London’s mix of high performing schools, aspirational communities, and world leading industries have long been ideal conditions for social mobility, but this is under threat, warned Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter.
This is partly due to escalating rents, socially segregated schools and the rise of elite unpaid internships, he said.
Speaking at the City of London Corporation’s school conference on Monday he called for lotteries for school admissions to be considered and for university students to help tutor disadvantaged schoolchildren.
He said it is possible for areas of high social mobility such as London to transform into “exclusive and stagnant” communities if high performing schools become “middle class enclaves” and inequality in earnings balloons.
He told the Standard: “The best places for upward mobility for one generation become the most expensive places to live for the next generation. For those seeking a better life for themselves and their children there is a limited window of opportunity. The question for London is whether that window is now starting to close.”
Professor Elliot Major called for a London-wide commission to be set up to ensure fair access into work. This would include targets for more working class people becoming managers and business leaders, more apprenticeships and fairer rents for younger workers.
He said school results in London are very good, but it is still hard for poorer people to get a foot on the career ladder.
He said: “London’s position as a city of opportunity hangs in the balance. For many years the capital has been lauded for the education results of its poorest pupils…Yet now a range of systemic barriers preventing people improving their lives threaten to turn the capital into an exclusive enclave of elites, with the best jobs and prospects retained by those from more privileged backgrounds.”
He added that although London schools clearly perform very well, the obstacles to social mobility come when pupils move from education into the world of work.
He said: “More privileged people from outside London are able to secure those opportunities often to the detriment of poorer people in London...Social mobility is about educational opportunities and work opportunities and you need both of those. Education only gets you half way there.”
With rocketing rents, it is “incredibly difficult” for young workers to survive in London, he said, adding: “I am really conscious when you talk to young people in London that they are struggling to live at the moment, and I think that’s bad news for the capital if we want to keep that young talent and nurture it.”
Speaking about encouraging undergraduates to help schoolchildren, he said: “London has got this huge undergraduate population, and unlike other areas of the country where the challenge is getting the students to go to schools in remote places, we have got connectivity.
“London is ripe for an amazing programme of university-led tutoring.”
He added: “London is a place of opportunity and social mobility but it could become the victim of its own success.
“Within one generation it could be closed down. Unless we keep the momentum going in terms of providing opportunities throughout people’s lives it could become a closed shop – particularly for Londoners themselves…It takes decades to measure the impact of all this. But I am saying the warning signs that London could lose its place as a city of opportunity are there.”