Equal educational opportunity in Scotland's comprehensive secondary schools: a Capabilities Approach

Adam, Janet Elizabeth (2015) Equal educational opportunity in Scotland's comprehensive secondary schools: a Capabilities Approach. Ed.D thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3130048


Despite the laudable inclusive policies in Scotland such as Getting it Right for Every Child and Curriculum for Excellence, it is clear that some young people still do not experience equal access to educational opportunity. With education at its heart, the Capabilities Approach is a theory of social justice that starts with a commitment to the equal dignity of all human beings and focuses on choice or freedom. Offering an alternative means of measuring wellbeing or advantage rather than the traditional measurements such Gross National Product, the Capabilities Approach, particularly Martha Nussbaum’s list of capabilities, is a useful framework to assess how pupils and teachers in Scotland’s schools are faring.

Using complementary sociological and philosophical perspectives and a literary thread of fictional characters from texts taught in Scottish schools, this dissertation shows how Scottish educational policies are deeply concerned with social justice and equity. However, there are barriers standing in the way of equal access to educational opportunity for some young people. As well as individual and micro structures addressed by the Capabilities Approach, macro structures in our society also play a role in perpetuating social injustice. A critical sociological perspective enriches the account by considering the economic and political institutions of society: unequal class structures and possession of the various forms of capital; austerity; precarity; the attainment agenda and the deficit ideology. Bourdieu’s notion of the various forms of capital is threaded through the dissertation, highlighting how possession of capital is advantageous to upper and middle class families whereas lack of capital can be disadvantageous to young people from working class and disadvantaged backgrounds. Bourdieu’s theory of habitus illuminates the inherited reproduction of social conditions and how some young people adapt their choices in accordance with what they think is appropriate for them. Oppressive societal structures and lack of agency can influence and disempower young people but there is scant recognition of this in educational policies.

Teachers can and do make a difference in young people’s lives and current educational reforms such as Curriculum for Excellence are aimed at achieving better educational outcomes for all children in Scotland. However, teachers too face obstacles in achieving equality of educational opportunity, such as challenges to teacher autonomy, hegemony, crisis discourse and the attainment agenda. I argue that the Capabilities Approach can shed new light on what teachers, school management teams, local authorities and the government need to do in order to work successfully towards educational equality in twenty-first century Scotland.

Item Type: Thesis (Ed.D)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Enslin, Professor Penny and MacKenzie, Doctor Alison
Date of Award: 2015
Depositing User: Janet Adam
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-6770
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 26 Oct 2015 16:40
Last Modified: 03 Nov 2015 11:02
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/6770

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