Sajid Javid is a private investor in small businesses. He was previously a senior Managing Director with Deutsche Bank in London, specialising in developing countries. He lives in London with his wife, Laura, and four young children. In this Platform argues that parental involvement is the key to social mobility.
After being part of a government that has so demonstrably failed to improve social mobility, at least in his report released last week Alan Milburn tried to set out some fresh thinking.
It made me recall a recent visit I had to the street in Rochdale where I was born. It was a bittersweet experience. Sweet because childhood memories returned. Bitter because I also remembered how, as a family, we had to work hard to make ends meet. As I noticed some children kicking around a football on the street, I couldn't help thinking how different life is for my children.
My father was a bus driver. My childrens' is a City financier and businessman. My mother, who was unable to go to school, was a seamstress. My childrens' is a graduate and former accountant that could afford the luxury of becoming a full-time mother. I was brought up in some of the most deprived working class neighbourhoods in England. They were born in Chelsea and live in leafy, middle class Fulham.
But, sadly, it seems such social journeys are not becoming any easier.
In England, for example, a child's test score is more strongly correlated to their parents' educational achievements than in any other country for which data is available. Study after study shows that poor British children go on to be poor British adults, unlike many poor Swedish, Canadian and US children. In June last year, Gordon Brown said that improving social mobility was the "abiding reason" for his commitment to public service. Well, as Milburn himself noted, since 1997 Labour have announced countless initiatives to increase social mobility at tremendous cost but with no significant effect. With the state's coffers now empty, rising unemployment and a deep recession, its going to be harder than ever to meet this objective.
The largest policy failure has been in the field of education. Not only did Milburn recognise this, but it was refreshing to see him embrace the Tories' plan to throw open the provision of school places to greater competition, and to endorse the idea of education vouchers. He didn't go on to embrace the idea of selection, but in my view more grammar schools will undoubtedly help. His report also rightly recommends that we need to overhaul our broken careers guidance system and recognise that recruitment for many top jobs has become increasingly socially-selective. In my City career, I sponsored the work of an excellent organisation called the National Mentoring Programme that encourages leading employers to offer internships and provide mentors for students from poor backgrounds – I personally saw how this changed the lives of many.
Whilst government has a role in improving social mobility I do, however, believe that parental involvement is the single most important factor. My parents were working class "pushy parents". They didn't want me to have the life they had. They knew that the only way to "break the cycle" was to get educated. So they pushed and pushed to make sure I studied at every opportunity. "You will be an accountant, doctor or lawyer….you will go to university…you must do your homework….you must read your books", these are the words I heard again and again as a child. We couldn't afford a private education, so I went to the local comp, and ignored the advice of my school careers teacher: "Sajid, you can have a flourishing career as a television repair man".
When the Conservatives come to power next year, as well as improving the state education system, just as importantly, we also need to find ways of encouraging working class parents to be more engaged, involved and interested in their child's education. As I thankfully learned, it can change lives.