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Social Mobility, Educational Justice and the Family (PO995)


Topics covered

The following is an indicative list of topics; the precise seminar content and order may change slightly from year to year.

  • What is social mobility? Has it declined in the UK?
  • Theories of social mobility
  • Meritocracy
  • Educational Equality
  • Educational Adequacy and Benefitting the Least Advantaged
  • The Family versus Equality of Opportunity
  • The Morality of School Choice Parents' Rights and the Family
  • Legitimate Parental Partiality

Social mobility – and its alleged decline - is a hot political topic. To think about it seriously we need to combine empirical and normative considerations. On the empirical side, there are questions about how social mobility is conceived and measured, and about the mechanisms by which family background impacts on children’s outcomes. Normatively, one needs to evaluate different principles for the distribution of educational opportunities, and consider the ways in which parents may legitimately promote their children’s interests.

Programme content


This module begins by examining what sociologists and economists tell us about patterns of social mobility, and changes in such patterns, and considers to what extent they might reflect meritocratic processes. We then evaluate a range of principles to govern the distribution of education: equality, adequacy, and benefitting the least advantaged. Attention then turns to the arguments for and against giving parents the freedom to choose their children’s schools, before broadening and deepening the agenda to cover the full range of parents’ rights over their children’s upbringing.

This module acts as a stand-alone module for students on all the PAIS MA modules, but it may be of particular interest to those studying Political and Legal Theory. Outside PAIS, it will be of interest to students of Philosophy, Sociology and Education.

Module Director:
Adam Swift

CATS: 20 (term 2)

Sample reading list (PDF Document)