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Quality and equality : the mask of discursive conflation in education policy texts

Gillies, Donald (2008) Quality and equality : the mask of discursive conflation in education policy texts. Journal of Educational Policy, 23 (6). pp. 685-699. ISSN 0268-0939

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Abstract

Two key themes of recent UK education policy texts have been a focus on 'quality' in public sector performance, and on 'equality' in the form of New Labour's stated commitment to equality of opportunity as a key policy objective. This twin approach can be seen at its most obvious in the concept of 'excellence for all'. This paper contends that in recent policy texts the vocabularies of quality management discourse and egalitarian discourse have become conflated, serving to mask key issues relating to educational inequality, seen at its most stark in the attainment gap. The paper argues that this has led to a failure to distinguish between the goals of quality management and the ends of egalitarianism. Discursive conflation of this sort risks obscuring the significance of socio-economic context and the limited impact of within-school action. The paper also suggests that the focus on equality in terms of school provision paradoxically risks entrenching social inequalities despite the appearance of egalitarian commitment.