Thursday, 14 June 2012

Free Meals and Social Mobility

by Mark Corney

Nothing explains the bias of the political class in England towards social mobility than free schools meals and entry into full-time higher education at 18.

Bright 16 year olds from poor families who stay-on in school sixth forms are eligible for free school meals.

By contrast, bright 16 year olds from poor families who stay-on at general FE colleges are not entitled to free meals.

Only the English political class can spout the call for social mobility by giving an advantage to institutions which dominate entry into full time HE by age 18 - state sixth forms - but disadvantage institutions which have been working for decades to increase access - general FE colleges.

And yet the lack of a fair playing field over free meals between school sixth forms and FE colleges entrenches barriers to social mobility.

16 year olds from higher income families do better at GCSEs than those from poorer backgrounds. In turn, they are more likely to stay-on at school sixth forms, gain A levels and then enter full time HE at 18.

By contrast, 16 year olds from lower income families to less well at GCSE. They are more likely to attend general FE colleges, with some studying for A levels and other vocational qualifications but not always at Level 3.

Only the English political class could support a policy offering free meals to institutions where the majority of poor 16 year olds - bright or otherwise - do not study.

If the Coalition Government and the Labour opposition are to truly get to grips with widening social mobility through access to university at 18, the spotlight must move from the minority of poor kids at school sixth forms to the majority of poor kids at FE colleges.

Offering free meals to poor kids at FE colleges is a vital step to increasing participation, raising achievement and getting more poor kids into university.

Mark Corney is policy consultant to the Campaign for Learning. He writes in a personal capacity.

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