to a qualified, well-trained careers advisor in each school working with pupils right from Year 7.

Support evidence-based practice

There is now some fantastic evidence available about which practices and interventions are most effective in schools and how disadvantaged pupils can best be supported. But this evidence-based approach needs to be more widely adopted and shared. The EEF have made great strides in that, but we want to see a commitment from the government to facilitate schools to form networks, share the most effective evidence-based approaches and learn from those schools experiencing success in tackling disadvantage.

Keep pupils at the heart of decision making
Our final message would be this: keep pupils at the heart of decision making, not results. Too often, Ofsted and league tables can incentivise schools to make decisions based on results rather than the experience and development of the individual pupil. Recent stories of schools excluding those pupils predicted to get poor results is an example of this, although thankfully it has already been cracked down on. Each pupil is an individual with huge worth and value, and we want to see that cherished and the best decisions made for them, whatever that might be and without fear of the system.

“Protection of the Pupil Premium funding should ensure that disadvantaged pupils have access to wider opportunities within school and are able to receive the academic care and attention they need to help them become the happiest and healthiest versions of themselves. There’s too many disadvantaged young people who are missing out right now because of school funding cuts. Change is possible, and it needs to happen soon.

– Hannah, Action Tutoring Programme Coordinator in Liverpool

In the UK we are lucky to have a brilliant, free education system that many around the world can only dream of. But it is not yet serving disadvantaged pupils as it could be and there is plenty of room for improvement. The Action Tutoring team’s theme for the year is ‘Doing Good Better’ and we would love to see the next government adopt this in its education policies: commitment to making our education system even better and ensuring that it really does benefit every pupil, from pre-school right through to life-long learning.

Review of ‘Social Mobility and its Enemies’ by Lee Elliot Major and Stephen Machin

30 November 2018

Reading ‘Social Mobility and its Enemies’, a new book by Lee Elliot Major and Stephen Machin.

This book is a valuable read if you want to understand the sorry state of social mobility in Britain, and why our education system alone is not levelling the playing field for young people – but we shouldn’t be demoralised.

On the topic of social mobility, Lee Elliot Major and Stephen Machin make a powerful duo: The former is Chief Executive of the Sutton Trust, a foundation dedicated to improving social mobility in the UK through evidence-based programmes, research and advocacy. The latter is Professor of Economics at the LSE with a long list of publications on the economics of education and inequality in the labour market. The two have teamed up to produce a new book on social mobility in Britain and the main forces that work against it. Given the vision of Action Tutoring – a world where no child’s life chances are determined by their socio-economic background – I was very keen to get my hands on a copy!

‘Social Mobility and its Enemies’ is a neatly presented book of unintimidating size. In the first few chapters, I learnt some new and impressive-sounding terms – including ‘intergenerational elasticity’. Although I occasionally had to ask for help to understand the graphs, overall the book is quite accessible; the authors get their messages across using metaphors, analogies and real-world examples.

Tracking trends in the economy and in education over several decades, the book shows the relationship between low social mobility and inequality of wealth and income. To use a metaphor from the book: as inequality grows and the rungs in the ladder become wider, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to climb up. The book touches on the strong incentives to help talent rise to the top, wherever it may come from – the potential for improved economic growth, leaders with an enhanced understanding of the problems and experiences of others, and the strength and innovation that diversity can bring. It also shows how the choices of individuals can harm social mobility just as much as a broken system, as often well-meaning parents hoard opportunities for their children – whether paying for exclusive tuition or renting properties to gain entry into sought-after schools – even if this exacerbates inequalities down the line or holds back a less privileged child.

The book is not a joyful read. It is full of sobering statistics and draws bleak conclusions. Some of the findings are familiar – how the top spots in many professions are still dominated by individuals educated in a small circle of elite schools. At other times, the analysis presented is more alarming: one graph, with criss-crossing lines, starkly demonstrates how children’s development up to the age of ten depends strongly on their socio-economic status: children who perform highly in cognitive tests early but come from disadvantaged backgrounds show a steady decline in performance by age ten, overtaken by less able but more privileged peers, who overcome their difficulties over time. The link between family income and test scores is particularly strong in the UK. In another dismal passage, the authors consider growing illiteracy and innumeracy in England. There are clear links between these skills, employment prospects and health, but successive attempts to reform the system have failed to improve the situation. Many continue to leave school without the most basic English and maths skills they need to get on in life.

In the final chapters, the authors explore some ways that we might sweep away unfair advantages and unlock greater social mobility: for example, the possible benefits of using lotteries to determine school and university admissions. They stress the importance of a system which nurtures talents of all kinds, not just academic ones, and pursuing policies to improve equality of opportunity at a local level. One of the strongest messages is that when it comes to education, you can’t skimp on quality or on cost. “Lives cannot be turned around on the cheap.” The authors affirm that “if we have high ambitions for education to help improve social mobility amid growing inequality, then we must be prepared to pay for it.” Schools are facing the biggest funding cuts in a generation and “teachers are among the key public sector workers who warrant higher salaries.”

However, whilst our education system can and does transform the lives of individuals, teachers on their own can’t cancel out the “extreme inequalities” outside the classroom that play such an important part in determining children’s outcomes. Implementing new approaches to teaching based on cutting-edge research can only do so much. If we want to make real gains in social mobility, we need to make education fairer and reduce the extreme inequality in our society.

Elliot Major and Machin don’t shy away from the enormity of the challenge. There is no simple or easy fix. However, other countries as well as small pockets within the UK “offer rays of light” that the situation can change. Although we may not be able to replicate the exact environment and outcomes found in countries like Finland or Canada, it is encouraging, when faced with such a formidable task, to see it that others have been able to find a better balance.

At Action Tutoring, we can be proud to be part of an evidence-based initiative which sees promising results every year, supporting thousands of young people to progress despite their background and individual challenges. ‘Social Mobility and its Enemies’ makes a strong case for rethinking education and employment practices in this country, and it demonstrates how much evidence is now being generated to find what works. But, while we wait for new solutions to come to light, we don’t have to stand by and see more young people leave school without basic skills and qualifications, facing an impossible climb upwards. There are many organisations in this country working to counteract these biases, often through the efforts of remarkable volunteers, proving that individual choices can also be a powerful and positive force for social mobility.

Elliot Major, L. and Machin, S., 2018. Social Mobility and its Enemies. London: Pelican books – Penguin.