Born to Fail? Social Mobility, A Working Class View

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Born to Fail? Social Mobility, A Working Class View

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Sonia Blandford, CEO of award-winning charity Achievement for All, writes brilliantly and honestly about the facing up to the realities of the working class and how to address social mobility from the inside.


Sonia Blandford, CEO of award-winning charity Achievement for All, writes brilliantly and honestly about the facing up to the realities of the working class and how to address social mobility from the inside.

No-one in the UK is better placed than Sonia to write about the struggles of working class pupils in our schools. She grew up on the Allied Estate in Hounslow and was the first member of her family to pursue education beyond the age of 14 and was also the first to attend university. Sonia lost her mother when she took an accidental overdose, when she couldn't read the doctor's prescription. This tragic failing served as one of the inspirations for her to set up the award-winning Achievement for All organisation, who work with thousands of schools to help close the attainment gap.

Born to Fail? tackles head-on issues such as why education often doesn't matter to the working class; how education has failed to deliver for them; the importance of self-belief, action and confidence; and how the Early Years is the crucial time to build success from the start.

About the author

Professor Sonia Blandford is Founder and CEO of Achievement for All and one of the UK's leading practitioners of education. Sonia is passionate about raising the aspirations and improving the attainment of all children and young people regardless of their background or need. She was named in the 2016 Debrett's list of the Top 500 Most Influential People in the UK and is currently a trustee of the new Chartered College of Teaching.


‘Sonia Blandford’s book hit me like a ducking in freezing water. My starting point was the opposite to hers – privileged and certain I could change the world. She says of the working class ‘it isn’t about rescuing them. It’s about valuing them and allowing them to develop in their own way’. Written with great clarity and personal insight, this is a book which, if taken seriously, especially by educationists and policy makers, really could change the world and I personally wish I had had the benefits of its wisdom fifty years ago. It is a perfect read for anyone wanting to see a more equitable society in modern Britain.’ -- Sir Stephen O’Brien CBE (Founding Chair Teach First; Founding CEO Business in the Community and London First)

‘Blandford may be the first Professor to have failed her English qualification five times – but this heart-ripping, brain-provoking book uses words perfectly to explain why class is not the same as disadvantage, why social mobility isn’t something well-educated teachers can hand to chosen children but is something every child must be helped to choose for themselves, and why something as simple as playing the cornet in a school musical can be life-changing. Practical, hard-hitting, and packed with evidence, this is a manifesto for looking again at how we really make schools work for everyone.’ -- Laura McInerney, Editor of Schools Week

‘This book offers a genuinely new and unique approach to the debate on social mobility by using the author’s own experience of growing up and succeeding from a working class background. Sonia shows how we need to understand the impact of working class experience and values on learners if we are to successfully shape educational policy and interventions which really have a chance of success. Building on her own extensive experience of implementing life changing programmes in education she explores what needs to change in our system to turn around the fact that social mobility is going backwards. This is a must read analysis if you are interested in making a difference in this area.’ -- Brian Lamb, OBE (Special Educational Needs and Disability policy expert and Government adviser)

‘Too often, the term ‘social mobility’ is about uprooting. But by insisting that it is about “life improvement and life chances” rather than “class migration. Professor Blandford’s book provides a much needed alternative conception. Born to Fail? is deeply rooted in Blandford’s personal and professional experience and by sharing her own journey she takes the reader on a journey themselves. This makes Blanfdord’s argument refreshing, readable, passionate and personal. This practical and impassioned analysis will help any reader increase the sophistication of their understanding whilst galvanising their commitment to change.’ -- Loic Menzies, CEO, LKMCO

‘Born to Fail? resonates, from its opening lines, with authenticity, honesty and insight. These for me remain its key themes, and heightened relevance in shaping the connected, coordinated and co-constructed strategies that must now be developed within and alongside the communities whose potential will only be further released through a genuine sense of ownership of them. ‘By and  with’, not ‘for and to’ are key messages that need to heeded from this crucial work if social injustice is to be effectively – and genuinely – tackled. Engagement, an emphasis on mutuality, rooted in a unique combination of personal experience and professional practice, is indeed the counterpoint to Sonia’s compelling arguments for a redefinition of the issue, our thinking about it and the actions which are now essential to address what cannot continue to be the unanswered question of this, as well as so many previous generations.’ -- Derek Peaple (Headteacher, Park House School, West Berkshire; 2016 TES Headteacher of the year finalist)

‘A book such as this should not be necessary in 2017, given that it picks up themes identified over half a century ago, but Professor Blandford is quite right in showing that we as a society still have some way to go. Sonia writes from a position of authority, thanks not only to her background and personal experience of many of the issues she talks about, but also through the tremendous work she has done with people who continue to be overlooked or underserved in society. This book is important in showing us as teachers that the way forward is bigger than what we as a profession alone can achieve, but that we all must be part of solution if anything is to change. I hope that a work of this kind is not needed in another 50 years, thanks to the foundation for action and understanding that this book can help to provide.’ -- Paul Dwyer (Deputy Headteacher, North London Collegiate School; Chair, Chartered College of Teaching)

‘A thought provoking powerful personal account of the authors childhood and professional career. illustrating the importance of the difference it can make by working in co-production with families and wider partners which is at the heart of the Children and Families Act 2014.This book is highly relevant as we continue to face the challenges of addressing disadvantaged children and young people. A must read for all families and professionals!’ -- Sherann Hillman MBE Head of Family Services Seashell Trust, National Network of Parent Carer Forum (NNPCF) National Rep and Chair of Stockport’s parent carer forum. Previously Co-Chair and NW rep of NNPCF

‘This is a wonderful and inspiring book. Sonia Blandford has written a moving and compelling manifesto for social justice and mobility. There are practical solutions to achieve social mobility for working class children and those children and families struggling with entrenched disadvantage. Breaking intergenerational disadvantage is a concern for educationalist, politicians and parents. This book reveals how much social disadvantage costs the United Kingdom financially and socially and details the human and societal cost of low aspiration, poverty and barriers to the development of the whole child. As she notes, if children are our investment in the future, everyone should have a stake in their welfare.’ -- Catherine Roche, CEO, Place2Be

‘There has been little progress in the last fifty years for the most disadvantaged members of our society in the UK. Born to Fail? is a deeply personal, often moving and highly relevant call to arms from Blandford to challenge this ‘social injustice of our times’. She reflects honestly on her working class 1970’s childhood in west London, weaving her story with evidence from research, to illuminate how little has changed for children from similar backgrounds to her own. Blandford reminds us that social mobility is not about class migration, but the improvement of life choices and chances for all. Mutuality may have been overlooked, but it is not too late for us to engage with working class values and develop partnerships early on between parents, carers and teachers so that everyone can succeed.’ -- Professor Tanya Ovenden-Hope, Professor of Education, Plymouth Marjon University

‘Born to Fail? is a powerful manifesto for change, which encourages us to think differently about social mobility in this country. As well as a personal and moving account of Prof Sonia Blandford’s own journey, this book is full of real-life stories from schools and charities across the UK and draws on insights and data from other important research studies. Born to Fail? shows how a more holistic, inclusive and kind approach to education can bring about the change we need.’ -- Russell Speirs, Founder and CEO, RSAcademics

‘Sonia’s book details the importance of valuing working class consciousness, demonstrating that you CAN achieve from a zero start in life. Gaining confidence from performing in brass and military bands at prestigious events helped define my abilities. Joining the many working class mature students The Open University provided Ian and I the opportunity to gain degrees proving that we and our peers were not Born to Fail.’ – Susan Blandford BA Hons. DIP Mus, Peripatetic music teacher, textiles expert


Additional Information

Author Sonia Blandford
ISBN 9781911382409
No of pages 280
Format Paperback
Publication Date 2 Oct 2017

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