To read this content please select one of the options below:

New class inequalities in education: Why education policy may be looking in the wrong place! Education policy, civil society and social class

Stephen J. Ball (Department of Educational Foundations and Policy Studies, Institute of Education, University of London, London, UK)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 27 April 2010




The paper aims to develop a case for re‐considering the role of schools in education policy. The argument is made that considerable amounts of the variation in pupil performance may in fact derive from factors based on variations in parents' ability to buy‐in support and enrichment of various kinds for their children.


The argument of the paper is developed using secondary sources to make the case for non‐school explanations of variations in pupil performance and then offers a set of illustrations of the variety of types of bought‐in support and enrichment now being used in some families.


The paper concludes with the point that two contradictory education policy discourses are in play under New Labour. One, the discourse of standards/achievement, which works through testing, benchmarks, league‐tables, “coasting” schools, special measures, etc. totalises, individualises and commodifies the student as an “ability” – a cluster of performances. And in turn gives rise to “local economies of student worth” that “value” students differently within the processes of “school choice”. The other, the discourse of choice and active parenting, totalises, individualises and commodifies parents and families as “consumers” of education and investors in cultural capital.

Research limitations/implications

The paper is discursive, exploratory and wide‐ranging. It sets out to make a plausible case that would merit further research rather than to establish at this stage a set of firm conclusions.

Practical implications

If the argument is taken seriously then the focus of education policy would be decisively shifted. There is some evidence of a shift of emphasis towards more intervention and individual attention but achievement differences remain firmly located within schools.


Little attention has been focused on this kind of argument and there has certainly been no attempt to map the variety of and growth in private educational services.



Ball, S.J. (2010), "New class inequalities in education: Why education policy may be looking in the wrong place! Education policy, civil society and social class", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 30 No. 3/4, pp. 155-166.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles