Bishop of Durham asks Government to invest in early years to improve social mobility

On 29th January 2020 the House of Lords debated a motion from Baroness Tyler of Enfield, “to ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to respond to the ten steps to improve social mobility contained in the Sutton Trust’s Mobility Manifesto, published in November 2019, and the recommendations of the Social Mobility Commission’s 2019 State of the Nation report.” The Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Choudrey.

Opportunity, aspiration and education are critical to all having the best chance of being socially mobile. Giving children the best start in life is paramount, so we need more health visitors, better-targeted childcare for those least able to afford it and renewed opportunities for parents to interact with others. Will Her Majesty’s Government commit to a proper national early years strategy with an increased share of future spending?

Church of England schools in my diocese have found it difficult to implement our motto that “no child is left behind” because social mobility is a great challenge exacerbated by a poverty of aspiration. According to the Social Mobility Commission’s survey, less than a third of people living in the north-east think that there are good opportunities in our region.

Teachers can be catalysts for widening the aspirations of not only their students but their communities too. So, to address poor social mobility, the Church of England is looking to develop a “teach rural” programme, focusing on recruitment and retention of high-quality teaching staff in rural schools. Will the Government support programmes aiming to attract teachers to disadvantaged, socially immobile, rural communities?

Aspiration is raised by presenting to all real choices throughout life. Will Her Majesty’s Government commit to ensuring that social care, nursing, farming and public service work are presented as of equal value to what are referred to as high-skilled posts? Will they ensure apprenticeships are regarded as of equal importance to higher degrees by adequately funding FE as much as HE?

Finally, the Social Mobility Commission’s research found that families’ incomes affect their children’s social mobility. According to the Education Policy Institute, children eligible for free school meals are developmentally four and a half months behind their peers between the ages of nought and five. Yet child poverty is increasing; by 2023-24, the two-child limit is ​expected to drive a further 300,000 children into poverty. What are the Government’s plans to curb increasing levels of child poverty?


Baroness Berridge (Con, Minister)…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham asked about teachers in more disadvantaged areas. I know that the Church of England has looked at this issue, with clergy going to what we call the outer estates. There is an emphasis in the opportunity areas programme on teachers going to the more disadvantaged areas of the country…

On a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, I should say that it is evidence-based that the 15-hour offer makes a difference to children. Yes, there is the additional 30-hour offer, but that is more to do with helping working families. We are basing that universal offer on our current evidence base. To give an example to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the North Yorkshire opportunity area has launched an innovative programme where teacher recruitment is centralised to a single agency, which is helping…

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