Students in News

Voice from the UK: Social class in the classroom: teachers and the (re-)production of educational inequality

Date: 2011-06-09       Visitcount: 1570

    In order to promote international dialogue and encourage understanding between east and west, the Institute of Curriculum and Instruction invited Professor Máiréad Dunne from the University of Sussex to visit the College of Education. In the afternoon on June 1 2011, Professor Dunne presented an excellent and inspiring lecture on “Social class in the classroom: teachers and the (re-)production of educational inequality” in meeting room 228, presenting social class research projects in the UK as examples, and encouraging attendees to reflect on social class and the inequality it is (re)producing.

   In order to present the UK as a country with great stratification of social classes, Professor Dunne first introduced the education system in England, explaining the curriculum, assessment and testing, and how it is carried out in different levels and settings. Professor Dunne then described the social class issue in the UK, showing that social mobility has been static since the 1950s in the UK, that working class underachievement is a persistent educational problem, and that participation of lower socio-economic groups in Higher Education remains limited. Professor Dunne also pointed out that the talk of social class had shifted from social class classification to social class processing, a change that has brought about focus of research on social class from “what” is social class and its stratification to “how” it is processing and reproducing the inequality in society. Professor Dunne presented two research projects: “Effective Teaching and Learning for Pupils in Low Attaining Groups” at the national level and “Addressing the low achievement of the working class” on the micro level, researching into the questions of how teachers divide pupils into different sets and pupil characteristics in the low sets, and how teachers are implicated in the low achievement of working class pupils. The two research projects had astounding findings expressing teachers’ judgements and expectations, and how strategies for addressing underachievement differ by social class. This inspired heated discussion and questions afterwards.

    Professor Dunne left the audience with profound questions: Is it about processing education itself or it is about reproducing and addressing social inequality? Is there a need to acknowledge the social class dimensions of underachievement if it is to be addressed? Should there be the least awareness of being told who we are and who we can be in our educational experience? Are you ok with the situation that you would have a brighter future than a cleaner’s son because you are from the upper social class ? Not only knowing what the circumstance is, but also knowing how it is processed, might be a starting point of our future effort in education equality and justice.


  Mairead Mary Dunne(Reader in Education) is from the University of Sussex, College of Education, Director of International Education Center. Her specialty is social and cultural studies of education, including social class, gender, sexuality & ethnicity in policy and practice contexts that include low-income countries as well as the UK. She has engaged in international comparative research in more than 20 countries, and received many awards such as the Gender and Education Award of Excellence for Outstanding Articles (2005-2006),the University of Birmingham George Cadbury Prize for Best Doctoral Thesis, among others. She has hosted and participated in more than 10 international and regional research projects. She is now on the senate and a member of the International Strategy Committee at the University of Sussex and also the editor of 4 international academic journals, including the Journal of Gender and Women’s Studies, COMPARE, and others, and a reviewer for 9 international academic journals. She has been invited by the Institute of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education, Zhejiang University as a foreign expert.
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