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Education

Education has the potential to reduce inequalities and promote social mobility. However, children from lower socio-economic backgrounds continue to do significantly worse at school than those from higher socio-economic backgrounds.
Our research seeks to understand the complex mechanisms behind the pronounced association between social and educational inequalities, by looking at how individual, household, neighbourhood characteristics and national institutional characteristics intersect with each other to reproduce inequalities.

We will analyse a variety of outcomes beyond educational attainment, such as cognitive development, the transitions to primary and secondary school and teacher assessments of children’s dispositions and skills. In addition, our research explores the life-courses of resilient individuals from less-advantaged social backgrounds. By conducting this latter study, we aim to identify potential enabling factors which allow certain people to break the vicious circle of the social reproduction of inequality.

Our current research projects on educational inequalities are listed below. These link closely with our research on Socio-Economic, Employment, Well-being, Gender and Age inequalities.

 

Research Papers

The transition to primary school: How family background and childcare experiences influence children’s skills on school entry

This paper uses data from Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) and the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) for Scotland to explore the factors influencing inequalities in children’s skills on entry to primary school. The main research questions are:

•    Are there social inequalities by parental background in cognitive skills on entry to primary school?
•    To what extent do early childcare experiences and family environment explain the differences by parental background and what is their relative importance?
•    Are there differences between Scotland and Ireland in the level of inequality and the processes shaping it?  

Type of inequality
Previous research has generally focused on mother’s education or social class. Instead, the analyses adopt a multidimensional approach to inequality, focusing on differences in child outcomes by parental social class, mother’s education and household income.

Problem behaviour in children: policy, politics and social inequality in Scotland

This paper explores the impact of socio-economic and other inequalities on the risk of conduct disorder among a cohort of children aged 10 years in Scotland. Broadly defined, children with conduct disorder have a difficult time following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. In the UK, early onset conduct disorder is the main reason for referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. While there is an extensive literature on childhood conduct disorders, most research to date has focused on individual and family level factors, for example, child personality traits, family background and dysfunction, parenting styles and more recently, the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). A similar focus is reflected within policy, whereby the main emphasis is on parenting classes and child psychological therapies. For example, the Scottish Government Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027 aims to have completed a national roll-out of targeted parenting programmes for three and four-year olds with conduct disorder by 2019-2020.

Is there a diversity premium in Scottish schools? How have changing patterns of poverty and ethnic mix affected educational trajectories by ethnic group?

We are interested in whether changes in the ethnic/ cultural mix of pupils in schools can affect education outcomes for pupils from different backgrounds. Previous research (Burgess, 2014) has shown that white children from deprived households are likely to perform better if they are in schools with children of mixed ethnic backgrounds rather than in an all-white school. We seek to establish whether such an effect holds true in Scotland, to understand whether there are threshold effects and whether there is an optimal level of social and ethnic mix for educational outcomes. More generally, we are interested in establishing the degree and nature of ethnic inequality in educational outcomes.
Fragmentation of traditional working class communities through decentralisation and changing spatial ordering of poverty combined with influx of new ethnicities opens up a range of questions about the impacts on different socio-ethnic groups.

Inequalities in achieving a higher education qualification: using a sibling design to disentangle the importance of individual and family factors

Sibling designs are an important analytical strategy to capture the family environment as a global measure, providing a summary indicator of all measured and unmeasured characteristics shared by siblings at birth and during their upbringing, such as genes, social environment, siblings interactions and many others. This, in turn, allows us to assess the relative importance of shared family characteristics vs. individual characteristics and of different parental background measures within the total family shared environment. This paper will provide new and robust empirical evidence regarding social inequalities in HE graduation. Using new siblings’ data from the Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS), the paper addresses the following research questions:
 (1) What is the share of between and within family variance in siblings’ HE outcomes?  
(2) Does this differ by social class of origin and by other family characteristics?
(3) How much of the total variance between families is explained by parental social class, education and other family-level characteristics?

Against all odds: Enabling factors in early childhood for cognitive outcomes

This research investigates the extent to which children from more disadvantaged backgrounds achieve cognitive outcomes higher than their peers and the factors which are behind their more successful outcomes in a life-course perspective. The aim is to identify and understand specific factors and turning points in children’s lives which can help children to overcome the negative influences of the social disadvantage they are born in and to shed light on the mechanisms at play. Thus, we ask the following questions:
1)    To what extent do children from disadvantaged backgrounds attain successful cognitive outcomes?
2)    What are the key enabling factors that distinguish successful children from disadvantaged backgrounds (the ‘resilient’) from their peers who attain less? And what is the interplay between the enabling factors analysed?
3)    Are there turning points in the life-course of disadvantaged children which enable them to achieve better outcomes than expected?

Social class differences in parenting practices and their influence on children’s educational outcomes in Scotland and the United States

A large body of literature has investigated the existence of social class differences in children’s school outcomes. However, relatively less is known about the possible mechanisms through which this relationship operates.

We address the following questions:
•    Are there social class differences in children’s educational outcomes at age 10 in Scotland and the U.S.A?
•    To what extent do differences in parenting practices explain the observed social class differences in children’s outcomes?
•    Do different mechanisms operate within each national context?

Growing up with a lone mother in Scotland: the role of employment, childcare and family ties on children’s wellbeing

Increasing scholarly attention has focused on the link between family demography and inequalities, and its implications for children’s life courses. Children born from more disadvantaged families are more likely to experience family changes and structures that are associated with a loss of resources, such as their parents’ early and non-marital family formation, union instability and weaker labour market attachment. These experiences have important repercussions on children’s well-being and chances in life.

Our other areas of research

Age

Crime

Employment

Environmental

Ethnicity

Gender

Housing

Justice

Socio-economic

Spatial

Well-being