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South-West Social Mobility Commission

The South-West Social Mobility Commission is a unique opportunity to drive forward transformational change in education and employment outcomes for disadvantaged young people in the South-West peninsula. It brings together a coalition of passionate and dedicated civic leaders from across the region who are giving their time over the next three to five years to make this work happen.

The Commission has been established in response to the 2022 report Social Mobility in the South West by Dr Anne-Marie Sim and Professor Lee Elliot Major from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Social Mobility. The report revealed that the South West had the lowest educational outcomes for disadvantaged pupils of any English region. For example in 2019 only 40 per cent of disadvantaged pupils in the region attained a pass grade in GCSE English and maths and only 17 per cent went on to university – the lowest rate of all regions. Social mobility is poor and low-paid workers struggle with the lowest weekly pay in the UK.

The report also highlighted an urgent collective desire for action from leaders across the region and support for establishing a cross-sector body for driving change. The Commission was publicly announced in December 2022 with Sir Michael Barber as Chair. He has been joined by eleven influential individuals representing a range of sectors from across the South-West peninsula as inaugural Commissioners. The first Commission meeting took place on 3rd March 2023.

Stark social mobility challenges in the South West leading to poorer children lagging behind in school, experts warn

The South-West Social Mobility Commission aims to lead and co-ordinate efforts to transform social mobility and improve life prospects for disadvantaged young people across the South-West peninsula.

It brings together a dedicated and passionate group of civic leaders from across the region to take on this task. The group will set goals for 2050 and for each five-year period between now and then. It will be essential to demonstrate significant progress over the next decade.

The Commission will:

  • Set ambitious goals for the region to improve social mobility and ensure these are high public profile
  • Harness the expertise of Commissioners and their networks to understand where we need to focus to address the stubborn challenges facing the region
  • Bring together different system actors to establish a strategy for addressing these challenges, ensuring each actor is clear about their responsibilities
  • Track progress in delivering the strategy and overall goals, intervening where needed
  • Mobilise the best-evidenced approaches
  • Advocate for the region on the national stage
  • Be transparent in its approach, with the aim of becoming a national exemplar for place-based, cross-sector approaches to improving social mobility

Commissioners are a representative group of civic leaders from different sectors from across the region. They are passionate about improving social mobility and life prospects for the region’s young people and are committed to working together to drive forward this work.

Commissioners bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and know-how to the group. Sectors represented by current Commissioners include education, business, local authorities, charities, health, housing, sport and the media. Geographically, Commissioners span coastal, rural and urban contexts from Cornwall to Somerset.

The Commission is being chaired by Sir Michael Barber, a world-renowned expert on government delivery. Sir Michael is Chancellor of the University of Exeter and Founder and Chair of Delivery Associates. He led the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit from 2001 to 2005, was Chief Education Advisor at Pearson, and Head of McKinsey’s global education practice. Sir Michael’s experience will be crucial in ensuring the Commission delivers on its objectives.

The other eleven Commissioners are:

  • Lisa Roberts, Vice Chancellor of Exeter University
  • Kate Kennally, Chief Executive of Cornwall Council
  • Paul von der Heyde, Chair of Somerset Integrated Care Board
  • Lisa Mannall, Chief Executive of Cornwall Education Learning Trust and former South-West Regional Schools Commissioner
  • Sean Mackney, Principal and CEO of PETROC College
  • Brendan Staniforth, Strategy Delivery Director at Devonport Royal Dockyard (Babcock International)
  • Paul Crawford, Chief Executive of Live West
  • Karl Tucker, Chair of Yeo Valley Ltd, Chair of Heart of the South West LEP and Interim Chair of Great South West
  • Tony Rowe, Chair of Exeter Chiefs
  • Alice Thomson, Associate Editor, Columnist and Interviewer at The Times
  • Andrew Moreman, Chief Executive of Young Devon

The Executive Function will support the work of the Commissioners. It will be led by Professor Lee Elliot Major.

Lee Elliot Major OBE is the country’s first Professor of Social Mobility based at the University of Exeter. As one of the world’s leading social mobility experts, his work is dedicated to improving the prospects of disadvantaged young people. Lee was formerly Chief Executive of the Sutton Trust and a trustee of the Education Endowment Foundation. He is focused on the impact of research, working closely with Government advisers and policy makers as well as schools, universities and employers.

Dr Anne-Marie Sim has been working on South-West social mobility projects since 2021. Prior to this, she completed a PhD in social anthropology at the University of Oxford, investigating children’s talk about the future through 18 months’ immersive fieldwork with children in and out of school environments. Anne-Marie has also worked as a strategy consultant for the Boston Consulting Group, and has a first-class undergraduate degree in Economics & Management from the University of Oxford.

Lee and Anne-Marie are piloting a University of Exeter tutoring programme. For more information and to find out how to get involved, please see: Uni Tutoring Service (


For all enquiries, please contact Anne-Marie Sim: