A new working paper from the Institute of Education explores education and intergenerational mobility. Put simply, do those from the poorer or richer families have the same chance of ending up well-off, and has this situation changed in the decades since the 1950s?
Using data which measures educational inequality for different cohorts at different points in the education system, the authors conclude that the picture has improved for cohorts born after 1980, with absolute improvements in educational attainment closing gaps by family background at several important education milestones.
They found that from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, there has been a reduction in educational inequality at Key Stage 4, a reduction in educational inequality in higher education participation for the youngest cohorts to have reached this stage, and for those born in the late 1990s, this reduction in educational inequality has continued and can be observed in their Key Stage 2 test scores at age 11. They note that this coincides with increased public educational investment, a prescriptive focus on standards, and increasing use of performance tables from the mid-1990s.
However, they say there is little evidence that these improvements have reduced inequality at the highest levels of attainment. If the highest qualifications matter in obtaining the most lucrative jobs, then these findings cast doubt on the idea that a standards agenda alone can encourage mobility.
Source: Education and Intergenerational Mobility: Help or Hindrance? (2014), Institute of Education.