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Inequality and social mobility

CEP research has documented Britain's high level of educational inequality and lack of social mobility, which continues to worsen. We find that socio-economic inequalities in educational attainment are very big even at an early age.

Contrary to the findings of US research on how early years' policies can reduce inequalities, we found that roll-out of fully subsidised part-time nursery places in England in the 2000s had effects that were small and short-lived.

Inequalities are then reinforced from primary school onwards. Our work shows that among the reasons for low social mobility is poor access to high-quality schools by economically-disadvantaged groups. The increase in house prices near high-quality schools shows that parents value schools by student prior achievement and school valued-added. But even though choice is available, poorer parents cannot make use of it because they cannot afford the catchment areas where school quality has inflated house prices.

Unfortunately, where criteria such as catchment areas are replaced by other school admissions policies, such as regular religious attendance for entry to faith schools, children from poorer families still find it more difficult to gain entry. Selectivity in education has also contributed to the decline in social mobility. We find that the apparent educational advantage of schools that have more autonomy over their admissions is purely attributable to the composition of such schools. Other work demonstrates that those who attend private schools earn more and that this dividend has increased over time. On the other hand, reforms that make the education system less selective may improve access to opportunity: CEP research found this to be the case for reforms to grammar schools in Northern Ireland.

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