2. Chance to learn and realise talents

Second, society should aim to ensure that every individual has the chance to learn and realise their talents to the full.

It is a significant challenge to:

  • Close the performance gap in education between boys and girls.

Boys’ consistently inferior performance in education is the reverse of the situation seen for most of the post-war period. With the evidence suggesting that skills will be increasingly important in the UK’s economic success in the years to come, the true costs of failing to equip boys and young men with good qualifications may not be evident for a generation. 

  • Reduce the level of ethnic and gender segregation in education.

Girls and women tend to be under-represented in some courses of study (such as engineering and physical science which lead to relatively well-rewarded jobs. Meanwhile, although ethnic minority students are participating in the higher education system in greater numbers than at any previous time, some ethnic groups are much less likely than average to get into older and more prestigious institutions. If the factors that cause forms of educational segregation are at heart to do with arbitrary stereotypes; if young girls with scientific talent are turning away from physics because it’s a ‘boy’s subject’, and if bright ethnic minority students are choosing not to apply to Russell Group universities because they fear that their face won’t fit, then this is a constraint on talent, and a wasted opportunity.

  • Close the qualifications gap for disabled people.

Among adults of working age, those with a disability are roughly half as likely to have degree level qualifications as those without, and lower qualifications levels impinge directly on employment prospects. The evidence suggest that young people with disabilities today are still significantly less likely than their counterparts to gets good GCSEs and to enter higher education. It also suggests that they face barriers to learning, such as bullying, to a greater extent than other pupils. Therefore, action is needed today to give more disabled people a chance to develop skills, which may open up better opportunities to get a job later in life, and which may in turn offer the prospect of higher income, more social contacts and greater independence.

  • Reduce the disparities in educational performance by socio-economic background.

At age five, 35% pupils of known to be eligible for free school meals achieved a good level of development, compared to 55% of pupils not eligible for free school meals. Pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds are subsequently less likely to get good GCSEs, and less likely to enter higher education. In other words, they start off in the education system at a disadvantage and never catch up. A failure to make the best possible use of the country’s available skills by allocating opportunities according to (in the words of a recent report on access to the professions 1) ‘birth, not worth’ will inevitably hamper economic performance.

> Go to the next challenge

This challenge is illustrated by the following case studies:


1. Cabinet Office, 2009: "Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions", London: Cabinet Office.

Last Updated: 07 Oct 2010