Education and disadvantage:

Bridging the structure agency divide


In recent years, debates on relationships between disadvantage and education have tended to become polarised around two broad positions, each claiming ‘evidence’ on its side.  Crudely put, a ‘neoliberal’ position situates students as autonomous agents of their own destiny and teachers as responsible for ‘overcoming’ ‘barriers to equal outcomes, defined in terms of achievement in standard tests. Effective teachers  ‘implement’ ‘what works’, in ways that emphasis subject knowledge and the importance of disciplined settings.  A ‘critical’ or ‘progressive’ position suggests that disadvantaged learners have been systematically disempowered in ways that restrict their agency, that education cannot compensate for society, that learning should be about more than test scores, and that learning and teaching are relational, contextualised, and non linear. Effective teachers are child-centred, understand and work with young people’s development, and reflect on their own practice.


This seminar series, focussed on exploring the structure/agency divide that bedevils the field of education studies, is underpinned by a belief that there are links to be made to psychosocial studies. Indeed for me, as one of the organisers, it is psychosocial studies that offers our best hope of finding new ways to conceptualise difficulties around ‘education and disadvantage’. The seminar series has been planned in such a way as to provide others with opportunities to explore this suggestion – and perhaps also for me to retest my beliefs.


If you are interested in joining this conversation please check out our website   and/or contact me: Tamara Bibby (