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Education and Social Justice

  • Year 2 - 15 CATS - OPTIONAL module
  • Year 3 - 15 CATS - OPTIONAL module
  • Year 4 (intercalated degree) - 15 CATS - OPTIONAL module

What is this module about?

This module is about fairness and social justice in education. Fairness is a widely used word and a fashionable political slogan but what does it really mean to have a fair society or indeed a fair education system? For example, is it fair that children from poorer families tend to do less well in school academically? Is it fair that students now have to pay large sums of money to study at university? Or is it fair that if families have the money they are able to 'buy' a 'better' education for their child?
In this module we will look at the educational inequalities that may accompany individuals from birth, through school and beyond. We will examine initiatives such as Sure Start, the Academies and Free Schools programme, and current educational issues such as the expansion of higher education and the inclusion of young people with special educational needs in mainstream schools. We will also look at the education systems in other countries, particularly the United States, to consider whether they have a 'fairer' system than we do.

Topics covered:

  • Social Justice and Inequality in wider society
  • An Introduction to Education and Social Justice
  • Social Justice and Inequality: childhood poverty and inequality
  • Education and Social Justice: What is the right thing to do?
  • Inequalities and student outcomes: an international perspective
  • Inequalities and student outcomes: a national perspective
  • Schooling and social justice1: school choice
  • Schooling and social justice 2: school diversity
  • Reducing inequality in American schools? Holding schools accountable
  • Education in the United States of America – an introduction
  • Well-being and happiness? Pupils’ experiences of social justice in school
  • Included or excluded? Fairness, inclusion and special education
  • Not in Education, Employment and Training?
  • Higher Education and Social Justice
  • So what can be done to reduce educational inequalities?
  • Learning a trade? What happened to vocational education

Learning outcomes:

This module will explore issues of inequality and social justice in Education. It will draw upon research, policy and contemporary thinking in the field to provide an overview of the educational inequalities that exist and persist throughout an individual's educational trajectory. The module will consider educational experience as being both lifelong and society wide and will describe the inequalities that may accompany individuals from birth, through their school experience and into the formal and informal modes of learning that they may elect to undertake later in life. The module will emphasise the policy context of many contemporary initiatives which attempt to ensure that education experience is fair.

At the end of this module students will need to demonstrate that they are able to:

Critically examine the interaction between social and educational inequalities at different stages of the lifecourse

  • Engage with some of the key theoretical and philosophical ideas around issues of inequality and social justice

  • Critically evaluate the impact of major government policies which aim to reduce educational inequalities

  • Examine the empirical research literature around interventions to reduce educational inequalities

Contact time:

The module will consist of 10 3 hour interactive seminars to a total of 30 contact hours.


The module will be assessed by one 3000 word assignment

Sample reading list:

Smith, E., (2012 and 2018), Key Issues in Education and Social Justice, London: Sage (1st and 2nd editions)
Sandel, M.J., (2010), Justice: What’s the right thing to do? London: Penguin
Wolf, A., (2000), Does Education Matter? Myths about education and economic growth, London:
Dorling, D., (2012) Fair play a Daniel Dorling reader on social justice, Bristol: Polity Press