Dimensions of difference

Dimensions are often used to recognise social differences in people’s lives. The readings in this section focus on eight key dimensions, exploring how they shape the educational experiences of children and young people. These are: social class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, physical appearance, disability and learning. However, it is important to recognise that these often overlap and so the grouping of texts below is primarily a means of organising the resources.

Social Class -  There is an increasingly large bodies of literature available with regard to the first set of readings which concerns social class as a ‘dimension of difference’. A comprehensive account of social class advantages and disadvantages, reaching beyond the classroom, is presented in:

The following books examine how patterns of class advantage and disadvantage are reproduced through education:

Ethnicity: The second set of readings concern ethnicity as a ‘dimension of difference’. Again, there is a large volume of relevant literature, and the following offers just a selection:

David Gillborn uses ‘critical race theory’ to examine the role of racism across the education system as a whole - from national policies to decision-making in schools and classrooms about discipline and academic selection.

Paul Connolly provides a fascinating account of the social relationships by exploring young children’s perspectives on racism, gender and identity.

For further writings on ethnicity, see:

The following books discuss approaches to bringing about changes in the cultures of classrooms, schools and their wider communities:

Issa and Williams provide an insight into community schools and Saturday schools, through complementary schooling for black communities and bilingual children:

The next two readings that discuss the raising of achievement among minority ethnic pupils with a particular emphasis on bilingual teaching and developing multiculturalism:

The following book have responded to concerns about the education of refugee children and children of asylum seekers:

Ofsted inspections incorporate a focus on the achievements of minority ethnic pupils, and since the Stephen Lawrence case, they now monitor how schools tackle racism. Read the following report and then the book by Osler and Morrison which discusses Ofsted’s strengths and weaknesses in carrying out this responsibility:

Two DfES initiatives and their related publications are also of relevance to this section. In conjunction with the National Children's Bureau the DfES have produced a report which represents the views of minority ethnic pupils on the education system and their suggestions for improvements. The department also have a consultation document on strategies for raising the achievement of ethnic minority children:

Some relevant web sites:

Gender - The third set of readings in this section focus on gender as a ‘dimension of difference’. Once again there is an large volume of relevant literature of which the following is just a selection. First, a number of classic texts:

·         Francis, B. (2000) Boys, Girls and Achievement: Addressing the Classroom Issues, London: RoutledgeFalmer.

·         Evans, T. (1988) A Gender Agenda: A Sociological Study of Teachers, Parents and Pupils in their Primary Schools, Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

Other more recent publications include:

The following texts examine the apparent underachievement of boys:

A particular focus on boys’ education, and increasing research interest in masculinities in schools, has given rise to a number of publications. Some of these argue strongly that this new focus must not undermine improvements in girls' achievements. See:

A particular concern with gender during the early years of school and lower primary age groups is evident in:

Two books written by teachers about their pupils’ perspectives on gender are:

Another book with a strong emphasis on pupils’ own gender experiences is:

Two books concerned with gender and management in schools are:

The following book by Myers and colleagues aims to help schools address gender equality issues:

For a research-based investigation into children’s literacy habits, both at home and in school, that identifies an association between gender roles and attitudes to reading and writing see:

Sexuality - The fourth set of readings in this section provide a basis for exploring sexuality as a ‘dimension of difference’ for both teachers and pupils in schools. The first provides a wider educational context as it includes Higher Education settings as well as schools. The second is based on interviews with pupils and teachers providing an analysis of the links between gender and sexuality and their influence on school processes.

Age  - The fifth ‘dimension of difference’ considered in this section relates to the age of learners. Research in the philosophy, history, psychology and sociology of childhood has repeatedly demonstrated how children's perspectives, activities and rights are structured, ignored or constrained by adults. See for example:

·         Archard, D. and McLeod, C. M. (2002) The Moral and Pollitical Status of Children. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

·         James, A. and James, A. L. (2004) Constructing Childhood: Theory, Policy and Social Practice, Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan.

·         Miller, J. (1997) Never Too Young: How Young Children can take Responsibility and Make Decisions. London: Save the Children.

Conceptions of children as being either ‘innocent' or ‘corrupt' can be found in popular culture and public policy, with the associated adult responses of both protection and moralizing.  See:

·         Aries, P. (1962) Centuries of Childhood, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

·         Cunningham, H. (2006) The Invention of Childhood, London: BBC Books.

In the past, teachers have been accused of constraining children because of a misplaced adherence to linear assumptions about progress or achievement. Readings given in the section on Learning in Chapter 1 will be helpful here. See for example:

More commonly within the profession today, a view of children and young people as active agents, interacting, or co-creating their own childhoods is accepted. See for example:

Finally, how the accident of birth date combined with the start of the school year produces age effects on academic attainment that can be traced throughout primary and secondary school is considered in:

Physical appearance - The sixth ‘dimension of difference’ considered in this section is the physical appearance of learners. In the 1960s and 1970s studies indicated that children’s attractiveness was significantly associated with how intelligent a teacher expected a child to be; for example:

More recently Frances offers a compelling study of the social and psychological challenges encountered by children and young people who have facial disfigurements, and their experiences of schools:

Disability - the seventh ‘dimension of difference’ considered in this section relates to disability. Understanding disability as a question of rights and opportunities has developed significantly in recent years and, particularly through the research and activism of disabled people. The following texts examine how understandings of disability have shifted from a deficit model based to an examination of the role of social policies and practices.

The following two texts explore how learners with disabilities may be at risk of being bullied at school:

The following book examines the portrayal of disability in children’s fiction and aims to provide a framework for teaching children how to understand and cope with disability:

Reading and other resources offering guidance about supporting the learning of children and young people identified as having disabilities is provided later in the section on ‘Needs’ as a dimension of difference.

The last ‘dimension of difference’ discussed in Chapter 15 considers how all children and indeed adults experience variation in their learning abilities,. This is closely related to other factors such as personal interest, motivation and expectations and therefore readings for Chapter 2 will also be useful here. However, a key text is:

Furthermore, all the ‘dimensions of difference’ referred to in this section contribute to conditions which enable or restrain opportunities for learning. 

Finally, these ‘dimensions’ are not experienced as discrete entities in children’s often complex lives. Increasingly researchers emphasise how social disadvantages associated with one dimension may be compounded by disadvantages associated with another. See for example: