Professorial Inaugural Lecture: 'Education and Social Justice: how do we decide what is fair?'

Series Name Professorial Inaugural Lectures
Speaker Professor Emma Smith, School of Education
Type Lectures & Talks
Starts at May 20, 2014 05:30 PM
Ends at May 20, 2014 06:30 PM
Venue Ken Edwards Building Lecture Theatre 1
Open To Public
Ticket Price Free
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Professor Emma Smith of the School of Education will give her Professorial Inaugural Lecture on 20 May, at 5.30pm in Ken Edwards Building Lecture Theatre 1.

Summairsing her lecture, Professor Smith said: "This lecture is about fairness in education. ‘Fairness’ is a fashionable term at the moment: it featured heavily in the last general election where two of the main political parties used it as part of their election slogans. The BBC recently ran a series of programmes that asked what fairness and justice were all about. And when the Equalities and Human Rights Commission Report was published in October 2010, we had the answer. Fairness was ‘as British as fish and chips’.

"But beyond the whiny remarks of a child (it’s not fair) or its legal use to mean the right to a fair trial: what does fairness really mean? Our Prime Minster has told us that fairness means giving people what they deserve - although what they deserve does depend on how they behave (Cameron 2010). The Equalities Review published in 2007 also told us a great deal about fairness and equality. An equal society is one that:

protects and promotes equal, real freedom and substantive opportunity to live in the ways people value and would choose, so that everyone can flourish. An equal society recognises people’s different needs, situations and goals and removes the barriers that limit what people can do and can be (p109).

"Fairness, it seems, is also the right to be different.

"Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that fairness is a difficult term to define and measure. It can mean different things to different people. For instance, we might favour fairness in treating everyone equally (equality of opportunity). Or we might decide that fairness is treating people differently so that certain outcomes can become more equal and, therefore, more fair (equality of outcome). Within the field of education we might argue that it is fair that all schools are funded equally. This might make the opportunities for those who attend them fairer, regardless of where they come from. But would we argue that is it also fair for teachers to treat all pupils in the same way when they are in the classroom? Consider the child with literacy difficulties or the child who is a gifted writer. Would it be fair for the teacher to treat them the same all of the time? Is it fair as well for teachers to discriminate between pupils: by punishing one who misbehaves, or rewarding another who has shown talent or effort? Depending on our answers to these questions we may decide that we want equality in some things, but not in others.

"This lecture will reflect upon what fairness means for issues of inequality and social justice in education. It brings together elements of my own research and draws upon recent government policy and contemporary thinking in the field to consider the inequalities that may exist and persist throughout an individual’s educational trajectory and the implications that such inequalities may have for a fair and equitable education system."

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