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Social Justice in education

Not enough capital: exploring education and employment progression in further education

Over half a million young people from low-income backgrounds are studying in FE colleges. But a new RSA report, Not Enough Capital, concludes that these students currently struggle when progressing in education and their careers. The report explores the reasons for this, and recommends a number of interventions aimed at better supporting them.

Download 'Not enough capital: exploring education and employment progression in further education' report (PDF, 881KB)

The social class gap for educational achievement: a review of the literature

Social class remains the strongest predictor of educational achievement in the UK, where the social class gap for educational achievement is one of the most significant in the developed world. This has been identified as a policy concern by all three main political parties, illustrating as it does both the extent of wider social inequality in the UK, and an impediment to meritocracy and social mobility.

But efforts thus far to close the gap have been largely unsuccessful, as this review highlights. What sort of initiatives and approaches, then, might prove more fruitful in addressing working class educational achievement – especially within a climate of cuts which threaten to exacerbate existing inequalities?

This review of the literature seeks to address such questions. It maps social class inequality across educational sectors, and the various government and philanthropic initiatives that have sought to tackle it, and draws from this analysis conclusions and recommendations for the direction of future work.

Download 'The social class gap for educational achievement: a review of the literature' (PDF, 417KB)

The RSA focus on social justice in education

Social justice is a key agenda for the RSA education programme, relating directly to our pursuit of 21st century enlightenment in a commitment to enabling young people to realise their potential.Clearly there are many interpretations of social justice, and educational issues that speak to these, but our current focus is on the social class gap for educational achievement.

This issue concerns the realisation of potential for underprivileged social groups, and social inequality. Social class is shown to remain the strongest predictor of educational success in the UK, and the UK is shown by the OECD PISA studies to be among those nations with the greatest socio-economic differentials in educational attainment. This attainment gap, according to social class, has been increasingly recognised as an issue by policy makers in recent years (it featured strongly in the 2010 election manifestos of all three main political parties).

However, the replication of social class inequality through education also represents a political stumbling block: policy plans for addressing it are highly contested by research evidence which shows social inequalities to be perpetuated by the competitive, standards-driven nature of the education system.

Hence this barren terrain provides an opportunity for injection of innovative thinking and practice, using our connections and expertise to initiate effective interventions to better engage working class young people with education - the proposed RSA Social Justice in Education programme strand will seek to do this.

We have several principles in engaging this work:

  • Not to position working class parents/kids as in deficit, but to see social inequality as an issue of social capital. Our aim is to empower, rather than to ‘fix’.
  • To prioritise educational engagement, and identity and recognition, as facilitative of attainment (rather than foregrounding the latter).
  • Pursuing collective rather than individualistic approaches
  • To consult stakeholders (including working class young people and parents) in the design of interventions
  • Locating our work within a broader socio-economic and policy terrain.

View further elaboration and discussion of the concept of social justice.

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