Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-hfldf Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-20T15:00:10.932Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

2 - Promoting Equity in Education through System Change

Lessons from the United Kingdom

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 November 2021

Colleen McLaughlin
University of Cambridge
Alan Ruby
University of Pennsylvania
Get access


This chapter explores the issue of the development of systems of education and whether it is possible to develop education systems that are both excellent and equitable, since many reform programmes result in increased inequality. Mel Ainscow was centrally involved in the Challenge programme. The first, The London Challenge (1997–2010), raised pupil attainment and in an equitable manner. It was seen as highly successfull. This chapter explores the whole Challenge programme, including Manchester and Wales, and the cultural, political and social factors seen as contributing to success, as well as the limitations. Ainscow argues against an emerging model of ‘what works’ in the implementation of policy and change of educational systems. He concludes by saying that successful change requires the coming together of different perspectives and experiences in a process of social learning and knowledge creation within particular settings.

Implementing Educational Reform
Cases and Challenges
, pp. 17 - 40
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ainscow, M. (2012). Moving knowledge around: Strategies for fostering equity within educational systems. Journal of Educational Change, 13:3, 289310.Google Scholar
Ainscow, M. (2013). Developing more equitable education systems: Reflections on a three-year improvement initiative. In Farnsworth, V. and Solomon, Y. (eds.) What Works in Education? Bridging Theory and Practice in Research. London: Routledge, pp. 7789.Google Scholar
Ainscow, M. (2015). Towards Self-improving School Systems: Lessons from a City Challenge. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Ainscow, M. (2016). Schools Challenge Cymru: A catalyst for change? Wales Journal of Education, 1:1, 622.Google Scholar
Ainscow, M., Chapman, C. and Hadfield, M. (2020) Changing Education Systems: A Research-Based Approach. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Ainscow, M., Hargreaves, D. H. and Hopkins, D. (1995). Mapping the process of change in schools: The development of six new research techniques. Evaluation and Research in Education, 9:2, 7589.Google Scholar
Armstrong, P. and Ainscow, M. (2018). School-to-school support within a competitive education system: Views from the inside. School Effectiveness, School Improvement, 29:461433.Google Scholar
Au, W. (2009). Unequal by Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Benn, M. and Millar, F. (2006). A Comprehensive Future: Quality and Equality for All of Our Children. London: Compass.Google Scholar
Burgess, S. (2014). Understanding the Success of London’s Schools. Bristol: CMPO Working Paper No.14/333.Google Scholar
Carr, C., Brown, S. and Morris, M. (2017). Assessing the Contribution of Schools Challenge Cymru to Outcomes Achieved by Pathways to Success Schools. Cardiff: Welsh Government.Google Scholar
Chapman, C. and Ainscow, M. (2019). Using research to promote equity within education systems: Possibilities and barriers. British Education Research Journal, 45:5, 899917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Claeys, A., Kempton, J. and Paterson, C. (2014). Regional Challenges: A Collaborative Approach to Improving Education. London: Centre Forum.Google Scholar
Connolly, P., Keenan, C. and Urbanska, K. (2018). The trials of evidence-based practice in education: A systematic review of randomised controlled trials in education research 1980–2016Educational Research60:327291.Google Scholar
Hadfield, M. and Ainscow, M. (2018). Inside a self-improving school system: Collaboration, competition and transition. Journal of Educational Change, 19:4, 44162.Google Scholar
Hadfield, M. and Jopling, M. (2018). Case study as a means of evaluating the impact of early years leaders: Steps, paths and routesEvaluation and Program Planning67, 167–76.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hammersley, M. (2001). On ‘systematic’ reviews of research literatures: A ‘narrative’ response to Evans & Bene. British Educational Research Journal, 27:5, 543–54.Google Scholar
Hutchings, M., Hollingworth, S., Mansaray, A., Rose, R. and Greenwood, C. (2012). Research Report DFE-RR215: Evaluation of the City Challenge Programme. London: Department for Education.Google Scholar
Kahlenberg, R. D. and Potter, H. (2014). A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
Kerr, K. and West, M. (eds.) (2010). Social Inequality: Can Schools Narrow the Gap? Macclesfield: British Education Research Association, Insight 2.Google Scholar
Kidson, M. and Norris, E. (2014). Implementing the London Challenge. London: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.Google Scholar
Lowe, J. (2015). The London schools revolution: Something remarkable has happened in the capital’s schools. Prospect Magazine, February 2015.Google Scholar
Lubienski, C. (2003). Innovation in education markets: Theory and evidence on the impact of competition and choice in Charter Schools. American Education Research Journal, 40:2, 395443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McEwan, P. J. and Carnoy, M. (2000). The effectiveness and efficiency of private schools in Chile’s voucher system. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 22:3, 21339.Google Scholar
OECD. (2012). Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
OECD. (2014). Improving Schools in Wales: An OECD Perspective. Paris: OECD Publishing.Google Scholar
Pickett, K. and Vanderbloemen, L. (2015). Mind the Gap: Tackling Social and Educational Inequality. York: Cambridge Primary Review Trust.Google Scholar
Rittel, H. J. W. and Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4, 155–69.Google Scholar
Sabel, C., Saxenian, A., Miettinen, R., Kristenson, P. H. and Hautamaki, J. (2011). Individualized Service Provision in the New Welfare State: Lessons from Special Education in Finland. Helsinki: SITRA.Google Scholar
Salokangas, M. and Ainscow, M. (2017). Inside the Autonomous School: Making Sense of a Global Educational Trend. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Schildkamp, K., Ehren, M. and Kuin Lai, M. K. (2012). Editorial article for the special issue on data-based decision making around the world: From policy to practice to results. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 23:2, 123–31.Google Scholar
Siddiqui, N.Gorard, S. and See, B. H. (2018). The importance of process evaluation for randomised control trials in educationEducational Research, 60:3, 357–70.Google Scholar
Takala, M., Pirttimaa, R. and Tormane, M. (2009). Inclusive special education: The role of special education teachers in Finland. British Educational Journal of Special Education, 36:3, 16272.Google Scholar
UNESCO. (2017). Ensuring Inclusion and Equity in Education. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
Weick, K. E. (1985). Sources of order in underorganised systems: Themes in recent organisational theory. In Lincoln, Y. S. (ed.) Organisational Theory and Inquiry. Beverley Hills: Sage, pp. 106–37.Google Scholar
Whitty, G. (2010). Marketization and Post-Marketization in Education. In Hargreaves, A., Lieberman, A., Fullan, M. and Hopkins, D. (eds.) Second International Handbook of Educational Change. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 405–13.Google Scholar
Wiborg, S. (2010). Swedish Free Schools: Do They Work? Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies. Available at: (accessed 12 June 2012).Google Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats