Moving knowledge around: Strategies for fostering equity within educational systems


This paper describes and analyses the work of a large scale improvement project in England in order to find more effective ways of fostering equity within education systems. The project involved an approach based on an analysis of local context, and used processes of networking and collaboration in order to make better use of available expertise. Reflecting on the impact and difficulties involved in using such an approach, the paper draws out lessons that may be relevant to other contexts. Consideration is also given to the implications for policy makers, practitioners and community stakeholders.

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  1. 1.

    In England, children from economically poor backgrounds are entitled to a free lunch in schools. This is used as a proxy indicator of the numbers of disadvantaged children.

  2. 2.

    There are 152 English local authorities. They are democratically accountable for providing a range of services for their local communities, including education. The ten local authorities in Greater Manchester are: Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Manchester, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan.

  3. 3.

    Challenge advisers were independent, experienced education experts, employed through the Department of Education to provide support for Challenge activities, particularly in the lowest performing schools.

  4. 4.

    Grammar schools select students academically at the age of eleven. In general they do not tend to cater for young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

  5. 5.

    This is now part of a national scheme where outstanding head teachers are designated as National Leaders of Education. As such, they are expected to provide support to other schools. They receive additional training in relation to their support roles.

  6. 6.

    Teaching schools are seen as having a similar role as teaching hospitals. On the basis of the excellent practice that exists, they offer professional development to staff from other schools. This approach, which was developed within City Challenge, is now part of national policy.


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The work described in this paper is the product of the efforts and creativity of many colleagues in the schools, local authorities and communities of Greater Manchester. Particular thanks must go to the splendid team of advisers and civil servants who worked with me on the project. Their efforts were in themselves a demonstration of the power of collaboration. I would also like to acknowledge the contributions of my colleagues Chris Chapman, Alan Dyson, Peter Farrell, Denis Mongon and Mel West who acted as critical friends throughout the project and, in so doing, contributed many ideas to the analysis presented in the paper.

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Correspondence to Mel Ainscow.

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Ainscow, M. Moving knowledge around: Strategies for fostering equity within educational systems. J Educ Change 13, 289–310 (2012).

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  • Educational equity
  • Contextual analysis
  • Networking and collaboration
  • Social capital