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Students' views on fairness in education: the importance of relational justice and stakes fairness

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith, Professor Liz ToddORCiD, Karen Laing



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


This paper discusses a research project which sought to find out about young people’s views on fairness in education in English schools. Fairness is an everyday term, which in policy hides multiple and contradictory positions across the political divide. In education we find a policy context that focuses on distributional justice and equality of opportunity but also on principles of freedom and choice. This paper argues that engaging with how young people understand fairness contributes to models of social justice in education. Focus group data and written statements on fairness from approximately 80 young people aged 16-18 from five very different English schools were analysed. Students’ primary concerns, absent from educational policy, were the themes of relational justice and stakes fairness, which are eclipsed by current recourse to distributive justice and meritocratic ideals. We argue that a focus on the lived experience of fairness is therefore necessary to widen the discourse about what is fair in education and to reinvigorate public debate about the values on which our education system is based.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mazzoli Smith L, Todd L, Laing K

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Research Papers in Education

Year: 2018

Volume: 33

Issue: 3

Pages: 336-353

Online publication date: 16/03/2017

Acceptance date: 22/01/2017

Date deposited: 09/05/2017

ISSN (print): 0267-1522

ISSN (electronic): 1470-1146

Publisher: Taylor and Francis


DOI: 10.1080/02671522.2017.1302500


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