HR has key role in improving UK social mobility, says government tsar
Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, has urged employers to report the social background of their employees as part of efforts to challenge what he calls the “deeply elitist” culture that pervades corporate life.
A report by the commission suggests that HR directors should make more of a “contextual evaluation” of applicants, including giving job seekers with good grades from poorer performing schools more weight in the application process.
The suggestion comes in the wake of data from the commission which reveals 71 per cent of judges come from fee-paying schools, while one in seven come from just five private schools – Eton, Westminster, Radley, Charterhouse and St Pauls.
To tackle this, and the fact 75 per cent of judges also went to Oxford and Cambridge, Milburn also called for “university-blind” applications, where the same qualifications from lower-ranked academic institutions are judged equally with those from those at the very top.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today Programme, Milburn said: “We want the best people in the top jobs, but of concern is the dominance they exercise. If there is one thing that unlocks this huge challenge for the country about the excessive dominance at the top, it is the improvements in education."
As early as 2009, the commission (set up by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown) reported ‘old school tie’ elitism still ruled the workplace. Back then it found half of all professional roles were given to those who had been independently schooled. This is despite the fact they only comprise 7 per cent of all school children. It found 45 per cent of civil servants were also independently educated.
However, the report has sparked furious debate amongst those who disagree that top schools should be judged on a level playing field. A spokeswoman at Oxford University said: “Inequality of attainment is one of the major barriers to progression.”
Meanwhile Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, refuted claims little progress is being made to widen participation. He said it was now too crude to use school type as a proxy for privilege, saying: “Our schools are making strenuous efforts to raise bursary funding to become inclusive and to offer wide access to a more diverse pupil base. One in three of our pupils currently receive help with their fees and ICS schools provide £660 million in assistance.”
The commission analysed the backgrounds of more than 4,000 people holding top jobs in British society, and found 45 per cent of public body chairs, 62 per cent of senior armed forces officers and 55 per cent of permanent secretaries attended fee-paying schools.