Battle of the Bottom: An Editorial on UK versus US Social Mobility

The United Kingdom and the United States, two of the most powerful socio-political countries in the world, have been fighting for the bottom spot among 1st world social mobility statistics for decades[i]. At CoachBright, our mission is to draw attention to and eventually eliminate this disparity. At times, it may seem like a never-ending battle, but I thought that sharing my story would allow for a more hopeful view of what we try to do for disadvantaged pupils in the UK.

I was born and raised in the United States (Ohio by way of Colorado by way of California, etc.) in a lower middle-class family. My mother was a single parent of four children by the time I was thirteen; and due to her two jobs, I was an unpaid babysitter, tutor and maid until I left home. However, I was always completely sure of my goal to get a degree and become an academic, but this was a goal I did not realise until fifteen years later in the United Kingdom.

America is founded on an ethos of Manifest Destiny, can-do attitude and meritocracy. I (like most Americans) grew up hearing that working hard was how you achieved your dreams. This is reinforced even today with feel good articles commonly found on Facebook[ii]: articles and stories that reinforce the idea that even in the worst circumstances, you can achieve your dreams as long as you work hard. Unfortunately, children are actually less likely to go into further education or make more money than their parents[iii].

This is what happened to me. I worked hard, got the grades, got a few scholarships, got a lot of loans (at 9.6% interest) and worked nights my first semester at OSU to cover the rest of my tuition fees. By the following year I had taken a sabbatical because I could not afford it. A few year later, I moved to the UK with my husband, waited patiently for three years to become a permanent resident, did an Access course, and ten years after I left high school I got my BA from The University of Exeter with only a measly £25k debt to the government (a year's tuition back home).

The point of my story is in no way to say that the UK is the land of dreams where “if you work hard you can achieve it”. They are mired by the same issues as the US; however, when it comes to higher education, there are many more opportunities for those people to work hard and achieve, and CoachBright exists to allow access to those opportunities.

We are showing children that, yes, things are going to be quite challenging and you are fighting against the national averages but we are going to try to give you ever tool, tip and trick we know to help you achieve your goals despite all of that. We hope that this is the first step in affecting change at a systemic level, a way for all children to have the same chances.

Blog Post by Arielle Woods, Programme Officer in the South West