Social mobility in England report uses NCDS and BCS70 data

30 April 2010

The Sutton Trust's latest report into education mobility, an indicator of future social mobility, has found that children's levels of achievement are more closely linked to their parents' background in England than in many other developed nations.

The Sutton Trust's latest report into education mobility, an indicator of future social mobility, has found that children's levels of achievement are more closely linked to their parents' background in England than in many other developed nations.

The research, carried out by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University, looked at the test scores of 15,000 children born in 1989/1990 and compared these to the NCDS and BCS70 cohorts born in 1958 and 1970, as well as to results from overseas. The findings place England significantly behind similar nations, with 56 per cent of children from degree-educated parents in the top 25 per cent of test scores at age 14, compared with 9 per cent of children whose parents left school without O-levels. This gap of 47 percentage points is over twice the equivalent gap in Australia (23 points), and higher than the gap in Germany (37 points) and the USA (43 points).

There are, however, some indications of an improvement for the 1989/90 generation. The advantage of having degree-educated parents in terms of performing well in tests at age 11 and 16, for example, has diminished but major inequalities still persist. Children born to degree-educated parents in 1989/1990 were four times more likely to obtain at least five GCSEs at Grades A* to C than those born in the same year to parents who did not go to university. And the research finds that the achievement gap widens during the teenage years, almost entirely because children with degree-educated parents are far more likely to attend higher performing secondary schools, benefiting from a combination of better resources, teaching, advice and positive peer effects. A major obstacle to education, and consequently social, mobility is therefore the high levels of social segregation in English secondary schools, the report concludes.

The full report – Education Mobility in England: The link between education levels of parents and the educational outcomes of teenagers – published in April 2010 by The Sutton Trust, can be found at: www.suttontrust.com/reports/Education_mobility_in_england.pdf