Nick Clegg joins Board of Social Mobility Foundation

Way back in 1998, Nick Clegg walked into a dingy room in Leicester to be interviewed as a potential European candidate for the East Midlands. I have to say I was not particularly optimistic about this. His CV was the most boring thing I had ever read that wasn’t a phone book. That’s not to decry his illustrious career to date, working at a high level in the European Commission and a brief stint as a journalist in New York. It just didn’t inspire.

However, he came in that night and blew us all away with his sheer passion for breaking down barriers for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This has been the driving force of his political career and why in government he drove the Pupil Premium and nursery education for so many disadvantaged 2 year olds.

It’s no surprise, then that he’s joined the board of the Social Mobility Foundation, a charity that helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into universities and into professions like the law, medicine and business.  He joins the likes of former Labour Cabinet Minister Hazel Blears and former Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission Trevor Phillips on the Board.

As is my habit, I had to look up how diverse the board of ten trustees were. It’s not dreadful, with 4/10 women and 1/10 BAME people but could be better. It seems a bit odd, though, that on the press release announcing Nick’s appointment, the only other trustees who were mentioned were four men, which perhaps shows a little unconscious bias.

Nick said on his appointment:

I am delighted to be joining the Social Mobility Foundation as a Trustee.  I have long admired the pioneering work of the SMF in expanding educational and vocational opportunities for youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Real opportunity is still denied to far too many young people in Britain today.  The schemes run by SMF show how that can be changed when employers, schools, Government and charities work effectively together.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Richard Underhill 5th Sep '15 - 4:07pm


  • The question I would like him to look into; can you improve social mobility and at the same time increase inequality? Because that was the position he supported whilst leader of the party.
    I notice that despite the pupil premium, an increasing number of parents are educating their children with private tutors. So in other words the middle classes still have a huge advantage because of what they can afford to do for their children.

  • david thorpe 5th Sep '15 - 5:13pm

    in a welfare state the only inequality ;eft is inequality of opportunity…the gap between rich and poor fell during the coalition by some measures…but i think nick like all lib dems has a mixed record

  • John Tilley 5th Sep '15 - 5:22pm

    How has social mobility has been enhanced by Nick Clegg’s five years in government when two schools (Westminster and Eton) continue to grab more Oxbridge University places than the successful pupils from hundreds of state schools with equal or better exam qualifications than their public school contemporaries?

    The introduction to this article reads like something from a fanizine. I think Hilary Clinton’s advisor had a better assessment of Nick Clegg as was revealed earlier this week.
    From Tuesday’s Guardian —
    “..Blumenthal said of Clegg had an inbred arrogance (from no less a privileged background than Cameron though seeming less snobbish because he went to Westminster instead of Eton.”

    Shame Mr Blumenthal was not a member in The East Midands in 1998 — he sounds like a good judge of character.

  • I notice another of Nick’s fellow Trustees is Fraser Nelson, Editor of the Spectator.

    Now Fraser is not a great fan of social mobility. In yesterday’s Spectator he writes “The Great Migration is a sign of increasing wealth, not abject poverty” Spectatator, 4 September 2015 12:56, Fraser Nelson

    Perhaps a quiet word, Nick ?

  • John,

    Do you actually have evidence that Oxbridge are turning away state school pupils with better grades and accepting public school pupils with worse grades? Well, ok, Oxford still use entrance tests and Cambridge may bring them back as AS levels have been abandoned…. So a test result may overturn the A-level grades. However I think there has been encouragement to state school applicants and the % of State school pupils at Oxbridge has been gradually increasing

    Public school pupils do get two grades better than comprehensive school pupils on average however (ie. AAA vs ABB). And they will coach pupils for entrance tests and generally make it their mission to get them into Oxbridge. Public schools give pupils many advantages and I am not sure the universities are to blame here

  • I don’t get it. Apart from a small number of his fan base everybody and I mean everybody knows that Clegg has probably destroyed your party forever. You deserve to get back on your feet and get a second hearing but banging on about Clegg is just bad for business. Please forget him and hope the voters do too.

  • The pupil premium didn’t do much for social mobility and he demonstrated no thinking of the macro-picture about inequality and social mobility. Hopefully he learns more than he seeks to impart.

  • Because there is no evidence that a small amount of extra school spending at such a late age does anything. It’s a nice-sounding policy with no evidence base.

  • Also the fact that the worked at THE NATION with CHRIS HITCHENS, is far more interesting than almost any resume point on a Lib Dem CV!

  • John Tilley 5th Sep '15 - 7:22pm

    AndrewMcC 5th Sep ’15 – 5:48pm


    Your link to the HofC Library Report is helpful because it underlines the point I made. See the The Sutton Trust data on pages 5 and 6.

    There was an article in The Guardian only the other day which pointed out that if you take all the successful A-level students from state schools in Wales they still manage to get fewer places at Oxford than the two public schools I mentioned in my first comment. Simon Shaw will no doubt have a perfectly rational explanation for why this is entirety the fault of the people of Wales and nothing to do with a lack of social mobility.

    I have no doubt that there are people in Oxbridge who can point to convincing statistics to indicate a “gradual” improvement in the number of places offered to kids from state schools.

    This is to be welcomed in the same way that we welcome the gradual improvement in the number of black members of The Household Cavalry and women members of The Cabinet.

    I guess during The Ice Age people applauded the gradual improvement in the weather. Although folks like me probably complained that the pace of change was a tad on the glacial side.

  • re Simon Shaw’s comment to John Tilley.

    The Guardian 27 May, 2014.

    “The actual admission figures tell a sobering story. Though only 7% of British children overall attend fee-paying schools, and 15% at sixth form, they make up 39% of Cambridge undergraduates. Figures reported this month show that an increase in admissions from state schools has gone into reverse this year with a drop of nearly two percentage points. At Oxford the figures are even starker: 43.2% are privately educated.

    Put bluntly, privately educated students are over-represented as they achieve more of the grades required and Cambridge isn’t about to change those.”

  • Simon McGrath 5th Sep '15 - 7:43pm

    @John Tilley
    “How has social mobility has been enhanced by Nick Clegg’s five years in government when two schools (Westminster and Eton) continue to grab more Oxbridge University places than the successful pupils from hundreds of state schools with equal or better exam qualifications than their public school contemporaries”
    Can you give us your source for this please ?

  • Phil Rimmer 5th Sep '15 - 8:48pm

    LDV almost managed an entire week without pointlessly promoting the re-launch of Brand Clegg. Almost.

  • @ Simon Shaw “Thanks for that Guardian reference which so clearly undermines the claim that John Tilley was making.”

    I’m sorry, but it doesn’t. It confirms exactly what Mr Tilley said.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Sep '15 - 10:43pm

    Well done to Nick. But isn’t the ideology of the pupil premium that poorer areas should have better schools? Note: not the same, but better!

    That’s why it doesn’t sit well with me.

  • John,

    I never claimed that public schools did not send disproportionate numbers of students to Oxbridge. I just asked you where you got the evidence that Oxbridge admissions staff actively discriminated in favour of public school pupils (which you did not reply to). The Sutton Trust showed that a small number of private schools send more to Oxbridge than many state schools which between them have larger numbers of qualified students (“all the schools in Wales” for example). But most likely that is because for all sorts of reasons state school and especially comprehensive school pupils do not apply for oxford and Cambridge even when they are qualified… Do you have any evidence that there are more APPLICANTS from Wales than from Eton and Westminster? People pay the vast fees at those schools with the expectation of entry to Oxbridge and they know they will go with a big supportive peer group… The numbers who are qualified in individual comprehensives will usually be small and the students will feel they may not fit in… This view may well be reinforced by teachers who do not like Oxbridge much… Would you advise a bright Welsh sixth former to apply to Oxford John? I hope you would, since you evidently think it improves career prospects..

    In your first post you talked of students from private schools “grabbing” Oxbridge places that should go to Welsh state school students. But far from “grabbing” I suspect that the Welsh children are just leaving the field open…

    Well, actually I have been involved in quite a lot of widening access projects through my employer, Leeds University, over the years. It is really quite difficult to get well-qualified students from disavantaged backgrounds to apply to what they see (in West Yorkshire) as the “posh” University in the area. Universities certainly do not have perfect policies on widening access (they tend to see it as stealing the better students from other universities, rather than actually encouraging students to go to university who might never have thought of it… And universities like Leeds are obsessed with league table positions that depend on entry grades… which obviously are related to disadvantage)

  • Simon Shaw-
    Yes, with respect, I don’t think you particularly know what you’re talking about.

    Cross-national studies have shown for decades that there is little link between educational funding and attainment. See the educational economist Eric Hanushek, for example. And, yes, in the grand scheme of things, that is a small amount of money. When we look at all the potential causal variables for student attainment- spending per pupil, class sizes, teacher pay, peer effects etc, school spending comes nowhere close to being the most important.

    If you look at brain development, the brains of poor kids are disadvantaged mainly from ages 0-3. Rich, less able kids overtake smarter, poor kids at about 3. The pupil premium is an attempt to not even close the door well after the horse has bolted and no one has seen it for a while.

  • ctd:

    But you can’t blame the universities entirely for what starts much deeper in society.. And the proportion of state school children at Oxbridge really has gone up substantially since 1970, even if it should be more

  • Eddie,

    Are you really saying that schools with disadvantaged children do not need more cash per pupil than schools in leafy suburbs?

    Schools with disadvantaged children NEED to be better to get the same results… The teachers need to be better too…

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Sep '15 - 11:04pm

    Andrew, I think a pupil premium is fine for primary schools, but after a few years help should be based on grades. Why funding to secondary schools is being allocated based on the parents and not the child I don’t know.

    This whole idea of closing the attainment gap. I don’t believe it. I’d rather close the wealth gap than just stuff the schools with lots of funding.


  • The best way to improve schools is to tackle poverty.

  • @ Simon Shaw

    Simon, you assert that John Tilley revised his original statement . Could you please state precisely how ?

    On a subject which still appears to be important to you, the distance travelled by a frozen omelette from Trowbridge in Wiltshire (where it is made – or manufactured if you prefer), via Glasgow (where it is stored for several weeks) is 438 miles. Check this out with Lothian Health Board if it is important enough for you to verify this., although I can assure you that it is true…….

  • Peter Watson 6th Sep '15 - 12:26am

    Regarding John Tilley’s original claim:

    two schools (Westminster and Eton) continue to grab more Oxbridge University places than the successful pupils from hundreds of state schools with equal or better exam qualifications than their public school contemporaries

    a Guardian article in 2013 stated, “Latest figures show private school pupils 9% more likely to be admitted than those at a state school with same grades” (
    If we’re being pernickety, the article is only about Oxford and does not single out Westminster and Eton, but it certainly provides evidence in support of John Tilley’s comment.
    I don’t think that John Tilley actually claimed that this outcome was because of active discrimination by Oxbridge: that notion seems to have been introduced by Andrew McC.
    Importantly, there appears to be agreement that public schools are over-represented at Oxbridge and that there are a number of reasons for this. It would be much more constructive to build on that consensus and consider how Lib Dem policies might improve the situation. Similarly, the Guardian reported that “black and minority ethnic applicants were statistically less likely to receive offers than white applicants with the same A-level grades, regardless of school background”. That is the sort of thing that should be debated. How can Lib Dems, sadly not a party that appears to be very diverse or representative, improve social mobility instead of attacking each other over petty details?

  • Peter Watson 6th Sep '15 - 12:45am

    @Stevo and Simon Shaw
    Regarding the Pupil Premium, I think your disagreement is an unnecessary distraction.
    Perhaps the contribution of this to social mobility is overstated, but I am sure we would all oppose taking away money from schools with more children from poorer backgrounds so a scheme to provide additional money for those schools should be something we all welcome, even if as a compliment rather than an alternative to other approaches. Indeed, similar proposals for pupil premium were in the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem manifestos in 2010.

  • Hazel Blears and Nick Clegg together on the board, which one of them are we supposed to feel sorry for?

  • John Tilley 6th Sep '15 - 10:29pm

    Thanks to both David Raw and Peter Watson for confirming that what I said is entirely in line with what The Guardian has reported.

    Thanks to Andrew McC for your first comment which provided the link to the HofC Library Report which underlines the point I made. See the The Sutton Trust data on pages 5 and 6.

    Your second comment goes into details and makes assumptions about what I was saying about Wales, which is not actually what I said. The Wales comparison simply provides a Blue Peter type of measurement to illustrate the point– I cannot claim credit for it I was smply quoting The Guardian. In fact The Guardian has used this sort of comparison of state schools access to Oxbridge on more than one occasion both in straight reports and in pieces by columnists.

    Peter Watson makes the really important point that – “black and minority ethnic applicants were statistically less likely to receive offers than white applicants with the same A-level grades, regardless of school background”.
    He also asks –
    “How can Lib Dems improve social mobility instead of attacking each other over petty details?”

    I look forward to the positive and constructive suggestions from Simon Shaw and Simon McGrath telling us what they actually think the best route is for a Liberal Democrat solution to a problem which, as David Raw highlights is actually getting worse, not better.

    Perhaps they think that appointing Nick Clegg to a Board with Fraser Nelson, Hazel Blears and one of Britain’s least favourite Bankers is the answer? It seems unlikely, but if they do think that, they could always explain why.

  • Eddie,

    The problem is that the pupils are at school in the here and now… And poor performance due to home background and lack of support/space and quiet to do homework etc etc is not at all restricted to primary school. In fact many would argue that it is precisely in teenage years that children need a supportive home more than ever.

    Closing the wealth gap is hardly going to help today’s pupils is it (unless you just give each poor family a big house and lots of money…)

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Sep '15 - 1:09am

    Hi Andrew Mc, good points. I’ve done a bit of reading on the pupil premium this weekend and I think I just want an acceptance that if we keep increasing funding for disadvantaged pupils then parents of other pupils are going to begin to get annoyed.

    There seems to be a few grumbles in the Telegraph and the Daily Mail about middle class kids missing out on places in the best local schools, but nothing major yet.

    As I said: the policy in its current form has never sat well with me. It’s hard to emphasise why. I’m not well off, I just think I worry about the extent that the funding difference would have to be to “close the attainment gap”.

    The debate has moderated by views on the policy though. I think i favour reform of the policy, rather than almost abolition.

  • David Raw 5th Sep ’15 – 7:24pm – re: The Guardian quote

    The Guardian, like other vested interests has an agenda and has hence made a superficial judgement on what the figures mean.

    So based on the Guardian figures questions that really need answers are:
    “Though only 7% of British children overall attend fee-paying schools, and 15% at sixth form”
    Q: How has the demographic of these children changed over the decades.
    We know it has changed as schools such as Eton can no longer simply take pupils from their traditional sources as they now have an international reputation and a need to deliver suitable numbers of students into Oxbridge etc. (you only need to think what would happen to Eton’s reputation if in one year they got no one into Oxbridge…) Likewise, with government pressure fee-paying schools now make more fee-waived places available, which in turn will have a small but significant impact.

    “they make up 39% of Cambridge undergraduates. … At Oxford the figures are even starker: 43.2% are privately educated”
    Q: How has the demographic of these children changed over the decades.
    Likewise here we are looking at two internationally recognised universities who also have reputations to maintain and because of those reputations can afford to take the ‘cream’. Any one who has done Oxbridge entrance will know that exam results only form part of the entrance requirement and can in some cases be waived. However, with a reputation to maintain we can expect an institution to become a little conservative and so tend to prefer to take it’s bread and butter students from known and ‘trusted’ sources, allowing it to take risks with students from other sources, I’m sure many here have read about Shelby Holmes…

    “Figures reported this month show that an increase in admissions from state schools has gone into reverse this year with a drop of nearly two percentage points.”
    Q: What has been the long-term trend and in this context are one years figures really anything to be overly concerned about.
    I put this in the context of my recent experiences: this has been the best year ever for one of my local state schools with six students gaining an Oxbridge place.
    However, for a local ‘outstanding’ primary school, which has had stable teaching staff for several years now, and good but steadily improving SATS results, this years results were poor.

  • I note Clegg was going on about how important social mobility is to him a week or so after he had confirmed a list of cronies to the Upper House, the ability to be able to appoint people to the House of Lords was a great (and missed in his case) opportunity to get under represented groups in Parliament. But like a previous contributor on this story I cannot wait for the day that Clegg is a distant memory.

  • I’d just like to stick up for the Pupil Premium, since I spend a fair bit of time criticising Lib Dem parliamentarians in Coalition, it’s only fair to balance this out.

    My experience of the Pupil Premium is not just about helping poor kidswho don’t have the support at home to study/learn. There are kids struggling to achieve their full potential just because, as in my daughter’s case, she really couldn’t learn in the way her Maths teacher taught the class. As a result, her GCSE grade in Maths was consistently nowhere near what it should have been. Thankfully, she was transferred to a small Maths class which was taught by the Deputy Headteacher who normally did not teach any classes but was teaching this one from Pupil Premium funding. Within a month she resat her GCSE maths and got a B! So thank you Lib Dems and thank you Pupil Premium.

    Our household is not a ‘deprived’ one, and our daughter had plenty of support/encouragement to study. Her school is the best Comp in our areas and one of the very comps in the country to teach Latin to ‘A’ Level. This year it has 15 students going to Oxbridge. It has a significant number of children on free school meals, I guess, to qualify for Pupil Premium.

  • I am absolutely no Clegg fan, but I do think he is genuinely passionate about social mobility. I think he showed that in the last parliament when he stated outright that his own privileged route (private school, Oxbridge internship etc) was to the detriment of both less privileged individuals and the organisations who eventually employ them. He cannot take back his own childhood and nor should we judge him for that. Did he achieve anything when in power, well that, especially in terms of the pupil premium and other measures may take a decade to answer fully.

    I feel he got many things wrong as DPM but I am content he will be a great asset to any body looking to break down social barriers.

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