The Emotional Roots of Social Justice

The People's Republic Of Escotia

Gary and MSYPs Gary with members of the Scottish Youth Parliament

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I am a PhD Researcher based at the School of Education in University of Glasgow. My main interests relate to social justice, citizenship education and values. My background is in education, having worked in a variety of roles including teacher, trainer, youth development worker, project manager and researcher. I’ve worked in schools all across Scotland and the UK and more recently I have been working as a researcher for Education Scotland and the Scottish Government. I am equally interested in practical, political and theoretical perspectives, and I am especially interested in the tricky spaces between those perspectives. I recently co-authored a book exploring the role of values through a series of interviews – ‘Speaking of Values’ – and I have conducted a critical analysis of character education from a social justice perspective, which was informed by extensive…

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Neoliberalism and the family: a question of ethics

Reclaiming Schools

by Pam Jarvis, Reader in Childhood, Youth and Education, Leeds Trinity University


Long before my university post, and even before I was a classroom teacher, I was a young mother in Thatcher’s Britain. In my mid-twenties, I had three small children, including twins, with less than three years between them, Thatcher’s policy for children under five was that they were their parents’ responsibility, so as we had no family close by to share childcare, I became a sort of stay at home mum until my oldest daughter was ten. I say ‘sort of’ because I started my first degree with the Open University, and began teaching adults in community education on a very part time basis directly after graduation.

It is difficult to communicate how different things were then; as L. P. Hartley says in The Go Between (1953)

‘the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’.

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The Scottish Government’s holistic education policy: a story of profound success or failure?

Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

The Scottish Government experience of education can give us all a profound lesson, but I’m not yet sure what that lesson will be. The positive lesson might be that you can have a holistic approach to education provision, which has a strategy for childcare, early years, and schools that support further and higher education policy effectively. In particular, its key aim is to address inequality in attainment from a very early age, to solve one driver of unequal access to higher education. More people have a chance of a place at University and higher education remains free.

The negative lesson might be that if you don’t solve the problem at an early stage, your other policies look regressive and reinforce inequalities. Instead of seeing a government committed in a meaningful way to reducing educational inequalities throughout a life course, we see government hubris in one area supporting a vote-chasing and…

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Resetting the dial:- 5As for Scottish Education: the answer to all our problems?



First and foremost many thanks to those who have emailed, called, DM tweeted and facebooked in response to my first three blogs on the current position on Scottish education. I also got a message from one teacher’s father who said she was greatly inspired by the blogs!  Truly parental engagement!  What is interesting is the lack of public responses to some of the blogs and the private nature with which many share thoughts- this in itself if maybe worth a future blog about the culture and confidence of the system.  Alas, another blog…..

Onwards with the 5As blog….

When I first starting writing the last three blogs of Scottish education, earlier this summer, I always had in mind a fourth blog to offer up some solutions and a possible vision for taking the array of matters raised forward. The need for this was reinforced when I shared them with a…

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Inclusive CPD?


On Monday I delivered CPD on making our classrooms more inclusive.

I shared quotes from the technical guidance on 2010 equalities act that says when it is not ok to exclude and why we need to make reasonable adaptations to our systems.

I shared extracts from the Scottish Standards for teacher registration that use the words ‘care for’ and ‘wellbeing’ and reference responsibilities of all.

I suggested 8 myths that we need to debunk:
* Things have never been this bad.
* This is not the right school for him.
* We can’t do anything until she gets a mental health diagnosis.
* If X gets away with this, the other pupils will think they can too.
* I am not a social worker and this is not my job.
* There is no hope for that child.
* There is a quick fix.
* (Mrs Carter is a soft…

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Piecing together the Jigsaw: Common Weal and Edinburgh University childhood project

by Common Weal (see original post here – used with permission)

‘Piecing together the Jigsaw: Connecting the politics of childhood poverty, education and welfare’ will start with a Policy Lab looking at the specific ways in which poverty affects children and young people.

THE link between poverty and underachievement is undeniable but there is still limited agreement on why they are related. The Scottish Government are pursuing with great urgency a strategy to remedy the situation, but risks repeating the mistakes of education systems in England and the USA where frequent testing has not helped overcome disadvantage. There is clearly a need to extend discussion of this complex and intractable problem.

In response to this challenging situation, and in the belief that good policy needs to be built on widespread discussion and democratic participation of all relevant parties, Common Weal and the University of Edinburgh are inviting you to take part in ‘Piecing Together the Jigsaw’, a series of Policy Labs followed by a conference to present the findings. The first session will take place in September 2016 on the question How does poverty affect children and young people?

Our plans are for three Policy Labs, each lasting three hours, leading to a whole-day Conference.  The events will seek to bring together professionals, parents, policy makers, politicians, service providers and young people to better connect research and thinking.  They will seek to bridge across the silos and cul-de-sacs of policy, research and practice to generate consensus on how we go forward.  One major concern is to examine whether current policies and initiatives concerning school attainment, care, early years, early intervention, additional support for learning and ‘wellbeing’ merely act as sticking plasters for much deeper and entrenched inequalities.

The aim is to bring together all those with an interest in forming a deeper understanding of the lives of children and young people growing up in poverty, its impact on education, and the contradictory nature of responses including the Attainment Challenge. The policy labs and concluding conference are designed to enhance participatory policy formation and enactment, and create a sound consensus for future developments.

The various meetings, the blogs posted in preparation, and summaries of the discussions, will form the basis for online and print publications.

Draft schedule

21 September: How does poverty affect children and young people?

This session will highlight the way poverty is experienced, including the voices of young people. It will look at the the curtailment of opportunities and experiences and the impact of child poverty on identity, health, learning and self-esteem.

(Blog posts in preparation for this discussion: deadline 14 Sept)

25 November: How do we understand the impact of poverty on learning and achievement?

This session will look at competing explanations of underachievement. It will challenge theories which point fingers of blame at parents, neighbourhoods, teachers and young people themselves. It will open a discussion of which features of schooling in Scotland are helpful in enhancing young people’s development, and which aspects might be exacerbating and reproducing the problem.

(Blog posts: deadline 18 Oct)

11 January: Examining the jigsaw of policies and initiatives.

This session will take a look at key policies designed to assist disadvantaged young people and improve their learning, qualifications and opportunities. It will examine recent and current policies including early years, community schools, literacy hubs, ASL, GIRFEC and the new Scottish Attainment Challenge. Questions will be raised about whether these responses are coherent or contradictory, and whether they get to the heart of the problems. (Blog posts: 4 Jan)

22 March (Conference): Tackling the attainment gap – taking social justice really seriously

This conference will review the debates and ideas from the three earlier gatherings, and look at examples of good practice internationally. It will work towards the formulation of democratic and progressive principles for improving the welfare, achievement and futures of young people. Our aim will be to develop holistic and creative solutions which offers hope to young people currently bearing the brunt of austerity politics, and a sustainable policy framework which points towards a fairer Scotland.  (Blog posts: deadline 8 March)

We believe this process can help develop a deeper understanding of the real issues affecting children and young people in Scotland at the same time as informing the policy debate, connecting creative ideas and promoting more integrated solutions.

We would welcome your involvement in this project. The CommonSpace Policy channel will be opening itself up to contributions preceding and in the aftermath of each Policy Lab. If you would like to get involved in this project, please email, To register for the first policy lab on 21 September, email for an invitation.

About Common Weal

Common Weal is a ‘think and do tank’ campaigning for social and economic equality in Scotland.

We are a think tank, a campaigning and advocacy organisation, a news service, a network of local groupsand more. We are also a philosophy of a different kind of Scotland and how we can achieve it.

Our goal is to achieve a Scotland of social and economic equality and environmental sustainability with a vibrant community and cultural life, widespread democratic participation, a high quality of life and cooperative working. We believe there are a series of key ideas which can explain how we achieve that kind of Scotland. These are all linked to a vision of what a better Scotland could be.

Common Weal is a non-profit company with a Board drawn from Scotland’s leading activists and campaigners. It emerged during the Scottish independence referendum campaign and began operating as an independent organisation in October 2014.

Common Weal has a smal staff team that works on a number of different areas of work. Common Weal Policy develop research-based policy proposals, and through our policy channel engages a wide community in policy discussions and seeks to make policy engaging and easy to understand. Through our campaigns officer, Common Weal organises campaigns and advocacy work around priority issues and builds campaigning coalitions with other like-minded people and organisations. The Common Weal Local team support and coordinate a series of local Common Weal groups. Each is autonomous and pursues its own priorities but all share the Common Weal philosophy and seek to make it a reality in their own communities. And CommonSpace is a news service and social media hub which seeks to bring people together, help them to organise and provide them with the news they want to read.

Common Weal is entirely funded through lots of small regular donations from our supporters, and from some merchandising and events income. Every penny is used to support all the activities above, overwhelmingly by enabling us to employ our staff.

Equity and Education: Musings from Mandy


by Mandy Davidson

Equity is the key 21st century educational message but to an ordinary teacher this will mean different things depending upon the make-up of their classes. If we want “all children and young people in Scotland to flourish and thrive”[1] we have to address how we teach all children and young people and not just those who educationalists, social scientists and politicians identify as needing “additional resources”[2]. As an mainstream teacher in a mainstream school where many pupils would be not be in the specific groups identified as requiring these resources, I still have to “teach the things that matter most[3] but have reflected that what matters may differ in my classroom to those where curriculum for excellence is all about closing the gap.

So what is equity in this context? If curriculum was a race then trying to manipulate the odds by supplying state of the art equipment to schools in the most deprived areas whilst restricting the amount schools with less disadvantaged pupils might have an effect. It might be easy to assume that the economic and educational advantages that the latter pupils have grown up with would result in families making up the difference in their school provision thereby closing the gap from both directions but not necessarily ‘raising the bar’.

Education is not a race it is an expectation for every individual in the country. Pupils may not come into school with the same prior experience or the same expectations but as teachers we have a duty to create the conditions for all to flourish.

As a teacher entrusted with “developing awareness and appreciation of the value of each individual in a diverse society[4], I have to focus on the way the flourishing of my pupils will impact on society today and in the future. These pupils may have hopes, dreams and stresses from parents but ultimately they arrive at high school as undeveloped potential. They are encouraged to deepen their skills and acquire knowledge and understanding in a myriad of different subjects with the new expectation that they transfer skills and deepen awareness of the links between disciplines. The focus on developing the young workforce has increased their vocational awareness of relevant learning but the emphasis is still placed squarely on the importance of the individual. “What skills do I need?” is a key question that pupils are required to ask of themselves in relation to fulfilling their career aspirations. The focus on learning intentions and success criteria gives them a route to becoming a confident individual and successful learner whilst the literacy across the curriculum encourages everyone to be an effective contributor.

But what does it mean to be a responsible citizen? The role of pupils who have all the advantages that money, a secure home with established personal connections and many extra curricula opportunities easily available needs to be addressed if we are to establish equity. We are never going to equalise disadvantage but we can encourage a less economically market led ethos. Pupils should not see group work as just a way to demonstrate they can lead a team in a future UCAS personal statement but as a central component in building a better world. They should be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions not just to avoid the discipline system but because we are all interdependent and every action has a consequence.

Although the relationship between pupils and their teachers is said to be supportive in the majority of cases the OECD report says: “Scottish adolescents are less likely to report liking school than students in many countries, and liking drops sharply in secondary school”[5]. This mismatch of viewpoints indicates an issue that requires significant further enquiry.

The more positive actions that can be done for their own sake rather than for certificates, awards and nominations, the less society will faction into winning and losing individuals. Focusing upon the importance of every individual not for what they can do or for what they own but just for existing is the only way equity really stands a chance. Meeting pupils’ needs cannot be just about trying to overcome disadvantage but encouraging a sense of self-worth and rightful place in society, not just in the future but now.

About the Author

Mandy Davidson first came to Scotland from the south coast of England as a fresh-faced undergraduate at the University of Stirling. After graduating with degrees in Education and Religious Studies with a diploma in Education, she spent her probation on the Isle of Wight before returning to Scotland at the start of 1990. Mandy resumed her studies at Stirling  completing a part time MEd in 1995.  She has taught Religious and Moral Education and Personal and Social in secondary schools, been an RME staff tutor in an advisory service, lectured on the initial teacher training courses at the University of Strathclyde and was part of the Higher Still RMPS development and training teams for the SQA. Currently in an acting PT role, Mandy is the SSTA union rep on the Scottish Joint Committee on RME and their rep on Interfaith Scotland.

[1] Scottish Government (2016) Delivering Excellence and Equity in Scottish Education: A Delivery Plan for Scotland URL:

[2] Scottish Executive Education Department (2007) Executive Summary: OECD Review of the Quality and Equity of Education Outcomes in Scotland: Diagnostic Report URL:

[3] Scottish Government (2016) Ibid.

[4] Education Scotland (2015) Religious and moral education: Assessing progress and achievement in significant aspects of learning URL:

[5] OECD (2015) Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective, p15, URL: