Siobhain defends social mobility

Home / News & Views / Speeches / Siobhain defends social mobility

23 November 2016

social mobility 1 Siobhain spoke at the Opposition Day Debate on Tuesday, to defend policy on social mobility. Her speech focused on the national scandal of white working-class underperformance, and the need for investment in the comprehensive school system. 

You can watch her speech here, and read it below.

'Social mobility is an issue for the white working class. It is an issue that we have failed to discuss in this debate. Only 32% of working-class white British students receiving free school meals achieved the GCSE benchmark last year. That is compared with 44% of mixed-race students, 55% of Bangladeshi students, 42% of black Caribbean students and 47% of Pakistani students, all of whom were also receiving free school meals. That has happened because the educational attainment of white working-class students has improved much more slowly than that of almost any other ethnic group over the last 10 years.

I could take Members of this House to the grammar schools in Sutton, next to my constituency, and I could show them classes of young first and second-generation Tamil kids on free school meals. They are there because their parents understand the importance of education. They live the immigrants’ dream, which many Members of this House have shared and benefited from. However, our own white working-class kids are not getting the benefit. The issue is so much bigger than the type of school; it is about all social inputs.

We know from the Education Committee’s report into underachievement among white working-class kids that going to a good school disproportionately benefits poor white kids. There are schools out there doing a brilliant job and changing lives. I would like to suggest that, as in so many cases, Members have a look at the Harris academy chain in south London. Last year, about 56% of white British students nationwide secured five A to C GCSEs.

However, at Harris Greenwich in 2015, 60% of white British students secured those grades. Just five years ago, the school—then the Eltham Foundation—was in special measures. However, now, under the excellent leadership of a strong principal, George McMillan, it has undertaken quite an unimaginable transformation. Harris Falconwood has a staggering 73% of white British students securing these grades. Yet again, the rate of success of this school is incredible. In 2008, only 17% of students achieved these grades, but under the leadership of principal Terrie Askew, the school is now judged “outstanding” by Ofsted. These schools should be our ideals, regardless of whether they are mainstream, grammars or academies. I am enormously grateful to Lord Harris for his involvement in the schools in my constituency, but I am also grateful to all the people who lead and teach in our schools.'