Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Social mobility is a question of parenting too

I came home from this week-end after two weeks of sun-filled bliss to weekend papers raging with the depressing findings of a new report from the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, Unleashing Aspiration. The main conclusion? That the millennium pretty much brought to a close the period of unprecedented social mobility which enabled me to aspire to become an entrepreneur in my 30s and a chief officer in my 40s having started out life as going to school on an assisted place because my family lacked the money to send three children to good schools. It turns out that the future for my daughters is much bleaker.

Now, as I have a 20 track record in PR I am familiar with the campaigning formula where you create a report with really, really bad news and you get all the middle class papers wringing their hands about it. It works every time. So I'm not panicking yet.

Having said that, the editorials did raise significant cnocerns, given I have two young daughters. What do I do to help them avert the seemingly unavoidable fate of slipping down the economic ranks?

In the Sunday writer Andrew Martin exhorted parents to be pushy. Get them to switch off the computers and TVs and do stuff. Push, push, push.

But here's the thing. How did I really benefit from social mobility? Was it because my mother was pushy? Was it because I went to an independent school? Was it because I did music classes? Was it all of the above? I don't know. But one thing I do know was that growing up with a single parent working mother, she was too busy to do most of the stuff that mothers who don't work get time to do for their kids, and this means, I had to do it for myself.

There was no cotton wool for me, no spoon feeding. And I wonder if that isn't the point? My upbringing made me realise the only person who was going to do anything for me - was me. And I'm grateful to my mum for that.

Research amongst recruiters shows that today's Millennials - or Generation Y - are much more dependent on their parents. They live at home longer, their parents write their CVs and covering letters, they even call up prospective employers and turn up at the interviews.

Many corporate induction programmes now engage with parents as part of the recruitment of graduates. That's graduates, not 16 year old school leavers. People with degrees.

In today's Metro, there was another survey, this time from the much less exalted Fruit Shoot, an organisation that doesn't benefit from having Alan Millburn as its chairman. Another PR tactic - but it works!

Entitled "Girls skip games" it reads "Traditional playground games are dying out thanks to Britin's growing 'cotton wool culture'. Just 24 per cent of schoolgirls regularly use a skipping rope and 37 per cent of boys play conkers."

Maybe social and economic conditions will mean that it will be much harder to aspire to high social mobility in future. But I wonder to what extent it's down to parenting and education and the "hot-housng" of our children which is increasingly the norm for the middle classes. Endless ferrying to "activities" that leave little scope for the imagination or the expression of personal will and desire, overwhelming surveillance, over-caution.

To my mind, there is absolutely no doubt that anyone who aspires to high upward mobility is going to have to prepared to take some risks, a few leaps of faith. But if everything you've ever done has required the encouragement, goading, reminder of a pushy parent - will you be prepared to do it? Will you even be capable of it?

I hope so. I fear not.


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