I have just read the report of Alan Milburn’s ‘Panel on Fair Access to the Professions’, published last week. It is an interesting and thought-provoking report, which opens up an important debate on social mobility in our country. It focuses much attention on the belief that the professions in the UK are a “closed shop” to those who are not from well-off or connected families. A good deal of the response to the report has aimed it’s fire at pushy parents, “elitist” private schools, and the failure of top universities and the professions to accept those from poorer backgrounds.
I have a different take on the problem. I think blaming the professions and private schools misses the point. I believe blame lies in the failure of the state school system (which I went through) to equip so many school leavers with the education they need to get on. Having previously worked in large “professional firms” myself I do not believe they try to recruit identikit people; they are looking for people who can do the job, who often require high levels of academic achievement.
We should be focusing our attention on raising standards in state schools, improving careers advice so that students are aware of the opportunities open to them, and emphasising the importance of ambition, hard work and commitment. I do agree with Alan Milburn’s panel that more should be done to provide mentors, role models and work placements; but the key is raising standards, and instilling the message that with hard work and ambition, anything is possible.