How can we improve the opportunities for kids from poorer backgrounds?
Paul Commander is a “Friend” of our Foundation. He is a lawyer based in Bath hailing from Wolverhampton. He has a passion for improving the lot of children from deprived backgrounds. This passion is translated into working directly with young people through a dedicated charity by focusing on education. We have no connection with the charity Social Mobility Foundation. This is Paul’s story.
“According to Deloitte, the UK has one of the worst rates of social mobility in the developed world. This matters because people who are born into disadvantaged families, regardless of their talent, or their hard work, do not have the same access to opportunities as those born into more privileged circumstances. In the end, this is a bad thing for all of us (regardless of what social class we are born into), because the UK never develops or profits from the full range of talents and skills at the disposal of its population. It also means that those with access to the best jobs, the best housing and the best education are drawn from a small pool of people who tend to all look and sound the same. Over time, that pool does not become larger and more diverse, as it should do, but instead becomes ever harder for those on the outside to break into.
Solving the UK’s problem with social mobility will not happen overnight and requires a multi-pronged approach with collaboration across many areas of the public, private and third sectors. One charity that is working to make a difference in this area is the Social Mobility Foundation. The SMF runs a mentoring scheme which connects professionals working in areas such as Accounting, Banking, Law, Politics etc. with 16-17 year olds from less advantaged backgrounds who want to enter those professions. In many cases, those kids may not have seen anyone in their family go on to higher education, and may not have the knowledge, skills or experience to present themselves in a way that gives them the best chance of securing a place at a top university.
In early 2021, I signed myself up with the SMF’s mentoring scheme, and I was paired with Gemma*, a quiet, but studious girl from the North East who had the dream of becoming a lawyer. Gemma came from a large family and it was clear from our first meeting (conducted during lockdown via Zoom), that finding peace and quiet, and avoiding distractions in her house could be a challenge. Over the course of our interactions, I got to know more about Gemma’s background and her aspirations for the future. As mentioned, she wanted to become a lawyer, but also liked the idea of studying sociology. Of course, the two are not incompatible and we talked through how both options could be combined, either by choosing particular modules, or by following a joint honours degree. In between our interactions, Gemma did her own research into particular courses, based in part on our discussions, and came back with more questions on everything from sandwich courses to how best to contact and interact with university tutors.
In the end, Gemma decided to defer her applications to university for a year and so we didn’t get the opportunity to complete her university application together. However, Gemma came out of the process with a much better knowledge of how the university system works and how to successfully navigate the admissions process. She also had a much clearer idea of where she wanted to take her further studies and how she was going to achieve her goals. For me, the experience was a positive and enriching one since I was able to make a difference by passing my knowledge and experience on directly to someone who was really able to benefit from it. It is also exciting knowing that I am part of approximately 2000 SMF volunteer mentors, who are helping to change the lives of young people up and down the country.
I have already signed up to be a mentor with the SMF for the next cycle in 2022 and will soon be paired with a new young person who I will be able to help along the pathway to success. I would also encourage anyone who cares about the future health of UK society to engage with the issue of social mobility in any way they can, be that via education, community work, mentoring or by simply offering an opportunity to a young person who wouldn’t otherwise have it. Not only will you be helping someone to maximise their potential and realise their dreams, but you will also be taking a small step towards making UK society better for all of us.”
Have Paul’s experiences struck a chord with you? Do you want to find out more? Perhaps contacting Social Mobility Foundation or other similar charities might be a good first step.