Skip to main content

School of Education

Professor Lee Elliot Major

Professor Lee Elliot Major

Professor of Social Mobility


 +44 (0) 1392 724768

 Baring Court BC01


Baring Court, University of Exeter St Luke's Campus, Heavitree Road, Exeter, EX1 2LU, UK


Lee Elliot Major is the country’s first Professor of Social Mobility. Appointed by the University of Exeter to be a global leader in the field, his work is dedicated to improving the prospects of young people from under-resourced backgrounds. As a Professor of Practice he focuses on research that has direct impact on policy and practice, working closely with schools, universities, global employers and Government policy makers. He helped establish the South-West Social Mobility Commission to improve outcomes for young people across the South-West peninsula.

He has published a number of award-winning books including Social Mobility and Its Enemies published by Penguin, What Works? offering evidence-informed bets for teachers, What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Social Mobility? and The Good Parent Educator. His latest book Equity in Education sets out a new equity-based approach for schools.

Lee was formerly Chief Executive of the Sutton Trust and a founding trustee of the Education Endowment Foundation. In 2021, he was made a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. He is an Associate of LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance, an Associate Member of Nuffield College, University of Oxford, a Visiting Fellow at the LSE’s International Inequalities Institute, and an Honorary Professor at the UCL Institute of Education. He is a member of the ESRC's Strategic Advisory Network.

Lee regularly appears in national broadcast and print media, commenting on education and social mobility issues. His TEDx talk considers how we can we level the playing field of education  He has served on several Government advisory bodies and presented several times to the House of Commons Education Select Committee. 

He has a PhD in theoretical physics and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sheffield for services to education.  He was an education journalist working for the Guardian and the Times Higher Education Supplement. He serves as a trustee of the Ted Wragg Trust. He is the first in his family to attend university. Lee was awarded an OBE in 2019.

Research group links

Back to top


Research interests

Lee focuses on understanding the main drivers of social mobility in society and developing evidence-informed ways of improving the prospects of disadvantaged young people.

He has won a major Nuffield Foundation grant to analyse how widening inequalities in education and employment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to impact the life prospects of under 18s. This builds on UKRI funded work with colleagues at LSE,  ‘Generation COVID and Social Mobility: Evidence and Policy’, and a Health Data Research UK grant to further this research.

He argues that improving social mobility should not just be about catapulting a few talented individuals to the top of society, but creating decent jobs and lives for all across the country. 

Other research projects and interests include: looking into ‘left behind’ pupils who leave education without the basic numeracy and literacy skills, a three year project supported by the Monday Charitable Trust; identifying social mobility challenges in the South West, supported by the Cobalt Trust; revewing the social class backgrounds of creative and scientific elites; and leading efforts to make universities more accessible to students from all backgrounds. The Government has supported his call to reform personal statements in university admissions.

He gives regular lectures to groups of teachers and schools and is exploring teacher-research partnerships to improve teaching for poorer pupils. He has championed the use of evidence to empower education professionals, enabling teachers to improve classroom teaching and university practitioners and employers to widen access into their institutions.


The forgotten fifth Examining the early education trajectories of teenagers who fall below the expected standards in GCSE English language and maths examinations at age 16.

Social mobility: past, present and future Review of social mobility research over the last 25 years for the Sutton Trust with new data suggesting worsening prospects for children growing up in the Covid pandemic. 

Social mobility in the south west A review of barriers facing disadvantaged young people in the south west, proposing practical solutions to improve the life chances for future generations growing up in the area.

Learning loss since lockdown: variation across the home nations Empirical analysis of secondary microdata, bespoke social mobility surveys and administrative school attendance data reveal the extent of learning losses that have evolved in the four nations of the UK over the year of the pandemic. 

Unequal learning and labour market losses in the crisis: consequences for social mobility The unequal learning and labour market losses arising in the UK due to the Covid-19 pandemic are used to assess the consequences for social mobility.

Rethinking social mobility in education: looking through the lens of professional capital  Current ways school systems have addressed social mobility is misguided at best and, at worst, hurts social mobility. Instead, this paper calls for a focus on investment in teachers' professional capital. 

Proposals for a National Tutoring Service called for a nationwide collaborative effort to mobilise undergraduates and graduates to help improve the achievement of disadvantaged pupils in the core subjects of English and Maths across the UK

Social mobility and elite universities a policy note for HEPI called for social mobility rankings for universities to be established.

The Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit is an accessible Which style guide detailing best bets for improving children’s attainment. It has been used by two-thirds of senior leaders in schools and been replicated in several countries across the world. The Toolkit was identified as a model for the Government’s ‘What Works’ network.

What Makes Great Teaching is a review of 200 studies aimed at addressing three questions: what makes great teaching; how can we capture it; and how can this promote better learning in schools? The review has been downloaded over 100,000 times. 

Back to top


Lee lectures on what we know about social mobility levels in Britain and other countries, and how research and evidence can impact on education policy and practice.

His social mobility lectures focus on the drivers of social mobility and societal inequalities and the role of schools and teachers make in improving prospects for disadvantaged young people.

His lectures on the use of evidence for teachers, focusing on what we know about the most effective approaches to learning, the uptake and the limitations of evidence in the classroom.

He contributes bespoke lectures for a number of other Masters courses.

Back to top

Edit Profile