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This concluding chapter examines the challenges involved in deepening equality in the education system and society at large – globally and locally.

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This chapter offers an overarching analysis of the relationship between class, race and culture and how these influences shape individual educational trajectories for the privileged in society, while consigning the working class and minority ethnic groups to a separate disadvantaged status in a system of targeted community schools that aspire to pursue a positive discrimination agenda in order to redress the consequences of social inequality.

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The introductory chapter explores the landscape of educational disadvantage. It contextualises the core conceptual issues in the book and provides an intellectual rationale and overview of the book. In this chapter the origins of Western society are explored through an analysis of the ideas of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. The seminal contribution of Pierre Bourdieu to understanding educational inequality in modern society is introduced.

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Educational Stratification, Meritocracy and Widening Participation

Despite the high aspirations of young people from disadvantaged communities, they face barriers that are frustrating the realisation of their educational ambitions.

This book analyses the ‘left-behind’ phenomenon and shows how education has become the new divide in Western society. It explains how denied educational equality and frustrated opportunity are undermining social cohesion and what we can do about it. It challenges meritocratic thinking and the efficacy of widening participation as a policy for social inclusion.

Combining analysis of educational disadvantage at an international level and among Travelling communities with empirical data derived from fieldwork with parents, teachers and students in the European Union (Ireland), this book offers fresh thinking and new hope in relation to young people left behind in the opportunity structure.

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This chapter examines the moral principle of merit and its limitations. We argue that meritocracy has provided a metafiction for public policy based on a philosophy of equality of opportunity that does not withstand critical analysis. The chapter suggests alternatives such as equality of condition that are more likely to achieve social justice.

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This chapter explores the meaning and role of public education and universities in civil society. Adult education and the importance of public libraries are a key focus. Widening participation is analysed in terms of both policy and practice with reference to student experiences.

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This chapter explores aspirations, barriers and facilitators in relation to disadvantaged students’ access to higher education. We ask whether an aspiration-achievement gap in student performance in the terminal examination system – ‘the Big Test’ – is an adequate explanation for the stark disparity in achievement between social classes and ethnic groups, or if this is due to a poverty trap.

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This chapter focuses on parental engagement with their children’s educational and career choices, and how attitudes to education within working-class communities appear to have changed over time.

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In this chapter we analyse Traveller education experiences within a racist environment at school and in society. We demonstrate significant policy changes and highlight continuing challenges.

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This chapter uses fieldwork data to discuss retirement migration in relation to the social precarity that can result from age-based discrimination. We show how the ageism in our interviewees’ home countries led them to feel excluded or to anticipate this, and how they found that they were valued in their new countries, rather than burdens. Avoiding ageism and social exclusion was not their primary motivation for migrating, but finding that they were not marginalised in their new countries based on their age emerged as an important aspect of their happiness. Further, the apparent absence of ageism mattered regardless of our respondents’ class. We begin the chapter with our respondents’ accounts of being considered burdens in their home countries, which they contrast to their perception of being valued as contributors in their host countries. We highlight the experiences of older women, who feel more visible and safer than they had felt at home. Then, we discuss the advantages retirement migrants have found in residing among age peers. We discuss the internalised ageism that many respondents demonstrate, which we take to suggest that their avoidance of social precarity is, at best, incomplete.

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