Neoliberal Education Policy and the Binds of Poverty: A Lack of Aspiration or a Failure of the Imagination?

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


An enduring problem for educational policymakers in the UK is in accounting for why so few students from low-socio-economic (SES) backgrounds are successful in school, in being twice as likely to leave school having underperformed (Ofsted 2013; 23; OECD 2016; 222). This paper unpicks the neo-liberal policy position on this question, founded on an assumption that underachievement is due to a lack of aspiration on the part of families and children. Against this, an alternative and more complex set of explanations are advanced, which illuminate a failure on the part of policymakers to imagine or understand the realities of school life for children in poverty. To do so requires an in-depth engagement with the neo-liberal approach to educational policy and in particular, the assumptions made about the motivation of those in poverty who fail to conform to expected behaviour in schools. The first section, therefore, analyses the neo-liberal antecedents to current educational policy. In the case of the Conservative UK government the core of neo-liberal policy making is augmented with a moral underclass discourse (Levitas 2005). The latter, provides a definition of the problem of poverty and it constructs, in consequence, authoritarian, within school policies, where sanctions against parents cannot be effectively applied. This approach to educational policy is part of the wider agenda concerning the culture of poverty in a "broken" Britain (Cameron 2011). The second section presents, by way of contrast, the four binds that students experiencing poverty have to negotiate in schools
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2017
EventThe IAFOR International Conference on Global Studies 2017: Global Realities: Precarious Survival and Belonging - Spain, Barcelona, Spain
Duration: 14 Jul 201716 Jan 2018
Conference number: 1417-03-02-K-03 (37167)


ConferenceThe IAFOR International Conference on Global Studies 2017
Abbreviated titleGlobal 2017
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Neoliberal Education Policy and the Binds of Poverty: A Lack of Aspiration or a Failure of the Imagination?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this