Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
23 JANUARY 2008
Q40 Mr Carswell: Thank you; it is
very generous of you, Chairman. I am looking at your 2005 and
2007 papers. You note a sharp rise in the correlation between
family and common educational attainment.
Dr Blanden: Yes.
Q41 Mr Carswell: That suggests that
more of those who are able to afford it, by buying it either directly
or indirectly through buying a house in a nice catchment area,
are able to buy a better education. There is less scope now than
there was for bright kids from low-income backgrounds to do well
in education and to be socially mobile. Does that not suggest
that the comprehensive education system itself has diminished
social mobility, and that the apartheid system of education in
this country where 90+%. go to state schools, a tiny percentage
go to independent schools, and a tiny number of children within
the state system are able to go to selective schoolsthat
the status quo itselfis diminishing social mobility?
Dr Blanden: First, I shall say
something about the grammar schools question. When we initially
found the results, it was speculated that there could be a contribution
from comprehensivisation, so it is a difficult question to consider.
However, an interesting finding from a colleague of ours, Dr Sandra
McNally, indicates that what happened over that period with grammar
schools could not explain the fall in intergenerational income
mobility that we find, because it exists at age 11before
grammar schools come into the picture.
Q42 Mr Carswell: I did not actually
mention grammar schools. That is a bit of a cul-de-sac of an argument,
in which I have little interest. The centrally driven state-run
system of education has diminished social mobility, as you say,
pre-11. Do you agree?
Dr Blanden: Diminished mobility?
Stephen, do you want to come in?
Professor Machin: It is hard to
think about that, but some inequalities have arisen over time.
If you look at the labour market outcomes, one feature of rising
income inequality and widening income distribution has been the
increasing labour market returns to education. Given a higher
educational level now, people get paid more, relative to a lower
educational level, than they did 25 years ago. You can break that
down across different groups, but it is talking about an average
return to education going up over time, so education on average
is becoming more valuable in the labour market. You can break
it up into different groups. One group that has done better is
people who are educated in independent schools. The labour market
returns to an independent, private-school, education have gone
up more than they have to a state school education, so that is
kind of in line with your argument. The long-term implications
may well be something to do with the structural nature of the
Q43 Mr Carswell: I am interested
in whether there is a relationship between diminishing social
mobility and the centralisation of big Government involvement
in education. My second question is that if one wants and believes
that upward social mobility is good, you presumably need to try
to unhookif that is the right wordeducational attainment
from family income, and you therefore need, as a public policy
maker, a mechanism to allow people from low-income backgrounds
the choices that currently only those with money can buy. You
need a mechanism whereby, rather than creating social equality
by restricting choice for everyone, you allow everyone the choices
that currently only the rich people have. Do you agree?
Professor Machin: I feel that
there are various dimensions to that, and various policies have
been introduced to try to do precisely that: the Educational Maintenance
Allowance tries to get children who would not otherwise have stayed
on at school to do so; and SureStart is trying to level the playing
field before children enter the primary school system. So, if
you believe that education is a key driver of social mobility,
such policies are targeted at people from lower-than-average-income
Q44 Mr Carswell: Do you think that
the Government's two recent announcements, including raising the
school leaving age, will help?
Chairman: The Government have not mentioned
any such thing.
Mr Carswell: Okay. Do you think that
using a lottery to allocate places as one
Chairman: You can ask the first question,
but do phrase it in terms of the fact that it is not raising the
school leaving age, but raising the level until you leave education
Mr Carswell: Do you want to ask my questions
Chairman: No, but if you ask them in
such a loaded way you make it difficult for the professor to answer.
Mr Carswell: Can I ask my question?
Mr Carswell: Thank you. Do you think
that if the Government used or encouraged the use of a lottery
to allocate places, as an official suggested to the Committee
the other week, that would enhance or reduce social mobility?
Professor Machin: The lottery
system for school admissions is presumably to try and take away
the criteria of distance in terms of that being important for
school admissions. We know that one aspect of inequality that
has arisen in response to distance being the main criterion for
getting to school has been the selection by mortgage issue, about
people buying properties at higher house prices in places where
there is a better school nearby; so if you wanted to unlock that
aspect of distortion in the housing market, presumably relaxing
the distance criterionone way to do which is through a
lottery; it is not the only way to do itwould have the
desired impact in terms of weakening the link between house prices
and perceived school quality. Whether people think that is a good
thing or a bad thing I do not know, but that is the key outcome
that would arise. Of course, it would be going away from the traditional
community school idea and you would probably be making children
travel further to school, if there was a lottery to go anywhere.
That might not necessarily be a good thing. There are pros and
cons, I think. The key thing, in terms of reforming school admissions
in that way, would be the impact on local housing markets. Of
course that is an aspect of inequality that we might be interested
in. It is probably something that is related to the extent of
social mobility. On the first question, do you want me to answer
about raising the age?
Q45 Mr Carswell: I would like you
to, if that is allowed. Would raising the age at which people
leave education have an impact?
Professor Machin: To 18? Most
of the evidence from across the world suggests that when you increase
compulsory school-leaving levels the level of education goes up,
so that people who are compelled to stay on clearly raise their
educational levels, and most of the evidence seems to suggest
that that yields a labour market return to education, so making
them get an extra year's education has a pay-off in the labour
market. On productivity grounds, from a purely economic viewpoint,
that seems to be a good thing.
Dr Blanden: Given that those people
are likely to be from poor backgrounds, you could see a knock-on
impact on social mobility, because those people are getting an
earnings gain relative to what they would have had before, because
they are from the bottom, perhaps, of the income distribution;
but I would imagine it is not going to be huge.
Professor Machin: There is a lot
of evidence from different places, so when different states in
the US have raised their compulsory school-leaving ages you can
compare what happens in those states with what happens in other
states that do not raise their compulsory school-leaving age.
In different countries the raising of the school-leaving age has
been sequential, so in the Scandinavian countries, for example,
different municipalities raised the age at different times, and
it seems to yield labour market returns to the people who are
treated, if you like, by the increased compulsory school-leaving
age. You can make a productivity argument for it on those grounds.
Q46 Mr Carswell: Thank you. I have
two further questions for John, if I may. On the point that Dawn
seemed to touch on, you seemed to suggest that social mobility
was a zero sum gamethat one person's gain necessarily means
someone else's loss. Indeed, I think you said in the context of
women getting highly paid jobs that men must do worse, as there
are only a limited number of jobs. A number of economists have
disagreed with that view since the 1770s, but do you really think
that social mobility is a zero sum game? Can we not all be better
Dr Goldthorpe: Certainly we can
all be socio-economically better off. I do not say that social
mobility is necessarily a zero sum game. As I tried to explain,
in the middle decades of the last century it was clearly a positive
sum game, because as one aspect of general economic growth and
development you have this expansion of professional and managerial
positions growing room at the top, so you could in that case have
steadily rising rates of upward mobility and, at the same time,
rising rates of immobility within the more advantaged strata.
What I am saying now is that we cannot expect anything like a
repeat of that mid-20th century experience. That was an historical
one-off that had to do with the massive growth in government and
with the massive development of health, education, social welfare.
Also, in the private sector, large business firms created great
administrative and managerial bureaucracies. We are not going
to get back to that kind of rapid and sustained growth at the
top. Under such structural conditions, social mobility becomes
more of a zero sum game. If you have a more or less fixed structure,
there must be balance between the number upwardly mobile people
and how far they go, and the number who are downwardly mobile,
and how far they go. That is a kind of demographic-cum-mathematical
Chairman: Last question.
Q47 Mr Carswell: I have just been
reading a book called The Long Tail by a guy called Anderson,
and I imagine that he would disagree with what you said. Finally,
you said something about how the United States lacks social mobility.
I respect your esteemed academic research and I am sure that you
have interviewed and studied lots of Americans, but do you think
the fact that tens of millions of people vote with their feet
and go to America because it is an aspirational country means
that at least some people disagree with you? They believe that
there is some sort of upward mobility in the States.
Dr Goldthorpe: In the period of
mass emigration to the United States from Europe, America had
higher rates of social mobility but they have subsequently declined.
A recent large-scale study by two American economic historians
brings that out. I was talking about the period from the 1950s
or 1960s to the present, when American mobility came much closer
to the European pattern.
Q48 Stephen Williams: Thank you.
I need to ask one question on fluidity between groups to Dr Goldthorpe.
In your paper, you say that that might lead to uncomfortable policy
choices or discussions for politicians say, for example, on participation
in higher education. It is not in any of the papers that you have
written that we have read before this sitting, but I have read
elsewhere that the child of a family in the highest social class
by incomebroadly, the professional and managerial class,
of whom many will have been to universityhas an 85% chance
of participating in higher education. People at the other end
of the income distribution have a 13% to 15% chance, which is
broadly unchanged in the past 20 years. Therefore, there is a
saturation at one end, and, arguably, massive untapped potential
at the other. Is your argument that politicians ought to be thinking
that fewer people from the higher backgrounds should go to university
so that more people from the lower background can go? Is that
the sort of uncomfortable discussion that we should be having?
Dr Goldthorpe: No, I would not
want to restrict opportunity.
Q49 Stephen Williams: You said that
if some people go up, some people have to come down.
Dr Goldthorpe: I am sorry, there
is a difference. If you are talking about inequalities in educational
attainment, you would not be constrained in that way. You can
expand the room at the top in tertiary education. Indeed, that
has been donemassively.
Q50 Stephen Williams: But the expanded
space has been filled up by people at the top of the social scale,
who have benefited. Is it an inverse pyramid?
Dr Goldthorpe: That may be something
that one must live with. I do not believe that everybody will
want to go into tertiary education. I am not too happy with targets
such as 50% of people going into higher education. The important
thing ought to be that any young person, or even older person,
who wants to go into higher education, and who has the minimum
capacity to benefit from it, should have the opportunity to do
so. We should let the numbers be what they are, rather than setting
targets. There is an important difference between social class
and education and class mobility. I do not think that reducing
class differentials in educational attainment can be thought of
as a zero sum game. I see it more as creating a level playing
Q51 Annette Brooke: May I backtrack
to ensure that I am clear in my mind about some of the things
that you are saying? First of all, I think I have got this bit
clear, in terms of the fall in intergenerational mobility between
the 1958 and 1970 cohorts, Dr Goldthorpe, you said fairly clearly
that a lot of that was structural because occupations have changed?
Dr Goldthorpe: Yes.
Q52 Annette Brooke: Professor Machin,
in one of your conclusions you say that that fall was an episode
caused by particular circumstances of the time. Do you identify
the same circumstances as Dr Goldthorpe, or are they different
circumstances and time periods? I apologise if this is me not
reading the material thoroughly.
Professor Machin: No, we are clearly
studying the same time period and thinking about the same structural
changes. The one that I would tend to emphasise would be the fact
that income inequality rose a lot in Britain since the late 1970s.
One way of thinking about that is that if you are going to move
up the income distribution in your own generation, or indeed move
down the income distribution in your own generation, you have
further to travel. If the distribution is wider, to move up the
distribution you have further to travel in income terms. One of
the key structural changes that has occurred is that the distribution
of income has got wider and the other one that we talk about in
our work as a key factor is the link between education and family
income. That seemed to have strengthened at the same time as we
saw the fall in social mobility.
Q53 Annette Brooke: Good, that follows
on, so everybody is actually agreeing that early education is
quite important in terms of final outcomes, am I correct? Dr Goldthorpe
is nodding. Looking at actual policy implications, now that I
have got all of that clear in my head, there are lots of statistics
knocking around about children from disadvantaged backgrounds
who have a fraction of the vocabulary of somebody from a more
middle-class backgroundor a higher-income background, probablyat
age three, and that is incredibly pronounced by the age of five,
when the child starts school. We are clearly identifying that
early years education is important. We have had massive investment
since 1997 in this area. These are very early days, in terms of
you making any firm conclusions about it, but I would like to
ask you individually whether you have any comments on the effectiveness
of the big investment in SureStart and early learning that we
have had over the last 11 years?
Professor Machin: I have already
said this once, but most people tend to think that you are likely
to get a bigger return on educational investments that take place
early on in childhood. That is not to say that later investments
do not yield a return at all, in fact quite the opposite.
Q54 Annette Brooke: Can we home in
on the effectiveness, rather than this large global sum of money?
I am saying, have we spent it wisely?
Professor Machin: It is still
too early days to properly evaluate the impact of SureStart, and
indeed it will be many years away before we can really do that,
because we want to see whether it has long-standing effects on
children when they become adults, so we want to know how important
that will be. One can certainly make the argument, and it is an
argument that I agree with, that the returns to early years investment
are probably going to be higher than the returns to later years
investment in education. Notwithstanding that, you have still
got to carry on investing, because there is certainly some evidence
from the US to say that some pre-school investments do have an
impact on children's outcomes, although they tend to decay as
children enter their schooling years and particularly their teenage
years. Some of them are actually not that long-standing, so that
still suggests that you have to be doing things later on. In terms
of SureStart itself and the logic for it, you can compare it with
what has happened in the comparable policy in the US that was
introduced many years beforeHead Start. Head Start seems
to have had some long-standing effects, particularly on outcomes
like crime. Individuals who received benefits from Head Start
seem to be much less likely to participate in crime than people
who did not receive it, as teenagers and as young adults. It is
too early days, but I would argue that it is probably the right
logic to think about intervening early because many of the inequalities
you see by age 16, when people are deciding whether to stay on
at school or not, or even by five when they enter school, many
of the inequalities are already in place there. Many of them widen
out during the school years, but the foundations of them are set
in place early on, I think.
Dr Goldthorpe: I agree with Stephen
that it is too early to make any definitive assessment. My reading
of the evidence on pre-school programmes generally is that they
work if they are high value, and that means if they are fairly
expensive. You have to make a big investment. If they are not
high value and high quality, there is evidence of wash-out effects.
They have an initial impact but it is not sustained. SureStart
was a very good idea in principle. I have some worries, and I
know that they are shared by quite a few people, about the way
in which it is developing. It was developing primarily into a
kind of child care programme. If that is so, it worries me that
one is not getting the targeting on those children who have the
greatest need for it, those children whose parents are perhaps
not as educationally aware and supportive as they might be. I
see the difficulty here in that there was a concern not to stigmatise
these families by focusing SureStart too sharply on them, but
it would be a danger if the families who benefited most from SureStart
were not those in greatest need of the kind of support that it
can give. I hope that that can be looked at. My general position
on this is that I would agree with what Jo and Stephen said: fundamentally
the most effective interventions are those in the pre-school and
early primary school years, but to be successful they have to
be high quality and therefore expensive. The kind of intervention
that I am thinking about at 16 plus could be rather more cost-effective
because EMAs are not all that expensive compared with the cost
of SureStart programmes. I would like to see more research being
done on why there is this loss of talent aged 16, and whether
EMAs could be developed and sharpened up somewhat to try to remedy
that. There is real potential here that could be achieved at a
relatively low cost.
Q55 Annette Brooke: I have one brief
question. I know that this is strictly speaking out of your particular
fields, but if any of this is going to mean anything we need evaluation
of all these different policies. In your general reading across
Chairman: Who is this directed at?
Annette Brooke: Both. One at a time.
In your view is there sufficient evaluation going on out there,
albeit at Government or university level, on these programmes?
Dr Goldthorpe: No.
Professor Machin: It is getting
better, but it is still not enough. There are more serious evaluations
of lots of the initiatives that have been introduced more recently,
particularly education initiatives. But we could do with more
and we could do with some better designed experiments to try to
evaluate certain educational initiatives as well.
Chairman: Jo Blanden?
Dr Blanden: I agree with Stephen.
The Centre for the Economics of Education, which we are both members
of, has been involved in evaluating a number of these policy interventions,
like Excellence in Cities, the literacy hour and EMAs. We are
building up a larger base of knowledge of how to go about evaluating
policies. That has been greatly helped by the fact that we have
been given more data in recent years to do that. We certainly
would not want to go backwards at all.
Q56 Chairman: Have you seen some
of the early research on SureStart? One of the problems was that
it was left to local communities to design their own. Some of
them did not hit the proper targets because so much emphasis was
placed on local design.
Professor Machin: Some of the
initial evidence that I have seen was that in places where it
worked well it tended to be hijacked by the middle classes who
used all the facilities, and in places where it was not designed
so well and was left to local decision making and stuff, people
did not really take advantage of it.
Chairman: Does that not put a big question
mark over the local example? I am not getting any response at
all. Annette, I am moving on to David.
Q57 Mr Chaytor: I want to ask Professor
Machin and Dr Blanden about the way in which their initial report
was picked up by a wide range of people. To what extent do you
think that your evidence or conclusions were hijacked and distorted
by this interest?
Professor Machin: I do not think
that "hijacked" is quite right.
Dr Blanden: No, I don't think
Professor Machin: We wrote a report
for the Sutton Trust summarising our findings. Part of the misuse
of our work was because we had to write a very short summary,
rather than a long academic paper that covered every possible
caveat, robustness checks and so on. The summary piece was very
short and it was then used by people in different ways who gave
it different interpretations. One of the key things about the
work is that it has received so much attention that it must be
something that people find very interesting, relevant and innovative.
In some senses, we did the research, and then it has gone to a
secondary stage where people use the research. Unlike a lot of
academic research, this has been used by many different peoplepractitioners,
policy makers and so on. In some senses, however, it is true of
all research that people will still put their own interpretation
on the findings that emerge.
Q58 Mr Chaytor: But when you became
aware that politicians and other public commentators were giving
it a specific interpretation, and actually making no reference
to the issue of the structural change in the economy between the
early 1950s and perhaps up to the 1974 oil price crisis, did you
make any effort to challenge the interpretations that were made?
Professor Machin: We have written
a series of papers on the issue that look at different but related
questions, and we clarify what we have done in those papers. We
have written some survey pieces: we have a survey chapter in a
book that I edited, where we discuss more generally what the findings
suggest and place them in a much wider context. The research is
still ongoing for us because we are still very interested. One
of the things that I said on the three pieces of work we have
done thus far, was that we are very interested in trying to learn
what we can say about more recent patterns of change in intergenerational
mobility. That is what concerns us from a policy perspective:
the children currently going through the education system, and
what social mobility will be like for them when they become adults.
We are trying to think about ways in which the academic work could
be developed in that direction.
Dr Blanden: One of the reasons
we have done a more recent reportalthough we are a bit
limited in what we know because the children are still in schoolis
to find out what has happened for cohorts post 1970. We were interested
in doing that so that people were not using older results to extrapolate
in a way that was not justified. You cannot prevent people from
doing that, you can say it is wrong but they will carry on until
you give them something new to say. That is something that we
were very conscious of. The debate that we have had with John,
and the way that we have thought about the interactions between
income mobility and social class mobility is, to my mind, a good
example of how academic debate can move things forward and help
us to understand how different perspectives can give slightly
different findings. We have been very open to that.
Q59 Mr Chaytor: Could I ask all of
you, from your distinct academic perspectives, what conclusions
about educational policy we can draw from this? We have talked
about SureStart, we have talked about EMAs and the expansion of
higher education, but what conclusions do you draw in terms of
the structure of schooling, both primary and secondarythe
relative merits of hierarchical structures as against flatter
Dr Goldthorpe: Hierarchical or
flatter in terms of educational systems?