The UK Government recently released Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility.
The report quotes some depressing statistics about social mobility in the UK.
- Only one in five young people from the poorest families achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, compared with three quarters from the richest families.
- 25% of children from poor backgrounds fail to meet the expected attainment level at the end of primary school, compared to 3% from affluent backgrounds.
- Almost one in five children receive free school meals, yet this group accounts for fewer than one in a hundred Oxbridge students.
- Only a quarter of boys from working-class backgrounds get middle-class (professional or managerial) jobs.
- Just one in nine of those with parents from low income backgrounds reach the top income quartile, whereas almost half of those with parents in the top income quartile stay there.
- Only 7% of the population attend independent schools, but the privately educated account for more than half of the top level of most professions, including 70% of high court judges, 54% of top journalists and 54% of chief executive officers of FTSE 100 companies.
- The influence of parental income on the income of children in Britain is among the strongest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Parental income has over one and a half times the impact on male incomes in Britain compared with Canada, Germany and Sweden.
The Government’s report puts a lot of emphasis on the failures of the educational system to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds and unfairness in the access to opportunities. Much has been made of Nick Clegg’s promise to put an end to unpaid and ‘who you know’ internships. They also pin a lot of expectation on the ‘pupil premium’ to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children.
Whilst these moves are welcome, changing an individual’s life expectations is a complex business and just providing more opportunities may not be enough.
Social Cognitive Career Theory (SSCT) suggests that our belief in our ability to take advantages of the opportunities we are presented with (self-efficacy) is influenced by our previous personal successes and failures or by observing other’s experiences — particularly people we relate to. So the client who has been ‘failed’ by the education system or who has fewer successful close role models may have a lower sense of self-efficacy. They are less likely to believe that they can obtain such opportunities or perform well in them.
As well as affecting our belief in our ability to succeed in particular tasks, our early learning environment may affect our outcome expectations – what we think will happen if we take a particular action. Perhaps we believe that it is not worth taking an internship because all the real jobs go to people from independent schools
Although a lot of an individual’s self-efficacy and outcome expectation beliefs are determined at an early age, they can be changed.
Self-efficacy can be influenced by realistic encouragement and specific feedback on performance. As guidance practitioners we can work with the client to find a feasible strategy to achieve their end goal, help them to realise their strengths or provide practical feedback on application or interview technique. More than ever this support is essential if everyone is going to get a fair shot at social mobility.
Some SSCT influenced questions to consider.
- How confident is this client in their ability to succeed.
- Is their self-assessment based on fact?
- Who are the client’s role models?
- Lent, R. (1994). Toward a Unifying Social Cognitive Theory of Career and Academic Interest, Choice, and Performance Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45(1), 79-122. DOI: 10.1006/jvbe.1994.1027
- See also this interesting article on social mobility and community interaction theory by Bill Law