chapter  3
13 Pages

Equality of educational opportunity: the map of uncertainty

At the centre of the politico-social disputes over education has been the concept of equal opportunity – a concept handled so incautiously in the 1950s and 1960s and productive of so much uncertainty and disillusion in the 1970s. If the sociological research of the 1950s and 1960s fed into the social policy, the uncertainties of the 1970s fed into a retreat and the conservative backlash of the Black Papers, Rhodes Boyson and Mrs Thatcher. The concept of equal opportunity had for a long time attracted and held some of the political middle ground, but by the 1970s was crumbling somewhat in the hands of the hesitant left, abandoned by the middle as economic expansion turned to stagnation and decline, and attacked from the left flank as a concept incompatible with that of equality itself. It turned out by the end of the 1970s that people either did not understand it, had over-estimated it, had been disillusioned by the research or the rhetoric, could no longer wait for it, or did not want it.