top of page


Updated: Jul 12, 2021

With the outcome of a General Election in UK recently decided, it is regrettably the case that the incoming government will seemingly not regard the preservation and enhancement of social justice as one of its perceived early aspirations or commitments.

Yet, if one scratches the surface to reveal contemporary issues across western society, the notion of social justice figures prominently and especially in those countries that seek approval for their perceived social norms. Whilst we have good reason to argue that there has been considerable political and policy change of late in the US, it is over ten years ago since the then Secretary of State for Education, Duncan was saying:

“I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. And if you care about promoting opportunity and reducing inequality, the classroom is the place to start. Great teaching is about so much more than education; it is a daily fight for social justice.”

Arne Duncan, speech at University of Virginia 9 October 2009.

Trump’s America might in recent times be less than convincing in its enactment of the principles underlying social justice but for educators, the need to educate our children and students in such ways as to engender an understanding of just those principles is paramount as we seek to inform and to help shape the next generations.

With human rights and notions of equality traditionally the benchmarks of social justice, the UK has arguably seen a recent downturn in social coherence and at worst, has witnessed rancour and hostility within and from parts of the population towards citizens of other nations. Sadly, this is perpetuated by seeming hostility towards former EU partners emanating from government in the early days of the new order. Whatever the source of or reasons for this and the difficulty of changing entrenched attitudes, there must remain the conviction that social justice is an entirely worthwhile mission and Duncan’s words send a powerful message to educators to continue the journey.

If they do so, how might UK schools address social justice in curricular terms? For sure, we need to embrace the widest notion of ‘curriculum’ in any response we give. To see curriculum in terms of a set of subjects or a programme of learning is inadequate; rather we need to see the curriculum as the totality of learning, skills, experience and attitudes acquired within and beyond the classroom. Schools and teachers have often accepted the challenge in recent times but inevitably differ in response. Speaking of her own school and its priorities, a London Headteacher argued:

Social justice is academic for lots of children. Bare survival is the reality for many. At our school we are battling to reduce the impact of social injustice, because I don’t know how to eradicate it when our society exists on the premise that some people will have a lot more than others.’ (Maya Rollins in ‘How Can Schools Promote Social Justice?’, Guardian 3 November 2015.)