College principal to become government’s new Social Mobility Commission deputy

Alun Francis expected to be second-in-command to Katharine Birbalsingh - head of the country's 'strictest school'

Alun Francis expected to be second-in-command to Katharine Birbalsingh - head of the country's 'strictest school'



Alun Francis, principal of Oldham College, has been named as the new deputy of the government’s Social Mobility Commission.

He is expected to be second-in-command to Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher of Michaela free school – dubbed the country’s “strictest school”, who was confirmed as the government’s preferred candidate to chair the commission yesterday.

They will lead a “renewed focus … on areas such as regional disparities, employment, education and enterprise”.

Francis said he and Birbalsingh will bring “different experiences and skills, but we have a common purpose and are determined to help bring real benefits to people and places across the country”.

Birbalsingh will face a hearing in front of the women and equalities committee before being appointed in the coming weeks.

Once her selection is ratified, a public appointments campaign will be run later in the autumn to find new commissioners.

FE leaders welcomed the appointment of a college principal to a top role in the commission.

Shelagh Legrave, the chief executive of Chichester College Group who will become the new FE Commissioner this month, tweeted: “Great to hear you are vice chair Alun Francis. Further education can make such an impact in this area.”

Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said: “Congratulations Alun Francis. Really pleased for you, you’ll do a great job. Lovely to see college leaders in high profile positions.”

Francis became Oldham College principal in in 2010. Prior to this, he led Oldham Council’s ‘building schools for the future programme’.

He was previously involved in the regeneration of east Manchester, focusing on skills, education, youth and crime. He subsequently worked on a variety of city region projects in Greater Manchester including the setting up of the Connexions service in the sub-region and a variety of projects around youth employment, crime, and NEET reduction.

Francis also worked at a senior level in children’s services at Stockport Council, before moving to Oldham in 2007.

He was made an OBE in the Queen’s New Year 2021 Honours for his services to education.

The social mobility commission has been led by interim co-chairs Sandra Wallace and Steven Cooper since July 2020.



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  1. Firstly, challenge the structurally ‘baked in’ elements that suppress better social mobility.

    Chasing a German style technical education system, but with American style funding principles will lead to worse mobility outcomes.

    In other words, increasingly transferring the costs of education / skills acquisition away from the state and employers and onto individuals, via loans or low wages, cannot deliver what it aims to.

    Loans rates of RPI +3% for the majority to overcome before they even encounter old boys networks, nepotism, cultural favouritism and educational snobbery. Hard to see that bearing fruit.

    In the absence of any meaningful change, social mobility promises appear to be just a motivational tool to get people to ‘strive’.