This article focuses on attempts to understand how the curriculum and pedagogy can help to reduce inequalities in the outcomes of schooling between those from higher and lower socio-economic backgrounds. In the 1970s, the author was involved with Michael F.D. Young and others in the development of the so-called ‘new’ sociology of education. Much of this work entailed laying bare the assumptions underlying the school curriculum and demonstrating how the selection of school knowledge was implicated in the reproduction of social inequalities. During the 1980s in England the curriculum was overtly politicised by the Thatcher government but the interests of sociologists of education moved increasingly away from the sociology of school knowledge to focus instead on the sociology of education policy. This paper identifies a recent tendency on the part of sociologists of education to return to the ‘knowledge question’. In particular, it examines Young's own role in this and his attempts to revisit and revise of his earlier position. Contemporary developments in curricular policy in England and Northern Ireland are then outlined and discussed. Finally, the paper considers whether the work of Basil Bernstein, particularly his concepts of classification/framing and recognition/realisation rules, might help us to address one of the prevailing political problems of many modern education systems — the systematic failure of socially disadvantaged pupils to perform well at school.