Family connections ‘as important as money’ to help children succeed

A new report published by The Prince’s Trust warns ‘lack of inherited opportunities’ allows the most disadvantaged young to fall even further behind in terms of work and education.

By Rachael Pells/ Independent

Children from families who are not socially well-connected risk falling even further behind their more advantaged peers, experts warn, following a new report highlighting the lack of opportunities available to disadvantaged young people.

New data released from youth charity The Prince’s Trust suggests the “social bank of mum and dad” can be as important as financial backing, since many young people find work experience or their first job through family contacts. The report raises concerns over the lack of inherited opportunities for poorer children, leaving them further behind in work and education and accentuating class divides. Martina Milburn, Prince’s Trust chief executive said: “There is a social bank of mum and dad which can open as many doors as the financial bank of mum and dad. Sadly, not all young people have the same access to it, and all too often young people are locked out of jobs and other opportunities simply because of where they’ve started in life.”

The research also suggests a correlation between absence of family support while growing up and negative self-confidence, coping skills and employment prospects for later life.

“Young people who have help with such things as finding work experience or a first job often go on to have higher aspirations and be more successful,” a Prince’s Trust spokesperson said.

”Sadly, however, many young people don’t have this support. Quite the opposite – they may be struggling even to attend school to get basic qualifications, they may be busy caring for a parent or family member at home. Whatever the reason, doors are perhaps closed rather than opened for them.”

More than a third (37 per cent) of 16-24 year olds surveyed said their family had “rarely” or “never” talked to them about their ambitions, with more than one in ten citing that their family had “held them back”.

The research indicates that many of these young people feel they are less able to cope with their problems, are more likely to feel “destined to fail” and are more likely to be unemployed.

Speaking at a TeachFirst conference in Leeds on Tuesday, Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, called for new social mobility tests to be put into place in education to help reduce the divide.

He said: “Over recent years there has been a growing sense that we have become an ‘us’ and ‘them’ society – where a few unfairly entrench power and wealth to themselves”.

Mr Milburn highlighted that with the current rates of progress it would take at least 30 years for the educational attainment gap in schools between poorer and better-off children to even halve.

For the gap in access to university to completely close, it would take more than 50 years.

He told the conference: “The truth about our country is that over decades Britain has become wealthier but we have struggled to become fairer.”

The Social Mobility Commission has called on the government to set a new target for a least half of children from the poorest background to achieve five good GCSEs by 2020.

“This would be prioritised by the government giving equal importance to closing the gap between pupils from poorer backgrounds and their wealthier peers as increasing overall results,” the group states, as part of a measure implemented by Ofsted inspection and school league table measures.

Teaching groups have expressed their hesitations over the effectiveness of such policies, however, arguing that schools are under increasing amounts of pressure to produce top results despite lack of funding.

Rosamund McNeil, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, said: “Education policy alone can’t counteract the significant impact of poverty on children and their families. Fully funded schools that offer a rich curriculum and extra curricula activities alongside sustainable children’s services can make a huge difference to the lives of pupils from low income families.”

“It is essential that the Government addresses the school funding crisis that is narrowing the opportunities and entitlements for children and young people… This situation is unacceptable for all students but in particular for families who cannot afford to replace the experiences and materials that schools should be able to provide.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “This government is focused on making Britain a country that works for everyone.” ”We are determined that every child, regardless of background, gender or ability, has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential. The pupil premium, now worth £2.5bn a year, is being spent to improve the education provided to children from the poorest backgrounds.”

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