BBC Education: How we can encourage social mobility in the UK

Director of Education, BBC

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In an age when education is widely recognised to be the most significant element in determining life chances; we’ve been considering how the BBC can ensure that everything we do in this space is as impactful as possible.

Our overall mission is to inform, educate and entertain and we take the education part very seriously: we already deliver a range of programmes and services that promote and support learning for all ages.

This includes CBeebies with its support for the early years framework, Bitesize which provides study and revision support for children across the UK; BBC Teach for inspirational classroom learning; major educational campaigns such as the BBC micro:bit and Super Movers working in partnership to tackle defined societal needs; as well as extensive specialist factual programming that engages millions of people week on week.

We’re not as well known for educating as we are for informing and entertaining so we’ve been thinking about how what we do for education could have more impact. We want to renew our commitment to education for the benefit of our audiences and the UK as a whole. Over the past year, we’ve consulted a wide range of major organisations to identify key priorities that we will explore in partnership.

Our first priority is to improve the UK’s literacy rates amongst pre-school children.

It’s fair to say that the UK has a problem with social mobility; in fact it’s worse than in most of the developed world and extensive research suggests that poor literacy is a key contributing factor. By the age of five, the UK's most disadvantaged children can be 19 months behind their more affluent peers in vocabulary development (according to Sutton Trust, 2012).

We want to do something about this. And so, alongside the National Literacy Trust, we’re inviting others to join us in an unprecedented multi-year campaign that seeks to close the language gap that kicks in even before children start school. If we can get others to support us, we’ll make under 5s language and literacy a key BBC priority and focus our educational efforts, content and marketing in this area, highlighting to new parents the importance of talking, singing and reading to their child from birth.

But what the BBC can do is only one part of the solution. We’ll also need boots on the ground, the expertise of those already on the front line and the support of a range of other organisations if we are to truly make a sustainable change. It’s a massive challenge, but one we feel worth taking on as if we can tackle it, the benefits to young people in the UK will be huge.

Our second priority is to champion the wider needs of children by building resilience and self-esteem.

We want to do more to help children and young people during their school years and beyond. Bitesize already helps most students to study better; the curriculum support it provides benefits around 80% of teenagers across the UK but we think it can do more.

We want to build on it to support the other challenges our audiences face during these formative years – inspiring curiosity and critical thinking, building resilience and self-esteem; supporting their mental health just as much as we support their academic needs.

Our third priority is to open up the world of employment to young people.

Recent research by the CBI has revealed that 84% of UK businesses feel the quality of careers advice young people receive is not good enough. We want to open up the world of employment; empowering young people to make informed choices about their future and putting them in control.

Working closely with the CBI and other organisations, we will build on Bitesize to help young people prepare for the world of work – bridging the gap between education and employment and shining a spotlight on the changing nature of jobs. We’ll support vocational training as well – focusing in particular on the skills the UK needs most.

Our final priority is to make it easier for adults to retrain; equipping them to thrive in a changing labour market and an increasingly digital world.

And as we build on the links between education and prosperity, we will explore with our partners in the Open University, opportunities to do more for adults too. We are keen to find out if the BBC is able to play a role in providing people with the tools to adapt to a changing world and a changing workforce. We don’t have the answers to that just yet – but we want to know if the lessons we learn through expanding Bitesize can help us find them.

It’s early days for all of these potential new initiatives but we’re sharing them to see if others want to join us as we move forward into the next phase of development, exploring these priorities in more detail and building the propositions. We firmly believe that by joining up our efforts and by working in partnership, we will be able to do so much more to impact on the lives.

Sinead Rocks is Director of Education, BBC

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