Leaders: Must find ways to equalise opportunities

Factors influencing a child's success later in life include the level of their parents' education, the type of secondary school they attend and the highest qualification they achieved. Picture: PA

Factors influencing a child's success later in life include the level of their parents' education, the type of secondary school they attend and the highest qualification they achieved. Picture: PA

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EQUALITY of opportunity is a firmly established principle of modern life and one to which all politicians and educationalists subscribe.

But despite its wide affirmation, barriers still exist. A new report finds that children from wealthier families but with less academic ability are 35 per cent more likely to become high earners than their more gifted counterparts from poor families. The study, by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, looked at the lives of 17,000 people born in 1970.

Its key findings may not surprise. It is not just the income or wealth of parents that can influence the prospects of children as they move into adulthood. Factors influencing a child’s success later in life included the level of their parents’ education, the type of secondary school they attend and the highest qualification they achieved.

The report will add fuel to the demands of inequality campaigners for more active measures to help those who are disadvantaged in this way. But how can things be equalised?

To discourage parents from seeking the best for their children is to run against the grain of human aspiration. It doesn’t much matter if a child is not scoring triple Alpha in academic scores: parents will naturally wish to secure for them the best possible start.

Using family contacts to secure internships or trainee posts is one example. Tapping a relative or family friend who has demonstrated success in their particular field for guidance and advice is another.

In myriad ways parents, irrespective of background, can use the network of social contacts to help their offspring find a start in adult life. And they can help their children develop social skills enabling them to enter adulthood with more assurance and self-confidence.

Some of the remedies suggested in this report are eminently sensible and will meet with broad support: improving the quality of schools in disadvantaged areas, for example, and “educating parents to improve their skills and perspectives”. But the report also argues that if “policy makers are determined to increase social mobility in a climate where ‘room at the top’ is not expanding, then the factors that limit downward mobility will need to be addressed” – a conclusion that may strike many either as naive or disturbingly Orwellian.

One of its suggestions has already been well aired: the ending of unpaid internships. But rather than ending unpaid and often informal internships, such openings could be more widely advertised.

Raising the communication skills of pupils is another – easy to recommend, but challenging in an era in which conversation has lost ground to the ineptly named “social media”. Meanwhile, making use of what avenues there are for children is no cause for guilt.

And equalising opportunity by kicking away ladders is not a solution.

Froome is a great spokesman for UK

For champion cyclist Chris Froome it was both a reputational as well as athletic triumph. He became the first Briton to win the Tour de France twice when he crossed the finish line in Paris yesterday at the end of the gruelling three-week race.

But it will also be seen as vindication for Froome, whose sustained and determined cycling risked being overshadowed by questions over resort to drugs and isolated incidents of abuse from spectators.

The shadow of drug cheating by Lance Armstrong and others have cast a long and very deep shadow over this event, and indeed, other sporting achievements – but the stamina-draining Tour de France in particular was blighted.

Because of this it may take time for Froome’s achievement to be fully appreciated. He is the first competitor for almost 50 years to simultaneously earn the leader’s yellow jersey and the polka dot “King of the Mountains” jersey. His victory owed much to an outstanding first week followed by a remarkable burst on the climb to La Pierre-Saint-Martin that put him almost three minutes clear.

This was the climb that fuelled questions about doping. But Team Sky produced their own numbers to counter that claims. And not only did Froome repeatedly insist he was clean, but he was also the only rider to publicly agree to 24-hour random in-competition testing for banned substances.

His achievement deserves great credit and stands to restore confidence in a major international event long blighted by accusations and suspicion. There is little more that Froome could have done to assuage these. Now is up to sports governing bodies to help restore public confidence in this and other tournaments.

Testing regimes could be made more extensive and their results transparent. At the same time, penalties for drug abuse can be toughened.

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