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Fair is not everyone getting the same but everyone getting what they need

Equality is not always justice

Equality is not always justice

When I started my teaching career, I was working in an inner city school populated by an eclectic mix of children from ethnically and socially diverse backgrounds. Most of them were from the lower end of the economic spectrum and, with all the enthusiasm and energy of a new teacher, I attempted to provide them with the richest experience of education I could muster. To be honest, I probably tried too hard but it was both gratifying and rewarding to see the appreciation they expressed at even the littlest attempts to enhance their school days – such as taking turns to take a puppet home for the weekend.

My next school was of a totally different demographic: largely upwardly mobile, middle-income families with high aspirations for their children. Their response to some of the tricks I had tried at my previous school surprised me: they weren’t bothered or they’d seen it before. To use a terrible cliché, they had ‘been there, done that and bought the T-shirt’.

A few years later, I moved schools again – this time back into the inner city and into a very challenging environment. It was a deliberate choice because (and this is going to sound like a worn and over-used phrase) I wanted to make a difference. I particularly wanted to make a difference to what I saw as a gross inequality between the schooling opportunities available to children from deprived backgrounds and those experiencing considerably greater social advantage.



When I read the title of this post (suggested to me by a friend and blogging compatriot, Nicola Marshall), I immediately thought of the above image, which I came across some time ago. I had never really considered the stark difference between equality and justice until I came across this striking image.

The two images could very well also reflect the stark differences between the education accessed by different groups in society. Although I am loath to generalise, schools in challenging circumstances – those with a higher proportion of disadvantaged pupils – seem often unable to provide the rich experiences offered by schools populated by less disadvantaged children, often because they are having to cater for the extraordinary needs of their children, be they academic, behavioural or emotional. This is not to say that pupils from socially advantaged backgrounds do not experience academic, behavioural or emotional challenges but they are likely to be less predominant and the proportion of pupils exhibiting or manifesting such is likely to be significantly fewer.

It seems unfair, then, that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have access to the same educational experiences of their less disadvantaged peers – for who could argue that they don’t have the same potential? One could reason that disadvantaged pupils have more cash thrown in their direction in order to address these issues of inequality (such as Pupil Premium in English schools) but the reality is that it takes more than cash to solve these inequalities.



Children in our most disadvantaged schools need so much more if they are to compete on an equal footing with socially advantaged learners. ‘Fair’ is not giving all children the same education but everyone getting the education they need and, in this case, it is quite clear that one size most certainly does not fit all.

There are some schools in disadvantaged areas that are working miracles but they are few and far between. Most struggle and strive to do their very best for their children but often feel that they are battling against an insurmountable odds: it is all they can do to keep their ship afloat, let alone steaming ahead. What seems to work best is collaboration between schools but this is not widespread enough to be causing an essential mindshift in the education sector.

So we are left with a picture of schooling that looks more like the ‘equality’ image above: we try to give all children the same, but this does not result in justice. Justice is enabling all children to see what is possible in their lives and being given the opportunity to aspire towards that – rather than the apparently inevitable, which is what far too many see.



This post is inconclusive in that it does not offer answers – it just raises a lot of questions. However, I hope it is pithy enough to make you want to chew it over – and spit the bits out. By all means comment: I am just offering a perspective.

Meanwhile, consider the following quotes, which are all variations on a theme which pack a punch, whichever way you look at it:


You can judge a nation by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens. (Author unknown)


The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members. (Author unknown)


A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members. ~ Mohandas Gandhi


Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members – the last, the least, the littlest. ~ Cardinal Roger Mahony


What are we doing to ensure that everyone is getting what they need…?



This blog post is written as part of a ‘blog buddies’ group, the idea being that we each write a weekly blog post on a chosen theme. To read the other posts on this theme, please visit:

Luke’s blog

Wendy’s blog

Nicola’s blog

If you would like to join our ‘blog buddies’ group and share in this writing adventure (no obligation to write, just join in when you are able), please e-mail