What would a socially just education system look like?
The appropriation of ‘social justice’ by the Right has seen the idea of social injustices in education increasingly regarded as the responsibility of the individuals suffering the injustice rather than the collective responsibility of society. ‘Social justice’, ‘choice’ and ‘diversity’, whilst sounding progressive, positive and beneficial, have worked discursively to sanction and exacerbate inequalities and have been part of a growing trend in the privatization and marketisation of education. But research shows the vast majority of British people still see education as a right that should be made available to all rather than a commodity to be competed for in an educational marketplace.
Social class is arguably the one area of educational inequality that has not been addressed in Britain. Yet educational inequalities are inextricably bound up with social inequalities and cannot be addressed in isolation from them. In order to have a more socially just educational system the wider social context needs to look very different, and, in particular, the gap between the rich and the poor needs to be substantially reduced.
The current policy status quo is one that valorizes choice whilst rarely recognizing that choices come with resources that remain very unequally distributed. However the vast majority of people do not want to run their children’s schools - they just want their children to have a good education that realizes their potential.
What we need are totally different ways of envisioning education. Part of that process requires a revaluing of vocational and working class knowledges and a broadening out of what constitutes educational success beyond the narrowly academic. Much also needs to be done inside schools and classrooms to change the culture from the stressful, task-driven, target-led, overly competitive environments they currently are.
Tinkering with an unjust educational system is not going to transform it into a just system. The building blocks of a socially just educational system lie outside in wider society, but before any building can be done the right foundations must be laid. This paper outlines some of the ideas behind what it may take to achieve a socially just education system.