Things are changing in student recruitment with more and more organisations bearing in mind contextual data on candidates when recruiting. A key category of contextual data is information on a candidate’s socio-economic background. However, organisations are often relying on outdated measurements of socio-economic background that can prove unhelpful, and even misleading – often defeating the whole purpose of considering contextual data.

Most common measures

The most commonly used measures of socio-economic background are:

  • If a candidate ever received Free School Meals (FSM)
  • The type of school a candidate attended, for example ‘Selective State’
  • The type of occupation of a candidate’s highest earning parent, for example ‘Forestry worker’
  • The highest level of education of a candidate’s parents, for example, ‘Undergraduate degree’
  • The candidate’s self-declared class, for example ‘Upper Class’

What makes a good measure

On the surface, these measures seem like effective ways of quantifying socio-economic background. Beyond that, many of them fall within the guidance provided by the UK Government and by Professions for Good.

However, a three-month research exercise PiC undertook in 2018 revealed that in order to be justified in impacting recruitment decisions, organisation want their measures of socio-economic background to fulfil four central requirements.

‘4Cs’ of a good measure

Those four central requirements are that a measure be:

  • Comparable between candidates
  • Cover as many candidates as possible
  • Clear what the measure measures to everyone involved
  • Compliant with relevant legislation

Most common measures are lacking

Taking another look at conventional assessment practice, it’s pretty clear that none of the common measures address all of the four Cs and some address none at all. Specifically:

Free school meals

When considering free school meals (FSM), data is incomparable as FSM have been provided as standard at different times in different parts of the UK. In fact, the parameters are so unclear here, that some independent boarding school students have answered positively when asked if they received FSM, because they didn’t need to hand over money for dinner as food costs were subsumed into their fees.

Type of school

When concentrating on the type of school a candidate may have attended, you are likely to discover further obfuscating factors. For instance, the measure will not indicate the quality of their education; there are many state schools which outperform independent schools. Neither will the measure take into account privileged students who attend state schools or less-privileged students with scholarships to independent schools.

Occupation and education

Parental occupation and education are only slightly less flawed as measure. Data is incomparable between older and younger candidates, due to demographic changes over time in the distribution of employment between different categories and the access to university. Results are further skewed by a tendency to focus on the highest-earning parent, in many cases not taking the lower-earning parent into account at all.

Self-declared class

Inaccuracies also arise from placing any significance on the self-declared class of a candidate, as it entirely subjective, will always be open to interpretation and therefore cannot be consistent.

PiC’s measure fulfils all 4Cs

Trying to navigate all this confusing data can be a frustrating business, which is why PiC has developed a comprehensive socio-economic background (SEB) ranking system in response to organisation’s ‘4 Cs’ requirement. The rank measure used a new quantitative methodology that makes it easy to assess a candidate’s skillset, knowledge and experience in the context of their relative privilege growing up.

Take a look, get in touch and we’ll take you through the measure – we think it’s a gamechanger.