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Our objectives

This project arose from a recognition of the relative dearth of comparative material that analyses educational policies related to educational disadvantage. In most countries policies have been focussed on identifying potentially disadvantaged groups, and in trying to ensure the provision of equality of opportunity and access. There has been little attempt to analyse the success or otherwise of these policies, and it appears that there is little equality of outcomes. In the context of minority ethnic disadvantage and 'race' in the UK, the Macpherson Report (1999) defined 'institutional racism' as

the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.

In other words, it Is the outcome that Is significant, not the intention. In respect of this proposal, the fact that various groups continue to suffer educational disadvantage, despite policy Initiatives to counter this, suggests that whatever the intentions, the educational systems of the countries of Europe are institutionally discriminating against the disadvantaged.

This is implicitly recognised by the European Union, in its insistence that programmes it supports should counter racism and xenophobia, and should work to achieve gender equality.

This project analysed a range of different types of educational disadvantage, because different social groups suffer disproportionately from different kinds of social disadvantage. It is important that policies are focussed on specific needs, and that they are implemented and monitored to address those needs. The outcomes of the educational process can demonstrate inequality in various ways, differently illustrating how forms of disadvantage can become institutionally entrenched. For example, some educational outcomes demonstrate how certain groups are disadvantaged: completing formal education at a young age, for example, is a particular outcome for pupils from economically disadvantaged groups, while low educational attainment, while linked to this, may also characterise particular ethnic minority groups. But the disadvantage suffered by young women as a result of educational processes are not necessarily because of their length of education or their levels of achievement (in several countries these are better than males), but in the way that the curriculum institutionalises gendered identities and opportunities.

This project examined educational policies designed to address the needs of specific 'at risk' groups. Economic disadvantage is a major (and perhaps underlying) characteristic of educational disadvantage. Family poverty is a significant marker of educational underachievement. This is often linked to other aspects of disadvantage, for example, that experienced by people from minority ethnic communities, whether settlers, refugees or asylum seekers, who suffer also from racism. Europe's own longstanding indigenous minorities, of which the Roma are but one example, are the victims of xenophobia and of educational disadvantage (see, for example, Denied a Future - the Right to Education of Roma, Gypsy and Traveller Children, Save the Children, London, 2001). People with disabilities are another group for whom educational attainment data suggests that they are disadvantaged. Women generally suffer from the way that educational processes portray them: they are disadvantaged in the way that educational policies construct social attitudes that condone gender discrimination. Girls/young women are also more likely to be child carers. Finally, linguistic and religious minorities might also suffer significant educational disadvantage. This list is not intended to suggest that there are necessarily deliberate policies of discrimination, but that, even unwittingly, the effects of existing policies create, sustain and may even accentuate the degree of disadvantage.

Aims and objectives of the project

Our principal question was How can policies of educational priorities be used to improve the position of socio-economically disadvantaged children/young people?

As part of this, we asked:

  • What educational policies have been used to combat social inequalities?
  • How have these inequalities been identified? What analysis has there been of their causes?
  • How have they been targeted? How resourced? How have the groups concerned been consulted an involved in these policies?
  • What training programmes have been designed to implement and sustain the policies with a committed and effective workforce?
  • Have policies been national or local in their design and implementation? What opportunity and support is there for local initiative at the educational institution level?
  • How have policies been evaluated and monitored?
  • What can be learnt to inform future policy development to address educational disadvantage?

This web page is part of the EPASI analysis of educational policies that address inequalities in a number of European countries. The analysis is intended to be used within the framework of the EPASI programme. The project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This analysis reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be responsible for any use which may be made of the information.

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The Institute for Policy Studies in Education, London Metropolitan University (UK) (Coordinator), Katholieke Hogeschool Zuid-West-Vlaanderen (Belgium), Univerzita Hradec Králové (Czech Republic), Montpellier III - Université Paul Valéry (France), Panepistimio Patron ΠΑΝΕΠΙΣΤΗΜΙΟ ΠΑΤΡΩΝ (Greece), Universitat Autònoma of Barcelona (Spain), Lärarutbildningen, Malmö högskola (Sweden),