The purpose of this chapter is to explore the relationships between social class and education policy. I intend to argue a case for two related propositions; first, that currently, in developed societies around the world, education policies are primarily aimed at satisfying the concerns and interests of the middle class. In effect, policy thinking is classed in particular ways and particular policies present the middle class with strategic advantages in education. Second, I will argue that the middle class is active in various ways in influencing and effecting education policies in their own interests. This takes place at various levels from national to local, and institutional. I shall explore and exemplify the workings of middle-class interest at each level. Embedded in these propositions are a number of different conceptualizations of policy – I see these as complementary rather than as competing. They overlay one another and reinforce patterns of social advantage. They are: (a) a pluralist view which focuses on the direct actions of parents in contesting or effecting policy directly by expressing and advancing their preferences; (b) a view of policy as non-decision-making, ‘in which decisions are prevented from being taken on potential issues over which there is an observable conflict of (subjective) interests’ (Lukes 1974: 20). One prime example here is the English DfES’ steadfast exclusion of issues of poverty and social class from debates concerning educational achievement and ‘failing schools’ and the substitution of School Effectiveness/School Improvement policies which give primary emphasis to institutional factors to explain performance differences (see Thrupp and Ball 2002). I suggest that this can be seen as representing and legitimating a more general re-working of the meaning of and priorities related to educational need which facilitate the movement of resources from those with social
disadvantage to the able and gifted; in effect, reasserting an historic continuity in English educational thinking and practice; (c) a view of policy as a condensate of class interests and class struggle, that is as invested by class thinking, such that conflict is latent and ‘consists in a contradiction between the interests of those exercising power and the real interests of those they exclude’ (Lukes 1974: 24-25). In other words, current policies in play provide the middle class with the means to exercise power in various educational settings, although such power relations are always ‘complex and dislocated’ (Poulantzas 1973: 113). This is analytically more difficult terrain but I will attempt to demonstrate that, in particular, parental choice policies, which have a near hegemonic grip on education policy thinking around the globe, are a prime example of this third dimensional view of policy.1 Of course, these three views of policy mirror Lukes’ (1974) three dimensions of power.