Growing need for our work and evidence of its impact suggest it may be time to re-introduce some form of educational maintenance support, write Baroness Nicky Morgan and Paul Eeles, Chief Executive, Skills and Education Group.


Social mobility is a widely used and hotly contested phrase, but one that we at the Skills and Education Group understand to mean improved financial and educational performance across generations or throughout a person’s life. We know that social mobility is a long game, with many rungs to its ladder. We see our role as supporting learners and staff to keep those rungs accessible to all.


We do this by providing financial support to learners so they can attend their classes and achieve their qualifications. We fund staff to enable them to pursue professional development opportunities or research projects with the aim of making themselves more effective in the classroom. We offer our members grants that enable them to improve their resources and facilities, providing an up-to-date, industry-standard education for learners. We know that without this support the opportunities available to those most in need would be severely limited – something that flies in the face of the quest for social mobility.


Of course, the popular narrative of social mobility is the ‘smart kid from poor background goes to university and gets into a white-collar profession’. The mostly unspoken part is that the young person then most likely leaves the place where they came from. We’re sure these cases exist but what we see everyday are people from lower socio-economic positions or with negative experiences of school turning to their local FE colleges to continue their educational journey post 16.


Our support removed practical barriers that impeded committed learners.

It’s colleges and providers that give these learners the chance to gain skills. They offer clear routes to stable and more prosperous jobs and, crucially, do so within their own communities. This means those who benefit from their local college can, in turn, go on to benefit the town and community where they live.


At the Foundation, we work with anyone over the age of 16 and it’s worth noting that around a quarter of learner recipients are over the age of 35. We know our grants for learners have a clear, decisive and positive effect on educational outcomes. Initial findings from an independent analysis of our work show that in the 21/22 academic year there was more than a 20 per cent difference in pass rates between grant recipients (97.8 per cent) and those in the wider cohort (77 per cent).


The support we offered in each case was not large-scale, with an average spend of £553 per head. We weren’t buying learners houses or providing them with sustained private tutoring. Instead, our funding most often provided learners with support around travel costs, utilities expenses and the purchase of learning technology like laptops and course software. In doing so, it removed the debilitating stress and pressure of short-term, logistical concerns and enabled them to focus on the course they were passionate about. We simply removed some of the practical barriers that impeded committed learners from getting the most out of their time at college, raising them a few rungs up that ladder.


Since our establishment in 2019, the number of learners we have supported has more than doubled year on year. At the time of writing, we have helped 309 learners in the 2022/23 academic year alone. As we continue to weather the storm of a cost-of-living crisis and as learners continue to balance the demands of their lives with their passion for education, the need for our work will persist. Indeed, the demand for it and the impact we see that it has, pose the question as to whether it is time for the government to consider a return to a revised form of educational maintenance support.


Our sector is filled with excellent staff and with dedicated students who, with a little extra help, can achieve life-changing results in their own hometowns. We remain dedicated to them, today and in future generations, and will never stop looking for ways to empower them to climb the ladder.


This article was first published in FE Week and can be found online here

The Skills and Education Group's Foundation champions social mobility and has provided over £232,424 in funding since it's inception.

Find out more about the work of the Foundation.