Plato’s views sounded like the perfect justifi cation for an harmonious society, in which everyone happily knew their place, apart from slaves and women who did not get a mention. But even Socrates called this myth of the metals a ‘noble lie’. It was a political legitimation for an inequitable society and it is unfortunate that the idea that people differ from each other as much as metals has resonated down the centuries, providing an ideological justifi cation for class, race, gender and disability divisions, for imperial conquests and subjugation of whole populations. It is a myth still resonating in schools and classrooms today, that children are born with the potential to be very able, less able, unable or disabled. Behind the current mantra from all political parties that children should be educated to reach their ‘potential’ lies the myth of some kind of fi xed ability, defect or disability. A major task in the sociology of education has been to demonstrate the ways in which inequalities in education and life chances – particularly by social class, race, gender and disability, have been created and recreated by policies and policy-makers rather than defective populations. Inequalities are underpinned by ideological beliefs in the different abilities and potential of different groups.