College principal to succeed Birbalsingh as social mobility chair

Alun Francis has been filling in as interim chair since 'country's strictest headteacher' resigned in January

Alun Francis has been filling in as interim chair since 'country's strictest headteacher' resigned in January


A college principal has been picked by government as its preferred candidate to take over from Katharine Birbalsingh as chair of the Social Mobility Commission.

Alun Francis, outgoing principal of Oldham College, has been filling in as interim chair since January. The former deputy chair has been overseeing the State of the Nation report, which aims to cement the commission’s shift from focusing solely on talented youngsters moving from the “bottom” to the “top” social mobility rungs.

“The Commission has been working hard for two years to build a solid foundation for some new thinking about the focus and priorities of policy,” Francis said.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to bring this work to fruition. I especially hope to draw on my experience of working in further education, and my knowledge and understanding of so-called ‘left behind’ people and places, to make a positive contribution.”

Birbalsingh quit earlier this year saying her controversial opinions “put the commission in jeopardy” and it is doing “more harm than good”.

Francis’ appointment will be subject to a pre-appointment hearing with the House of Commons women and equalities select committee.

Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said Francis had “demonstrated the knowledge, skills and expertise which are necessary to lead the Social Mobility Commission, maintaining the organisation’s position as a champion of social mobility across the UK.”

Baroness Stowell, an FE college alumna from the Midlands who has led the House of Lords, has also been appointed a commissioner on the board.

She would provide “further insight and understanding to the already diverse and accomplished SMC board”, Badenoch added.

The commission is expected to publish its final State of the Nation report later this year. 

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