An enduring educational concern that has plagued researchers and policy makers in most affl uent countries for perhaps as long as education has been available as a public good is the endemic nature of educational inequalities. These inequalities highlight clear differences in the educational skills, knowledge, capabilities and credentials between learners’ demographic characteristics. They also point to processes of educational inequity that emanate from an intersection of factors that include learners’ families, communities, the geographies of particular spaces and places, gender, ethnicity, material well-being, culture and the geopolitical developments inherent in globalisation. These factors interact with each other and with the individual characteristics and biographies of learners. Above all, they interact with the education system – with its structures, practices, values and expectations – in ways that result in educational injustices. The general theme of the book is about examining some of the causes and responses to these injustices. Specifi cally the book will examine issues of educational equity in those poor urban contexts in England, and internationally, where educational inequalities are at their most concentrated and where educational policy and practice has, over time, proliferated and been at its most focused. In so doing the context for this book is located in the more general arena of urban studies and in particular in what is increasingly characterised by a dichotomy in the fi eld in and around notions of the ‘urban’ and ‘urbane’. One element of this dichotomy is the urbane that is often refl ected in ideas about cities and towns as ‘glocal’ informational centres gentrifi ed by capital (social, cultural and economic) rich, mobile and powerful groups of people that harness the creative forces of such centres. This urbaneness is also commensurate with diversity of the metropolitan that brings a richness of experience, the locus of high culture, sophistication, and an area where this privileged population have the means to participate in what was once known as a ‘cosmopolitan’ way of life. Educationally this privileged population is stratifi ed from the rest through the provision of either exclusive private education or via state schools located in expensive catchment areas. The contrasting element of the dichotomy is the mirror image signalled by the notion of the ‘urban’ that is suggestive of major challenges facing the very same towns and cities. Living cheek by jowl with the rich urbane panoply of social, cultural, economic, political and educational affordances and opportunities, are the many places in our towns and
cities that contain profound pockets of urban poverty with commensurate levels of marginalisation and exclusion. Families living in such communities are faced with poor health, poor housing and infrastructure, high levels of crime and violence and high levels of unemployment. For young people in such communities the experiences of schooling and education are often blighted by their everyday experiences of poverty, exclusion and stigmatisation – experiences that are then compounded by the commensurate diffi culties faced by urban schools in responding to such challenges. Hence it is in the poor urban neighbourhoods of our cities and towns that educational failure is at its most concentrated. It is a reality that has led some commentators to categorise such people and places as the ‘urban outcasts’ (Wacquant 2007) of our modern times. In addition high levels of social stratifi cation and structural inequalities refl ected in the urbanurbane dynamic and its ‘outcasts’, has generated tensions between and among communities with opportunities for enhanced community fragmentation and prejudice. Termed by some as problems of social exclusion, by others as constraining social mobility and by others again as examples of social injustice and racism, the urban-urbane problematic in its various guises has troubled educational policy makers in numerous ways and over a number of decades, and yet with little to show for the investments and interventions attempted over time. My take in responding to such a challenge is to take a different approach to many in the fi eld who position themselves around juxtaposed perspectives that are either: (a) outwardly socially critical of current arrangements and explicitly focused on education for social justice, or (b) focus, conversely, on ameliorative, perhaps utilitarian equity improvements within currently constituted policy parameters. What this book attempts in the fi rst place is a more detailed and philosophical scrutiny about the general notion of educational equity or fairness and how these terms relate broadly to different ideas about educational purpose and quality. As such the book is positioned more closely to what Broadfoot and Nisbet (1981) have termed the ‘enlightenment’ function of educational research in that it challenges existing and taken for granted conceptualisations of what educational quality and equity might mean. It also refl ects Gewirtz and Cribb’s (2006) position about the importance of explicit ethical refl exivity in orientating one’s approach to undertaking social science research. My argument is that far too often implicit notions of purpose, quality, fairness, justice, equity, and equality are used, often interchangeably in relation to education but in ways that provide little precise detail about what is meant by such terms. This therefore creates confusion as what is desirable, possible and/or achievable. The specifi c aims of this book, therefore, are threefold. Firstly I want to articulate explicitly a normative understanding of the processes of educational equity and how this understanding might be linked to particular notions of educational purpose and quality. Secondly I want to then examine in more detail what it is about the urban-urbane paradox that provides explanatory potential for how and why these inequities materialise more frequently in poor urban contexts. Finally I want to examine how educational policy and practice in England and other countries have historically and more recently understood and then enacted notions of quality and
fairness. My position is that being explicit and systematic about the normative dimension of educational equity, its links to purpose and quality and with a specifi c focus on the urban-urbane, requires a commitment to producing convincing arguments and understandings about why a particular state of educational affairs might be preferable and how things might therefore be improved. Although this may seem an obvious point to make, it is not an issue that has always been fully explored or articulated. For example, over the last 20-30 years research, policy and practice in many affl uent countries has more often than not taken for granted notions of educational purpose, quality and equity. These have been utilitarian in their orientation and linked to the requirements of the economy and economic competitiveness. Quality has been associated with ideas about human capital and in particular maximising the number and level of educational credentials and attainments achieved by the greatest number of young people. Inequities have then been explained in terms of the inequalities that have permeated the education system, particularly in relation to those groups of disadvantaged urban young people that underachieve in relation to the attainment of those credentials. A list of multifarious explanations for these inequalities are then advanced, often located in discourses framed within existing perspectives about educational failure that discourage alternative approaches and that are more often than not focused on ‘underperforming’ schools and their teachers. Based on particular interpretations of research or ‘best evidence’ located within these mainstream educational perspectives, a plethora of, at times, unrelated strategies and resources for dealing with these educational inequalities are advanced. Partial successes are then applauded; however, the ongoing endemic problems of educational inequality remain unchallenged. My argument is that implicit assumptions about educational purpose, quality and equity do not engage systematically or analytically with detailed arguments about what an equitable education system might look like. Such an approach therefore makes it problematic to accept standard mainstream policy arguments about equitable education policies and their associated practices. Perhaps the challenge is best articulated by the philosopher and economist Amartya Sen when he posed the pertinent question ‘equality of what’. And as Terzi cogently reminds the fi eld:
The under-specifi ed status of the principles underpinning [the] policy is perhaps a crucial factor in the outcomes. Knowing more precisely what we mean by an equitable distribution – whether, for instance, it should be a fair distribution of resources in order to increase average achievement, or, conversely, in order to maximise the achievement of the lowest achieving students – would certainly make a difference to the policy design.