Social mobility and aspirational change: one and the same?

Nick Clegg has “vowed to address the absolute scandal of Britain’s lack of social mobility and open up a society that is too closed and too static”.  This got me thinking about change and about personal growth.

I think equality is a key driver but not the only one and the Guardian article quotes that “…during the long economic upturn from the mid-90s to the financial crash, social mobility rates remained flat”.  So, what drives social mobility?  Income equality for sure, but there is something else needed as well and that revolves around our belief as individuals of our place in society.  This, in turn, is strongly influenced by our background (and the equality factor), by our parents, peers and understanding of social position.

A key driver in aspirational change has to be knowledge and understanding of the world, which in turn, is heavily influenced both at home and in schooling.  Education then must be one of the keys to the door of social mobility by providing the role models (teachers) that are able to inspire as well as teach.  But, on a personal level, what is the means of raising belief and aspirations to the point where self belief allows individuals to make step change in their lives?  How about personal and peer development techniques?

Personal development tends to be the remit of leaders, managers and self help gurus.  It’s often used in mid life when individuals need to solve problems or raise their game but why not incorporate into schools?  As one eminent leader once said, “If you believe a thing to be possible, or if you believe it to be impossible… you will be right”.  Is there then an opportunity to support people with all of the techniques that help us to improve from the start of our lives, not halfway through?  Why not introduce at school techniques such as:

  • Understanding of learning styles
  • Understanding personality traits
  • Knowledge about how to deal with different styles
  • Authentic communication
  • Apply active listening and appreciative enquiry
  • Challenging the status quo

And many, many more aspects of personal development.  Providing these as part of pupils’ toolkit from day one, rather than bolting on at a later date could make a real difference.  I think there is some evidence of where this can work, for example. the school that introduces techniques to allow children to respond to the temptations of socially unacceptable behaviour by giving them a range of approaches, which they have modeled in the classroom.  These are the sort of approaches that can be applied throughout life and help everyone to raise their game and realise higher aspirations.

So Nick Clegg, if you’re serious about improving social mobility make sure you tackle it at all levels.  Challenging the establishment is key but it is one aspect of a complex multi faceted society, which needs to be helped to build its aspirations.

My plea therefore is: include education, economy, establishment, use nudge theory, include slaps and shoves, change policy but make sure that you put some real detail into the how.  Aspiration is great but without the method to achieve it, all that happens is hopes are raised and dashed and that will do little to raise social mobility.

Jaime Beckett, Principal Organisational Practitioner –

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