Emotional social mobility – a new area in the study of social mobility

Social mobility is essentially difficult to define. This issue draws large consensus, including the Government’s view, in defining social mobility as an “individual’s ability to progress in terms of socio-economic status within their lifetime”. I firmly believe that education can be a driving factor in an individual’s climb of the social mobility ladder. My concern is that education is not entirely enabling all children to fulfil their potential.

In 2011, a Demos report ‘The Forgotten Half’ noted that ‘soft skills’ are as important as academic ability. In 2012, the Department for Education commissioned a report saying that children with higher levels of emotional, social and behavioural well-being achieve better results in their school careers. The Confederation of British Industry’s 2013 ‘First Steps’ report called for a more “rounded and grounded” education, concluding “that personal behaviours and attributes – sometimes termed ‘character’ – play a critical role in determining personal effectiveness“, while the 2013 CBI/Pearson ‘Education and Skills Survey’ identified ‘self-management’ and ‘communication skills’ as among employers’ top educational priorities from schools. The British Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Skills and Employment Manifesto’ released in January 2014 calls for intensified efforts from schools to instil ‘soft skills’ in pupils.

Policy makers are most certainly aware of the growing number of agencies and organisations that have insisted on the importance of the ‘soft skills’ in creating upward social mobility. The call from both the public and private sector to bring this into the curriculum through subjects like that of PSHE is intensifying. However, most of the argument surrounding this call for an upward tragetory in the socio-economic status of an individual is rather materialistic. What is largely ignored in education is emotional social mobility.

The ‘soft skills’ I have mentioned earlier are not only important for maintaining a career or being employable; they are also incredibly important for maintaining a successful family life and sustaining positive relationships outside of work.

Too little is being done today to prepare our young people, as they grow up through school, for the opportunities, challenges and responsibilities of their probable future role as parents. Many of our secondary schools are beginning to recognise the importance of preparing their pupils to earn a living; however, most of our secondary schools are ignoring their obligations insofar as they make pupils aware of the responsibilities of raising a family.

What is needed, of course, is not proscriptive advice to pupils as to how to be good parents, but development in those pupils of their understanding; and the emotional, personal and interpersonal skills which will help them to give their children the confident love and support, and guidance they will need to become well-rounded adults. It almost goes without saying, but those individuals who have stable, loving and secure environments have the ability to go on to have successful careers; fulfilling relationships; and, happier, healthier children. The need in preparing young people for parenthood is not so much the technical details of parenting, but the need to create an atmosphere in which every child believes that she or he is loved and has a chance to succeed.

So is it the business of preparing young people for parenthood the business of schools? It has always been the business of schools to prepare young people for adult life. Most schools in the private sector have always recognised that education for life must include much more than a narrow academic curriculum. It is time for state schools to do the same. In meeting the holistic requirements of social mobility, there is an urgent need to expand the personal and social education of all pupils beyond the purely academic. This preparation of young people for adult life will produce emotionally equipped and socially mobile individuals possessing the abilities to enter the world of work with the skills required to meet the demands of social mobility as a whole.

This approach should also have an intergenerational knock-on effect. It is only relatively recently that social workers, psychologists, neurologists and Governments – to name but a few – have realised the importance of those very early years. Those are the years when a child is still developing its brain, notably the frontal lobe and pre-frontal cortex responsible for empathy and many of the ‘soft skills’ employers crave. It is scientifically proven on many accounts that a good parent-to-infant attachment means that this part of the brain develops into a fully functioning part of the organ, resulting in more resilient adults when fully formed. However, the parent must form an attachment with the baby, tending to its emotional and physical needs. The methods associated are cooing, talking, loving, singing, even eye contact, and all are necessary in the baby’s development. These babies then become adults and naturally show abilities which employers seek, but also abilities which ensure that our interpersonal relationships are healthier, secure and longstanding.  If our children leave school knowing the responsibilities of adult life and parenthood, with the adaptable ‘soft skills’ required, these abilities can be passed on to the next generation at the moment of its birth.

Children who also come from secure and loving environments, with good attachments, achieve well at school, assisting their career development and socioeconomic trajectory.

Will the Government take this problem seriously and do more to encourage and support schools, particularly secondary schools, in the preparation of their pupils for their responsibilities of adult life and parenthood? Most probably not because of the fashionable edge the idea of positive socioeconomic social mobility can produce. But they should bear it in mind in the struggle for the centre ground – especially when leading up to an election. However, in light of the House of Lords debate on this issue on Thursday 13th of March, many of these societal complexities are coming to the foreground.