Fair and Equal Education

Ruth Boyaskpost by RUTH BOYASK
On behalf of the editors of the Respecting Children and Young People project

On the 10th March 2015, the Respecting Children and Young People project will be holding an event to launch the culmination of our work, the Fair and Equal Education manifesto. This manifesto has been shaped by the dialogue and engagement of members of six special interest groups (SIGs) within BERA, representing many hundreds of British educational researchers. We have come together because we, like many other voices at the present time, are concerned. We are concerned about the growing wealth inequalities in society, recognised by everyone from the Church of England to the World Economic Forum. We are concerned about the discord between different cultural communities, illuminated by the intense spotlight of transnational conflicts and movements of mistrust. We are concerned about inequalities in identity politics where despite the gains made by social movements like feminism, the labour movement and disability rights, able-bodied, affluent white men continue to dominate positions of privilege. Most of all, we are concerned that children and young people bear the brunt of many of these inequalities. For the last 40 years educational research has been documenting some of these inequalities, recognising that while education has the potential for social transformation, research has shown it oftentimes reproduces and entrenches inequalities.

The purpose of this project was to step aside from the systematic documentation of inequality, and instead draw upon our research to help inject a discourse of hope into discussions on education policy. The manifesto we have developed, and will launch next month, makes recommendations about how the government, educators and the wider public can work towards a more equal society. We recognise there may be similarities between our document and other recent manifestos and report cards. Our project is not intended to supplant these initiatives, but to add new dimensions to these and other discussions on education, equality and social justice. We think given the evident problems of our increasingly unequal world, it is essential to now reinsert the word equality back into discussions about the futures of children and young people, and recognise that we need to do more than offer to a few ladders for social mobility.

A distinctive feature of our project is our commitment to developing a document that has a robust evidence-base, but in the spirit of participation and equality that we wish to promote is not limited to a narrowly defined notion of evidence. We have developed policy advice from robust empirical research as well as rigorous and critical theory to approach from multiple perspectives the challenges of overcoming inequality. The participation in this project and support from varied members of the six BERA SIGs and other enthusiasts, who have many different interests and agendas, has been astounding. The public face of the project is this blog, where you can now read 56 blogs posted since June 2014, which have directly contributed to the development of our manifesto. This blog has also attracted thousands and thousands of viewers from around the world. Behind the scenes the six SIGs have held multiple meetings of BERA members and guests, including a joint SIGs event hosted by Staffordshire University. We have had guidance and advice from our critical friends Becky Francis and Carol Robinson, and BERA council members (with especial help from President Ian Menter and Vice President Gemma Moss). The BERA office has supported us enthusiastically with publicity and event management, and we have had astute policy writing advice from external consultant, Sharon Walker. The editorial team has worked with SIG convenors to ensure SIG members have been consulted throughout the process. We think that through this process the document we present to you next month truly draws upon the best educational research to outline a clear and succinct vision for a fair and equal education that we think is imperative for a fair and equal society.

We hope you are able to join us at the launch event at Mary Ward House. The venue is particularly poignant given its connection to the 19th and early 20th century campaigner Mary Ward, who was committed to the education of the poor, and whose work still enriches lives. We will be presenting a programme of responses to the manifesto, supported by friends from Cambridge Primary Review Trust, Paulo Freire Institute-UK, Runnymede Trust, and the Citizenship Foundation. If you can’t join us on the night, then do make sure you read, share and discuss the manifesto. It will be available on this site and the BERA website from the 6th March 2015.

On behalf of the editorial team:

Social Justice Ruth Boyask and Katy Vigurs
Race, Ethnicity and Education Vini Lander
Sexualities Pam Alldred
Youth and Informal Education Ian McGimpsey and Janet Batsleer
Inclusive Education Jennifer Spratt
Practitioner Research d’Reen Struthers