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The South Central Region of the RSA are holding a series of events aimed at sharing ideas about education. These events are run by and for RSA Fellows with the aims of:

  • Sharing knowledge and ideas about education

  • Meeting and networking with other Fellows

  • Clarifying existing, and provoking new, ideas for potential projects

  • Sharing information on Catalyst funding which could potentially support the growth of the ideas.

On Thursday 12 September, at the Leadership and Training Centre at Shenley Brook End School, Tom Welch and Lesley King gave a presentation and led a discussion on the idea: Supporting Social Mobility. This is a guest blog from Tom Welch.

Tom WelchOur talk for the RSA South Central Region’s Ideas in Education Series started from the premise that exam results are necessary, but not sufficient, to ensure social mobility.

The forty or so people who took part in the evening needed no encouragement to engage. So free-flowing was the conversation before the presentation proper, that we were considerably late starting, but all knew each other much better for it.

Only 23% of white boys on free school meals get five good GCSEs compared with 55% of all pupils.

We began with an examination of some previous research that we had carried out called Bucking the Trend– a study of white boys of British origin, eligible for free school meals who had gained 5 A* to C at GCSE or equivalent. This study aimed to give these academically successful students, a huge minority in their demographic, a voice that could be heard by educators – why did they think they had managed to buck the trend? How could schools learn from their experience of their nascent upwardly mobile journey?

The most pertinent finding for the purposes of the evening’s discussion, however, was that over 45 of the boys we interviewed had spoken, without prompting, of the social and psychological challenges of their social mobility. Their descriptions reminded us of Richard Hoggart’s 'Uprooted and Anxious' in The Uses of Literacy written some 50 years prior to the boys’ experiences.

The room entered into a lively discussion about how the challenges associated with social mobility, for the individual students themselves, could be ameliorated, while ensuring that the benefits of the rich experiences that are part of their journey could be accentuated and brought to the fore. 

How can we ensure that upwardly mobile students are not left floundering between two worlds, feeling uprooted and anxious?

There was a broad consensus that, while helping the most disadvantaged students academically is important, and can facilitate mobility after compulsory education ends, broader societal changes - particularly in terms of what we, as a society, value and aspire to - are necessary if we are ever to ease the passage of social mobility and move toward social justice.

I would be interested in discussing further, with attendees and Fellows, the challenges of social mobility - both facilitating it and the psychological challenges faced by the upwardly mobile students. How can we ensure that they are not left floundering between two worlds, feeling uprooted and anxious?

Tom Welch is Co-Director at EdYou.  You can contact him via email at or on Twitter at @tom_w_welch.

You can book now for upcoming events in the Ideas Education series:

17 October 2013: Ideas in Education: Conserving Creativity in Early Years, Reading

30 October 2013: Ideas in Education: Building Learning Power, Winchester

6 November 2013: Ideas in Education: Revolutionising access to science and research through technology, Portsmouth

14 November 2013: Ideas in Education: Planning Educational Spaces, Winchester

5 December 2013: Ideas in Education: DIY higher education in the global swamp? Oxford

To find out more contact Fellowship Councillor for South Central Bethan Michael.


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