Eva Simpson: Socially immobile Brits need a new school of thought

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One of my closest friends went to Eton .

He left with a handful of forgettable GCSEs and a pretty non-existent contacts book.

He wasn’t in the same year as any royals or future captains of industry.

So if he didn’t get amazing grades or make lifelong friends with anyone within spitting distance of the throne, what, I asked him, did he get out of attending one of the world’s most elite schools?

As someone who went to what would now be called a failing school, his answer gave me -goosebumps. What he learnt was very simple.

His school taught him he couldn’t fail in life. That even if he hit rock bottom, it was only a temporary state and he would always bounce back.

Those lessons about confidence, ambition and, above all, resilience, have served him well in life.

I was reminded of this when I read this week’s depressing report by the Social Mobility Commission.

It says “inequality is entrenched in Britain from birth to work”, and despite Theresa May promising to build a country where “it’s your talent and hard work that matter”, social mobility has been stagnant “for the last four years”.

Working-class people get paid 17% less than middle-class colleagues for doing the same work, while working-class children are only half as likely to end up getting a professional job.

I believe a huge part of the problem is state schools and their desperation to put -children in boxes.

I remember being scathingly told by my careers teacher not to apply to study journalism at a particular university because “no one from here has ever got in”.

Sandie Okoro, General Counsel for the World Bank, the first black woman to be appointed to that position, told her primary school she wanted to be a judge when she grew up.

She was told: “Sandie, little black girls from Balham don’t become judges.”

Media boss Karen Blackett, of -advertising giant WPP and chairwoman of MediaCom UK, was told the only career options available to her were either a nurse or teacher.

These awful incidents may have happened years ago, but I’m told that schools are still placing limitations on what working- class children can achieve.

My Old Etonian friend would never have been given such duff advice.

If we truly want more social mobility, schools need to teach our children that it’s OK to be ambitious, help them to be confident, and give them the tools to get back up when they fall.

They need to support their hopes and dreams and stop crushing them into the ground.

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