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Special issue: inequality and public policy: introduction by the guest editors.

Has there been too much talk of inequality? That a prominent politician from the Australian Labor Party should find egalitarianism antiquated--a `fetish' of measurement experts (Latham, 2002)--reflects a wider international trend in which left-wing parties have sought to occupy the `middle ground' and intellectuals, seeing themselves as anchored to no site in the political spectrum, declare the `end of class' (e.g. Pakulski & Waters, 1996). Equity as a slogan risks alienating the aspirational working class, who want the freedom to better themselves, not the burden of taxes to pay for the poor, especially the immigrant poor. A class dissolving is no more inclined to see itself a class than a rabble (to quote Hegel) unconscious of its rights (Hegel, 1967, [section] 244, Add.). The politics of the `Third Way' is about individual mobility and the dissolution of class boundaries through the pursuit of private aspirations.

But to bury egalitarianism as a political ideal would seem to require more than a change in the vocabulary of politics. How successful have European parties of the left been in opening up the institutional framework of education to allow individuals the mobility to end class? Have we seen the end of inequality, not only as political rhetoric, but as social fact? This issue of the Australian Journal of Education contains a set of papers which consider these questions.

Tony Edwards retraces the history of public policy in education since the Thatcher years, focusing on the attempts by New Labor to implement a Third Way. Have policies aimed at choice and diversity really weakened the structures which, in the past, underpinned social inequality in England? Have opportunities for advancement really improved, for example, through the role of private schools or market freedoms (ending of school zones, opting out provisions, funding to follow the child)? Or have new structures emerged within this framework, new processes which have tended to retard social progress, for example the emerging hierarchies of selective secondary school and mass higher education?

Gabriel Langouet poses similar questions with respect to France. Looking back to the reforms of secondary education in the 1960s, he challenges the identification of `mass' with `democratic'. Documenting the growth of secondary and higher education over the last 40 years, he points to clear evidence of social progress, for example in access to the baccalaureat and to university. He also shows the emergence of new structures or the persistence of the effects of well-established structures, such as curriculum stream within the baccalaureat and the hierarchy of tertiary-level institutions. He extends this analysis to employment outcomes, and describes two processes of labour market relegation (declassement) which have tended to weaken the democratic effects of mass secondary and higher education.

The vocabulary of Third Way educational politics is examined by Carole Leathwood and Annette Hayton. Drawing on influential papers by Levitas and others, they analyse the shifts in the discursive register through which egalitarian policies have been reconstructed and refocused to emancipate the themes of mobility and aspiration and, in effect, to conserve crucial links to the neo-liberal past. They then turn to three areas of policy in which Third Way priorities have been expressed--the adoption of market principles, the stress on selection and ability setting, and the differentiation of post-compulsory education.

The Third Way policy emphasis on market autonomy, heightened accountability and reporting practices, and even the `shaming' or `outing' of under-performing schools, has drawn support from school effectiveness research stressing an apparently large measure of pedagogical and organisational freedom within which schools and teachers operate. If much of the difference in student achievement can be attributed to school or teacher effects, more can be asked of schools. They cannot take theoretical refuge in their catchment areas or intake characteristics, as earlier studies in the 1960s and 1970s tended to suggest. Does the research evidence really support this view? Using data from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Stephen Lamb and Sue Fullarton examine the origins of differential achievement of 13-year-olds in the United States and Australia. Schools do indeed make a difference, and classrooms even more. However, the impact of classrooms, they conclude, is due not to the pedagogical creativity and energy of teachers--vital though this is--but to the policies and organisational strategies of schools in forming mixed or streamed classes. Teachers do matter, as the authors stress, but the research evidence highlights the continuing role of structures in underpinning and re-creating inequality.

If the management of student diversity within schools contributes in a major way to unequal outcomes, policies at a macro-level also have an impact, either aggravating or cushioning the social effects of how populations within schools are grouped or segregated. Margaret Vickers and Stephen Lamb consider the differential organisation of post-compulsory education and training across state jurisdictions in Australia. In some states, school education is offered as a continuous sequence of studies, culminating in one certificate at the end of school. In others, the sequence is interrupted at the end of junior high school, allowing an outflow of students to employment or vocational education and training (TAFE/VET). These differences are largely irrelevant to the socially most advantaged students who complete school and progress to university, whatever the arrangement. But young people from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds are disadvantaged by the system which allows an early exit from school. Such an approach implements at a more general level the segregative strategies observed in individual schools by sanctioning a divorce between student and school which is not socially neutral and whose effects on employment and further study are difficult to reverse.

Structures of differentiation and segregation, both at micro and macro levels, pose major problems for policy makers seeking to raise general levels of achievement and make school more socially inclusive. But is the answer simply to abolish termined certificates and to mandate mixed classes? The experience of countries, such as France, would suggest that direct assaults on mechanisms of selection only lead to new mechanisms (Dubet & Duru-Bellat, 2000; van Zanten, 2001). Indeed the allure of the formally unstreamed and continuous sequence of secondary education, in which promotion is largely automatic, is likely to conceal major inequalities in access and achievement, linked to a hierarchy of subject options, well-developed organisational and teaching strategies, and a differentiated school system with `fortified' and `exposed' sites (Teese, 2000). In her paper, Helen Praetz documents the efforts of the newly created Victorian Qualifications Authority to interpose a new program of learning in a context in which there continue to be high rates of early leaving and marked inequalities in achievement among school completers. The new certificate breaks with the illusion that everyone is equal before the old one and that there is sufficient breadth to accommodate all. To the objection that a new certificate countenances streaming, the rejoinder is obvious. But is the approach of creating more space within the curriculum the long-term answer to inequality? Creating a new certificate does not imply renouncing change in the old. Indeed, given the demands of parents and students, most of the work of renewal must be accomplished within the stream that promises most. This implies a continuous cycle of monitoring, evaluation and professional development. The curriculum must be constantly tested for its pedagogical strength, and in a variety of school settings (Teese, 2000; Teese & Polesel, in press).

If the curriculum will remain central to reform efforts, the contexts in which it is delivered are clearly of great relevance. It is not only the social composition of classes, the neighbourhood catchments, and the range of school strategies for attracting (or deterring) different groups of students that matter. The neighbourhood high school is not necessarily the most democratic vehicle of curriculum access, despite its frequently non-selective character, at least in intake. Its public status is to an extent misleading. Although in the Australian scene the local high school charges minimum fees and is comprehensive with respect to its neighbourhood, it does not always realise the potential it boasts by comparison with private schools. Its senior forms are frequently small and its curriculum contracts around the needs of its more academic students. John Polesel argues that collegiate models of upper secondary education can reverse the impact of a narrowing environment. Policy rather than size as such is the key. Senior students lay great stress on flexibility and choice in school programs. They need a mix of opportunities in which to discover their strengths. Where they have this, Polesel shows, their morale is high, their rapport with teachers is very good, and their confidence in the value of their efforts is high. No doubt the creation of collegiate contexts of learning will not in itself end the inequalities of achievement which are such a persistent part of mass secondary education; but to enlarge the freedom of young people to choose is as important as that equally long-delayed right to assess the quality of their instruction.


Coleman, J. et al. (1966). Equality of educational opportunity. Washington, DC: Dept of Health, Education and Welfare.

Dubet, F. & Duru-Bellat, M. (2000). L'hypocrisie scolaire. Paris: Seuil.

Hegel, G. W. F. (1967). Philosophy of right (T. M. Knox, Trans.). London: Oxford University Press.

Jencks, C. et al. (1973). Inequality. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Latham, M. (2002, April 5). Inequality is a poor target in the war against disadvantage. Australian, p. 13.

Pakulsik, J. & Waters, M. (1996). The death of class. London: Sage.

Teese, R. (2000). Academic success and social power. Carlton North: Melbourne University Press.

Teese, R. & Polesel, J. (in press). Undemocratic schooling. Carlton North: Melbourne University Press.

van Zanten, A. (2001). L'cole de le peripherie: Scolarite et segregation en banlieue. Paris: PUF.

Richard Teese is Associate Professor and Dr Stephen Lamb is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Education Policy and Management, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010.
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Author:Lamb, Stephen
Publication:Australian Journal of Education
Date:Aug 1, 2002
Previous Article:Student participation and school culture: a secondary school case study.
Next Article:Restructuring educational opportunity in England.

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