Fairness in the school system

Although educational outcomes are internationally regarded as important, it is well documented that wide inequalities persist in the UK. Policies have focused both on the demand side, socio-economic inequalities between different groups, and the supply side, inequalities in educational provision. The main policy approaches aim for equality of opportunities, equality of treatment or equality of outcome, or combine these for example in a bid to increase social mobility. However, none have succeeded in significantly reducing educational inequalities.

Our approach in this area is focussed on better understanding and improving the experiences of those most disadvantaged in our education system, whilst acknowledging that this alone will not ‘narrow the gap.’ Indeed we also focus beyond this – in itself somewhat narrow – aim, concerned to look at what kind of education system we should be aiming to achieve that is fair for all. We analyse the ideas of fairness that underly particular current national and local educational policy and practice and try to assess the implications for a fair education system. We aim to see how the concept of fairness itself could set in motion a new approach to inequalities that could drive policy in a way that would reconcile competing interests across the education system and within the UK as a whole in order to achieve greater equality. Concepts such as relational justice and stakes fairness can change the conversation and reorient us to a values-based assessment of fair education for all.

  • Fairness as a concept to reduce inequality
  • Poverty and schooling
  • Inclusion and relational justice
  • Reconceptualizing ability

Key projects:

  • 2019/20, Fighting Against Poverty: Case Studies of School Action. Poverty Proofing the school day evaluation update 2019/20. Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith, Lucy Tiplady, Professor Liz Todd, Lydia Wysocki
  • 2016, Systematic review of interventions that have been successful with disadvantaged able/gifted learners, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Early Career Fund, Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith (PI)
  • 2015 – 2016 Children North-East: Evaluation of the Poverty Proofing Initiative (NISR), Professor Liz Todd (PI), Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith
  • 2014 – 2015: Investigating whether and how Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) enable pupils to perform outside of normal academic roles and identities, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Early Career Fund, Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith (PI)
  • 2013, Fairness in Education (NISR), Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith (PI)
  • 2012-3, Evaluation of Pupil Premium (DfES), Professor Liz Todd (PI), Karen Laing, Alan Dyson and Kirstin Kerr at Manchester University and Hannah Carpenter at TNS-BMRB
  • An Evaluation of the DfES Full Service Extended Schools (FSES) Initiative (DfES), project leader(s): Alan Dyson and Liz Todd
  • Narrowing the Gap: Technology enhanced learning initiatives, Karen Laing
  • Review of Fairness in Education (ILG), Karen Laing
  • National Evaluation of the Disadvantage Subsidy (DfE), Karen Laing

Poverty Proofing: event reflections

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Poverty Proofing: talking heads


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Publications and conference papers (click cover to read)

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Fighting Against Poverty: Case Studies of School Action 2019/20
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Poverty Proofing the School Day: Evaluation & development 2016
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The value of after school clubs for disadvantaged children 2016
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SOLEs: transformative pedagogy? 2013
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Evaluation of Pupil Premium 2013
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Fair or Foul? Towards practice and policy in fairness in education 2012
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Evaluation of Disadvantage Subsidy Scheme: Wiltshire & Somerset 2010
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Extended Services tackle disadvantage: School Leadership Today 2010
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Personalised Learning: Ambiguities in Theory and Practice 2007
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Evaluation of the Full Service Extended Schools Initiative 2007
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A reassessment of the gender issue in children’s writing 2001
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A school tries to change: space and practices 2014
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Transition between key stages in schools 2001

Event flyer - The Impact of Poverty on Education: New Evidence on an Old ProblemEvent flyer – The Impact of Poverty on Education

Blog posts

Mazzoli Smith, L. ECLS Blog, https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/education/2016/07/14/simple-measures-can-poverty-proof-the-school-day-for-pupils/

Mazzoli Smith, L. ECLS Blog, Discourses of Ability we Live By https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/education/2017/05/12/discourses-of-ability-we-live-by/

Slides and presentations

Poverty Proofing the School Day –the role of schools in compensating for poverty: should they have a role and if so what? Laura Mazzoli Smith and Liz Todd (presentation slides)

Education can compensate for society – if we let it. Liz Todd (presentation slides)

Pupil Premium: Closing the gap for disadvantaged young people? Liz Todd, 12 Nov 2013, presentation at Exeter University.

Education: Fair or Foul? BERA 2014 presentation, Karen Laing and Liz Todd (presentation slides)

Poverty Proofing the School Day –bottom up reform and a potential for real change. BERA 2016,
Laura Mazzoli Smith and Liz Todd (presentation slides)

An estimate of the cost of being a child in Barcelona (Spain) through the Reference Budgets approach. Work in progress – forms part of a thesis project by Irene Cusso Parcerisas, PhD candidate; Dr Elena Carrillo Alvarez; Dr Jordi Riera i Romani with the support of FPU programme by the MECD (Spain) at PSITIC Research Group. Universitat Ramon Llull (Barcelona). Facultat de Psicologia, Ciencies de l’Educacio i de l’Esport Blanquerna in collaboration with CSB-UA (Antwerp) within the ImPRovE project. Presented at ‘The impact of Poverty on Education – New Evidence of an Old Problem’, Newcastle University, 12th June 2016 (presentation slides)

Poverty Proofing the School Day. Sara Bryson, Children North East (presentation slides)

Initiatives designed to support gifted and talented pupils in areas of socio-economic disadvantage – a contradiction in terms? BERA 2016, Laura Mazzoli Smith (presentation slides)

Mazzoli Smith, L. BERA Blog, A new direction for gifted education studies? https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/a-new-direction-for-gifted-education-studies