Iesha Small
use your uniqueness to add value

Exploring education, society, leadership and how to design a meaningful life.

What if… education policy was shaped by a commitment to social justice?

Education policy underpinned by social justice would banish the myth of universal parental choice.

I entered teaching in 2004 with a commitment to social justice. Although I wouldn’t have been familiar with the term then. I entered via a scheme called Teach First, which was then in its second year and only existed in London.  Nobody had heard of it.

My parents thought I was wasting my engineering degree (which I got just across the road at UCL’s department of Mechanical Engineering).

I assured them it was only for a couple of years then I’d go and make some real money doing management consultancy or something.

Fast forward to 2013. I was still teaching. By now I was an assistant head.

At the time, I wrote on my personal blog “I want to see the link between socio- economic background and educational outcomes destroyed and banished to history.”

Which sums up why I did Teach First, why I carried on teaching in various leadership positions and why I later became a researcher in a think tank before my current role.

What is social justice?

I like to break big concepts into definitions and take a first principles approach, a hangover from physics in my training as an engineer:

Social = Relating to society or the way society is organised

Justice = fairness in the way people are treated.

Digging further into society and fairness…

Society = is the people who live in a country or region, their organizations, and their way of life

Fairness = treating people equally without favouritism or discrimination

This leads me to my workable definition of social justice:

Social Justice is fairness in the way that we treat people in our country, region and organisations

We don’t currently have that. For example The Timpson review reported that:

Your child is more likely to be excluded if they fit into one or more of the following groups:

  • GRT
  • SEN support
  • Black Carribean
  • Those claiming free school meals.
Social Justice is fairness in the way that we treat people in our country, region and organisations. We don’t currently have that. #ioedebates Click To Tweet

What has education policy been underpinned by in recent years?

Discussing the topic this earlier via text with a few friends in education:

Cynically – education policy has been underpinned by the need to look good and get ppl to vote.  Everybody cares or has an opinion about Health + Education and politicians need to be seen to do something.

More charitably-

Consistency and improving standards in all schools.

  • Improving quality of teaching.
  • National literacy strategy/national numeracy strategy

Professionalising teachers

  • Fast track teaching
  • NPQH, NPQSL etc

The structures of education.

  • Under guise of autonomy for schools and greater parental choice
  • Breaking up LAs. Initial teacher training reforms. Free school

Desire to population rich in “key knowledge”

Teacher recruitment and retention

SOCIAL MOBILITY

Social mobility….

Social mobility is not social justice. If you’d asked me a few years ago I would have said I was in favour of social mobility.  I was wrong.  

Social mobility, when you strip it back, is an individualistic model. A few exceptional people can be allowed to go up the lift in society’s status sky scraper while leaving the levels, layout of each floor and crucially the building itself essentially the same.

If we were in pursuit of social justice we’d demolish the building and build a new one fit for purpose.

Social mobility is about improving life for a few lucky individuals. Social justice is about improvements and fairness for populations.

Social mobility is about improving life for a few lucky individuals. Social justice is about improvements and fairness for populations. #ioedebates Click To Tweet

Well, what if education policy was shaped by a commitment to social justice then?

  1. High quality early years education – best impact = closing gaps as early as possible
  2. Curriculum –
    • key knowledge about our country (past and present – geo politics)
    • skills to succeed in the wider world
    • ensuring that all sections of our society were represented in a fair and balanced way
      • SRE – (like to highlight the damage done by section 28 here)
  1. Treatment of children – mentioned exclusions (+ outcomes for SEND. Diff groups)
  2. Treatment of schools
    • Ofsted ratings (RI, special measures more likely in disadvantaged schools)
    • CVA measure was contentious but at least it was an attempt to recognise that schools had different starting points)
  3. Fair Access and distribution of resources
    • Funding (PP was an attempt, national funding formula etc)
    • Teachers
    • Parents
    • Pupils (a truly comprehensive system)

 

For education policy to be shaped for a commitment to social justice everybody has to be equally invested in state education.  Private schools would be abolished + admissions lotteries introduced. We’d need to remove the myth and expectation of universal parental choice (choice is really currently only for parents with social or economic capital).

If education policy is shaped by commitment to social justice then it has to be designed so that it works well, equitably and that you have same opportunities for great outcomes no matter what your start in life is.

Currently if you were reborn tomo and you didn’t know as what. Could you honestly say that you’d have the same opportunities, access and treatment from others in education + life as everybody else?

Education policy underpinned by social justice would banish the myth of universal parental choice. #ioedebates Click To Tweet Parental choice in education is really currently only for parents with social or economic capital. Click To Tweet

 

Other info

This blog is the text of a speech I gave on 5th December 2019 at UCL/Institute of Education as part of their IOE Public Debates series, exploring “Radical and inspiring ideas for alternative education futures.” TES  was the media partner and you tube video of the live stream is embedded below.

Panel topic = What if education policy was shaped by a commitment to social justice?

Fellow panellists were

  • UCL Institute of Education (IOE) Director Professor Becky Francis
  • Louise Archer, Karl Mannheim Professor of Sociology of Education, IOE,
  • Dan Morrow, CEO, Woodland Academy Trust
  • Dr Jason Arday, Assistant Professor in Sociology, Durham University

 

On the video…

Event starts from 17:27 and my speech from this blog post is from 50:00 ish to about 59:00.

The whole thing is well worth a watch or listen as my fellow panellists each bought an interesting perspective. It was also a very engaged and informed audience of academics, students, policy makers, education professionals,  researchers and academics who asked incisive and challenging questions during the Q and A.
Thanks to Anna Trethewey, Laura McInerney, Cath Murray and Natalie Perera  for humouring my random geekery and being sounding boards re their thoughts on (past) edu policy and/or social justice via what’s app and DM.

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What if… education policy was shaped by a commitment to social justice?