Social Mobility Matters
By Jonathan Andrews
I was the first in my family to attend university; my mother was born on a council estate, the daughter of a teenage mother. I was educated at my local primary school and comprehensive. I never once felt this was unusual, or should disadvantage me in any way; indeed, it’s an experience shared by 90% of the UK population, yet far from 90% of those in top careers like lawyers, judges, doctors and academics.
However, the fact that my parents were not wealthy or well-connected didn’t mean that I grew up any less loved, or supported to achieve. I was certainly aware of the advantages others may have, but I was raised to believe that by putting in the work, you get results, even if you have to start off from a lower base. This confidence – and my ability to ignore peer pressure and focus on the things that matter to me, one of the advantageous traits of autism – was a large factor in my success, and despite receiving no extra-curricular support throughout my schooling, I made it to Kings’ College London (and later Cambridge, through the Queens’ Young Leaders program). Once there, I became more aware of how my experience had been different to those with more well-connected families – and although this did bring with it some element of ‘imposter syndrome’ (the feeling that I was out-of-place there and wasn’t the right ‘fit’), this didn’t affect me as badly as it might have done others, as I recognised the fundamental truth that I’d worked hard to reach the same distance from a lower base.
I have worked with my old school, Darrick Wood, to launch its first ever network, speaking in school assemblies and creating “career speed-networking” events, asking old students to take part to ensure pupils with an interest in specific areas, but without networks, learn more about the “tricks of the trade” which people from better-connected backgrounds might take for granted. I blog for Pure Potential on making it into law as an autistic person from a state school, and was the first ever ambassador for Access Professions, supporting low-income students to access key opportunities via a free-of-charge jobs board.
It's important to remember that there are many paths to social mobility, and no one path is ‘wrong’, or better than others. There are those from deprived backgrounds who achieve academically at school and whose horizons widen at university, and those for who excel at technical and vocational education, and/or apprenticeships, or whatever schemes are in place across Commonwealth countries to make the best use of the talent of all its people.
Ultimately, I’ve tried to make a difference in this area by recognising what would have really helped me in my own journey – a larger network and understanding of law’s ‘tricks of the trade’ earlier on – and sharing my own experience with ours, leading to training contract offers for several. You, too, can achieve a lot by sharing your own experiences with others – although we often underestimate the influence of this. Perhaps your old school doesn’t have an alumni network yet – why not start one? Perhaps your workplace hires from a small set of universities – why not encourage them of the benefits of hiring more widely, and even taking on people who haven’t been to university?
I know that among change-makers, working with corporations is often not the model taken – but doing so allows their reach and resources to be used to tackle pressing issues, and this is something more and more companies are becoming keener to contribute to. Often, it’s through established institutions that the greatest change is made.
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