Former Commissioners questioned on Social Mobility Commission

19 January 2018

The Education Committee questions Rt Hon Alan Milburn over his decision to resign as Chair of the Social Mobility Commission and his views on the Government’s progress towards improving social mobility in the UK. The purpose and role of the Commission is also examined.


Tuesday 23 January in Committee Room 6, Palace of Westminster

At 10am – On the work of the Further Education Commissioner

  • Richard Atkins CBE, FE Commissioner, Department for Education

At 11am – Social Mobility Commission

  • Rt Hon Alan Milburn, former Chair, Social Mobility Commission
  • Rt Hon Baroness Shephard, former Deputy Chair, Social Mobility Commission
  • David Johnston OBE, former Commissioner, Social Mobility Commission, and Chief Executive, Social Mobility Foundation

Purpose of the session

The former cabinet minister stepped down from the Commission along with all three commissioners in December. He appears alongside former Deputy Chair, Rt Hon Baroness Shephard and former Commissioner David Johnston.

The Social Mobility Commission’s latest State of Nation report, published in November, says that social mobility is a stark postcode lottery in Britain, with too many people being left behind.

The session will give MPs the chance to ask the witnesses about the reasons for their resignations, their views on the Government’s commitment to social mobility and the future of the Commission.

Social justice and social mobility

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

"Today, there is social injustice throughout our education system. For example, just 33 per cent of pupils on free school meals get five good GCSEs compared with 61 per cent of their better-off peers. A child living in one of England’s poorest areas is 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than a child living in its richest areas.

Social justice is at the front and centre of the work of the Education Committee and we want to ask has the Social Mobility Commission failed in its purpose? Is it, in effect, a state-sponsored think-tank? What needs to be done to give it teeth? What is its purpose and role? What are the best tools in education policy to tackle social justice? Should the Commission be given a wider role to assess the impact of social justice from all domestic policy?

Last month, I recommended to the Prime Minister that a social justice commission be placed at the heart of Downing Street. I am keen that this evidence session examines what examines what action is needed, in education policy and beyond, to ensure we tackle social justice in the future and ensure people are able to climb the ladder of opportunity".

Social justice and the Social Mobility

At the Liaison Committee session with the Prime Minister on 20th December, Robert Halfon recommended to the Prime Minister that a social justice commission be placed at the heart of Downing Street. This exchange was part of a series of questions from the Education Chair relating to social justice and the Social Mobility Commission [see transcript Q87, Q88 (PDF PDF 242 KB)].

The Education Committee has also published today correspondence between Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Committee, and Rt Hon Justine Greening, then Secretary of State for Education, on the Social Mobility Commission and the appointment of a new Chair of the Commission.

In the first part of the session (starting at 10am), the Committee will be holding a separate accountability session with Further Education Commissioner Richard Atkins, asking about his role in leading the government's work to boost the quality of further education in England. 

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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