Social Justice, Education, and Identity

By Carol Vincent | Go to book overview

Chapter 12

Social justice, identity formation and social capital

School diversification policy under New Labour

Eva Gamarnikow and Anthony Green

At the heart of our reforms is the planned transformation of secondary education. The core values remain the same; that every child is of equal worth but the model of comprehensive schooling that grew up in the 1960s and 1970s is simply inadequate for today's needs… The secondary school of the future will be specialist, not simply in the technical sense but with a character and ethos that is distinctive to each school and which focuses on the individual talent and potential of each child… It means every secondary school on a ladder of improvement… It means a new focus on the leadership of Heads…greater career opportunities for teachers…radical intervention to deal with failure in schools and LEAs…using our best schools to raise the standards of the rest…(and) a relentless drive against poor behaviour, indiscipline and truancy… Only in this way can we fulfil the original comprehensive ideal-every child being of equal worth.

(Morris 2002)

The focus of this chapter is on understanding and interrogating educational policies, institutions and practices as state-sponsored contexts of identity formation in which it is recognised that the point of the education system is not to produce a pattern of equal identities-it is difference and distinction that count. While each child may be, in the words of the former Secretary of State for Education, 'of equal worth', that is at best nominal, and a credentialing system of normalised horizontally diverse and vertically unequal identities is the material and ideological raison d'être of the system. There are, of course, winners and losers and the prize for governmentality in New Labour mode is to promote belief in the myth, or at least acquiescence to the rhetoric, of excellence for all-everyone's a winner.

We develop this theme by exploring concepts of social justice, drawing on the work of Rawls (1973) and postmodern developments (Fraser 1997; Gewirtz 1998, 2000) which link social justice and identity. We then open up a brief connective analysis of the concept of social capital to establish a rationale for focusing upon its pivotal role in New Labour social policy with respect to the dynamics of identity formation and social justice. Having established the theoretical parameters of the argument, we then examine current New Labour education policy discourse,

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