1 May 2018

Lawrence Jones MBE taking time out in Verbier - does your background affect your future prospects?I was interested to hear a debate on 5 Live earlier today about whether there are greater barriers to success for children and young people dependent upon their backgrounds.

The debate, sparked by Sajid Javid’s appointment as Home Secretary, compared his working-class background to that of Boris Johnson and Theresa May. Is it fair to say he had to work much harder to reach the position he now finds himself in?

It opened up quite the heated debate which moved between race, gender and class. When you look at levels of social mobility, are there clear advantages when your parents are successful, wealthy and well connected?

The discussion quoted a 19% gap in school readiness between the richest and the poorest children in the UK.

We work with children and schools across Greater Manchester, in some of the region’s most underprivileged wards. One of the greatest gaps we see in education here is the lack of context to classroom learning. There’s a huge difference between reading a book about the beach and visiting the seaside; between drawing pictures of animals and seeing them for yourself. Having this background context to learning leads to a richer education and understanding.

Hand in hand with this context is the mindset. Are schools teaching children to reach for the stars? Or are they constrained by the environments that they find themselves in? We tell our children every day that they can achieve anything that they want to, they can be whoever they want to be, that they can be the best. Is that message being received across the board?

Does your background affect your future?

When I was a child in a small Welsh town, I was regularly told I would amount to nothing. I remember a teacher once telling me in swimming class that the only place I could swim to was the bottom!
Thankfully, the character that I have is very resilient and that spurred me on rather than quashing any ambition. For me, it’s essential that schools give all children, regardless of background, gender, race, situation, the best opportunity to succeed in their lives.

We’ve had discussions with teachers whose biggest challenge in their classes is aspiration. The children’s aspirations are heartbreakingly low. I strongly believe that anyone can do anything. If you strive and put your mind to it, you can do it.

So how do we ensure that children can achieve their dreams? Ultimately it’s up to us. It’s not about quotas, box-ticking or the like. It’s about reaching children of school age, mentoring, training and helping to supplement traditional education to bring this context and inspire young people.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the debate. It’s a topic I am certain we all have an opinion on.

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