Schools, Families, and Social Reproduction

  • Sarah L. HollowayEmail author
  • Helena Pimlott-Wilson
Open Access
Part of the Knowledge and Space book series (KNAS, volume 14)


Neoliberal educational discourse across the Global North is marked by an increasing homogeneity, but this masks significant socio-spatial differences in the enactment of policy. The authors focus on four facets of roll-out neoliberalism in English education policy that have expanded the function of primary schools, and redrawn the boundary between state and family responsibilities. Specifically, these are increased state support for: (1) working parenthood through provision of wraparound childcare; (2) parent-child relationships through school-led provision of parenting classes; (3) parental involvement in children’s learning; and (4) child development through schools’ fostering of extracurricular activities. The politics of policies that both enhance state responsibility for, and influence in, matters that were previously within the purview of families are complex. The collective impact of these developments has been both to reform how the work of daily and generational social reproduction is done, and to reshape the social reproduction of a classed and gendered society.


Neoliberal State Education Policy Mother Children Paid work Childcare Parenting classes Activities 

Education has risen up the political agenda in the Global North as the economic restructuring that began in the 1970s, along with concurrent social changes including the feminization of the workforce, has presented established welfare states with new challenges (Office for National Statistics, 2013; Pierson, 2006). Neoliberal states across the Global North have responded with policy discourses that emphasize that education’s role in developing human capital is crucial to national competitiveness in global knowledge economies, and vital for social cohesion, as it enables individuals to successfully navigate these redrawn labor markets (Jenson & Saint-Martin, 2006). The political importance of this policy agenda means that “the spaces in which education and learning take place are undergoing almost continual transformation” (Brooks, Fuller, & Waters, 2012, p. 1). Researchers in geographies of education have responded to these developments by tracing the restructuring of education from the preschool field through the compulsory years of schooling provision and into higher education (Gallagher, 2018; Harrison, Smith, & Kinton, 2016; Lizotte, 2013). In schools, this restructuring centers not only on the sociospatial organization of provision (e.g., increasing diversity in school type and questions about equality of access), but also on the curriculum (for example, increased efforts to produce competitive, self-managing emotionally-competent workers for the neoliberal age) (Gagen, 2015; Hankins & Martin, 2006; Ledwith & Reilly, 2013; Malmberg, Andersson, & Bergsten, 2014; Witten, Kearns, Lewis, Coster, & McCreanor, 2003). Taken together, these research threads demonstrate that although there is indeed increasing homogeneity in neoliberal educational discourse across the Global North, the enactment of these policies in practice is sociospatially differentiated (Cohen & Lizotte, 2015; Holloway & Pimlott-Wilson, 2012; Klaf & Kwan, 2010).

These debates about neoliberal educational restructuring serve as this chapter’s point of departure, but recognizing that all existing forms of neoliberalism are contingent in nature, we focus on one form, the emergence of roll-out neoliberalism and the associated increase in state involvement in social reproduction through schools in twenty-first century England (Brenner & Theodore, 2002; Peck & Tickell, 2002). These changes were initiated by a center-left Labour Government policy that sought to broaden the role of education and ensure that by 2010 all primary schools would include within their remit responsibility for: providing/signposting before and after school childcare for working parents from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., 48 weeks a year; facilitating children’s participation in extracurricular activities; and providing access to support that would better enable parents to raise their own children (Cummings, Dyson, & Todd, 2011; Cummings et al., 2007). This broadening of the purpose of primary schools is part of the retrenchment and renewal of the workfare/welfare state. On the one hand, the aim is to facilitate parents’ participation in the labor market, thereby promoting labor market flexibility, reducing welfare dependency, and lowering child poverty. On the other hand, it is also to invest in children’s futures through access to clubs/activities and parenting support, thus developing both a skilled labor force and increased social cohesion for the future.

The empirical research was conducted in Hortonshire, a pseudonym for a local authority in the English Midlands, which contains schools serving children from diverse class backgrounds, but which, given its shire county location, is predominantly white. The methodology included: A questionnaire survey of all primary school head teachers in authority; a questionnaire survey of 722 parents with children in Year 2 (ages 6–7) and Year 6 (ages 10–11) in 26 primary schools; 45 semistructured interviews with a sample of parents who completed the survey; and semistructured individual or small-group interviews with 73 children in Years 2 and 6.1 In total, 93% of the parents who returned the questionnaire were women, as were all of our parental interviewees. In general, we use the term parent in this chapter to include the fathers who returned the questionnaire, but refer specifically to mothers where this is important to draw out the highly gendered nature of some of the practices we study. The results of this research have been published elsewhere; here, we draw the findings together to provide an overview of the project, but direct the reader to the original sources for details of the empirical evidence (Holloway & Pimlott-Wilson, 2012, 2013, 2014a, 2014b, 2016, 2018).

Our focus in the central sections of this chapter is on four facets of roll-out neoliberalism in primary schools that result in a reworking of the boundary between state and familial responsibility for social reproduction. First, we consider intensified state support for working parenthood through the facilitation of wraparound childcare in schools (e.g., breakfast and after school clubs). Second, we turn our attention to strengthened state involvement in parent-child relationships through school-led provision of parenting classes. Thirdly, we examine amplified state efforts to enroll parents in children’s education through curriculum events that seek to guide parents’ support for their children’s learning in the home. Fourthly, we reflect on deepened state support for child development through schools’ fostering of extracurricular activities that are deemed to enrich children’s lives. Taken together, these four facets of roll-out neoliberalism progress the permeation of state influence into matters that were previously considered the purview of families. As we argue in the conclusion, these changes in the role of schooling not only have consequences for the daily and generational reproduction of neoliberal subjects, but also for the maintenance of, and breakages in, broader systems of social differentiation.

Schools’ Support for Working Parents

Roll-out neoliberalism in England was shaped in early twenty-first century England by the Labour Government’s third way approach to politics. Paid work was privileged during the party’s term in power as the primary way people of working age could be integrated into society (HM Treasury, 2002; MacLeavy, 2008), and this ethos was further intensified by the subsequent right-of-center coalition government (Featherstone, Ince, Mackinnon, Strauss, & Cumbers, 2012). This swing towards a workfare state under Labour was partly driven by a common neoliberal desire to raise economic competitiveness and cut welfare payments, but the desire to reduce social exclusion was also an important motivating factor. Indeed, whilst the emphasis on paid work (theoretically) shifts responsibility for economic survival from the welfare state to the individual, it is notable that workfare approaches were matched under Labour by a progressively more interventionist child and family policy agenda that augmented, rather than cut, state involvement in social reproduction (Gillies, 2008; Lister, 2006). The result of this twin desire to promote work as the route out of poverty, whilst also supporting families in the raising of their children, was an increased responsibility placed on schools to provide wraparound care for children from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., subject to local need.

Our research published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (Holloway & Pimlott-Wilson, 2012) is concerned with the ways this national policy is differentially shaped through its implementation in socioeconomically varied neighborhoods. Geographers have an ongoing interest in policy mobility and the role played by elites in this process (Larner & Laurie, 2010); our interest, by contrast, lies in the ways mid-ranking public-sector workers can shape the localized emergence of policy in practice through their individual interpretation of the subject positions normalized in neoliberal policy (Larner & Elizabeth, 2009; Raco, 2009). In this instance, head teachers attitudes’ to the figure of the working mother venerated in neoliberal policy (MacLeavy, 2011), as well as their understandings of ideal childhood (Katz, 2018), matter to their enactments of policy (Braun, Maguire, & Ball, 2010). Our findings show that head teachers dismiss the workfare ethos of this policy in working-class schools, simply suggesting that parents who do not work do not need childcare. Nevertheless, they regard school-based care environments as beneficial for children: breakfast clubs are seen to promote learning by meeting children’s nutritional needs; after school clubs are considered to provide a safe place to play away from what they judge to be the dangers of poor parenting and the street. In effect, head teachers’ understanding of working-class parents as either deficient, or having insufficient resources to parent well, leads them to value the expansion of state services, which they regard as positively promoting their pupils’ current and future lives. By contrast, the value placed on care by the heterosexual nuclear family (Wilkinson, 2013), and the notion that a child’s place is in the home (Kallio, 2017), undermines head teachers’ support for these institutionalized care environments in middle-class areas where parents are viewed as competent. Head teachers’ differential support for childcare in working and middle-class areas is influential in shaping provision, but middle-class parents’ greater, and working-class parents’ lesser, ability to pay for care remains an important factor shaping the outcomes of services.

In a more recent paper in the same journal (Holloway & Pimlott-Wilson, 2016), we examine parents’ attitudes to this childcare provision in primary schools. In contrast to head teachers, middle-class parents are overwhelmingly positive about this development, with over 90% believing that schools should provide wraparound care from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The service is valued for offering women a life beyond motherhood, allowing them the scope to pursue work if they choose to, and thus to contribute to the financial needs of their families. Indeed, the service is so popular with parents that they argue that it should also be provided at subsidized rates in working-class neighborhoods, as the high cost of childcare means that without it, women with lower earnings will be unable to afford to work (Cummings et al., 2011; Harding, Wheaton, & Butler, 2017). It is striking that this increased state involvement in social reproduction, which marks a firm break with the original role of schools as places of education rather than childcare, raises very little disquiet in middle-class areas. One or two parents are concerned that it might normalize working motherhood, but overall middle-class parents think service provision enables women to make choices about their own lives. In working-class neighborhoods, this service is also welcomed by over 90% of parents, but it is notable that this is largely seen as a service that should be in place to help other low-paid women who might want to work, whereas interviewees themselves more commonly emphasize their own commitment to parenting in the home (Corlett & Whittaker, 2014). Some parents feared—and quite legitimately so, considering the broader social context—that a service that enables employment amongst those women who want to enter the labor market might be forced upon those who would rather care for their children at home (Smith, Wainwright, Buckingham, & Marandet, 2011).

Taken together, the research reported in these two papers illustrates that middle-class parents are more likely to find themselves using schools with after-school care, and they are more likely to feel liberated by using it, as its provision matches their greater opportunities, and their demands to maximize female equality, in the workplace (James, 2011; Office for National Statistics, 2013). By contrast, working-class parents are less likely to be able to access after school care, and are more likely to be concerned that their right to care in the home is being eroded (as the state on which they are financially reliant seeks to require them to engage in paid work) (Wainwright, Marandet, Buckingham, & Smith, 2011). National state policy is thus implemented and experienced in diverse ways in class-differentiated locations. What is unquestionable, however, is that the role of schools has expanded in England with many now being spaces of care as well as education.

School-Based Parenting Classes

Geographers have shown considerable interest in the ways the neoliberal states are seeking to shape individual citizen’s learning through the restructuring of school provision (Cohen & Lizotte, 2015). Our subdisciplinary agenda also needs to be more expansive, however, as new and extended forms of teaching and learning are developing under contemporary educational reform (Jupp, 2013; Wainwright & Marandet, 2013). Notably, a range of OECD nations are not only seeking to produce appropriately skilled citizen-workers though the schooling of children, but are also trying to influence the familial context in which future citizen-workers are raised through increased attention to and expenditure on, parenting education and support (Shulruf, O’Loughlin, & Tolley, 2009). Previous feminist research has highlighted the importance of local moral geographies of mothering, and online and offline parenting cultures, in shaping parenting practices (Foy-Phillips & Lloyd-Evans, 2011; Madge & O’Connor, 2006; Visser, Bolt, & van Kempen, 2015; Witten, Kearns, McCreanor, Penney, & Faalau, 2009), but these influences in informal learning spaces are now sometimes supplemented by state-sponsored parenting education. In England, New Labour overcame previous reticence about state involvement in parenting after concluding that “parents and the home environment they create are the single most importance factor in shaping children’s wellbeing, achievements and prospects” (Department for Education and Skills, 2007, p. 3). The policies they promoted redefined parenting from a family relationship to a skill that could be taught, in a process that all too often envisaged parenting as context-free skill, as the challenges facing different families went unrecognized (Gillies, 2010). This professionalization and politicization of parenthood shifts attention from inequalities in wider society and instead involves a common neoliberal focus on changing the individual (Raco, 2009; Richter & Andresen, 2012). In England, schools were encouraged to do this by hosting or signposting parenting education as part of their new broader role in local communities.

Our research in Environment and Planning A (Holloway & Pimlott-Wilson, 2014a) explores how parents respond to the provision of parenting education through primary schools. In wealthier neighborhoods, where mothers have networked support from similar local families and the cultural capital to access expert help if required, demand for parenting classes is low. In contrast, desire for parenting classes is much higher in low-income neighborhoods. Here, the experience of living in an area where antisocial behavior is a significant problem for residents underpinned support for parenting classes both for personal use and because “other” mothers were seen to need them (Power, 2010). This focus on “other” mothers emerges because although individual mothers articulate the importance of widespread poverty, unemployment, and a lack of services as root causes of antisocial behavior in their neighborhoods, they also identify poor parenting as an issue. In localities where mothers are not closely tied to other mothers, “othering” mothers of whom they disapproved allowed individuals to claim their own maternal respectability in a context where they were highly cognizant of the social devaluation of working-class parenting (Mannay, 2015; Vincent, Ball, & Braun, 2010). What is noteworthy in our research is that these place-based cultures of mothering play a part in shaping whether neoliberal parenting policies are embraced, tolerated, or resisted in a particular locality. Indeed, those individuals whose class does not match their locality, for example a middle-class parent in a working-class neighborhood or vice versa, tend to express attitudes reflective of other members of their local community, rather than those of their individual class grouping.

The politics of parenting education are complex in relation to the reproduction of class and gender. Policies around parenting education have been criticized for imposing certain middle-class mores around parenting on working-class communities (Gillies, 2010), and it is certainly true that blaming poor parenting, without considering the material advantage or poverty in which an individual is providing care, can divert attention from the root causes of problems. However, parenting education is not necessarily bad (Russell & Lincoln, 2017), and we must give equal weight to the fact that isolated working-class mothers argued that they, and not just others, might benefit from this service. The question then is how to ensure that this support can be given in a way that empowers parents, but does not lay individual responsibility for wider social problems at the feet of those disadvantaged under the capitalist system. Notably, this service that was popular with working-class parents has not been universally implemented, and has been subject to cuts under austerity, leaving them without access to support (Harknett & Hartnett, 2011). The role of primary schools is changing, but although wraparound childcare services in middle-class areas blossom despite tight fiscal conditions, as parents can afford to pay, other developments such as parenting education currently have a much weaker position in state schools, which are now under the control of a right-wing Conservative government bent on austerity.

Enrolling Parents in Children’s Education

The dynamism that has long been present in the education system (Meusburger, 1998) is evident today in the transformation of educational spaces (Brooks et al., 2012). In a paper published in The Canadian Geographer (Holloway & Pimlott-Wilson, 2013), we explore this process through a focus on the deepening interconnections that are being forged between homes and schools under twenty-first century roll-out neoliberalism in England. The politicization of parenting in England, which we introduced in the previous section, has been crucial in this respect (Richter & Andresen, 2012). The late twentieth-century Conservative governments had cast parents as consumers of education, but in the early twenty-first century the Labour administration expanded this vision and tasked parents with “becoming their children’s educators alongside teachers” (Reay, 2008, p. 642). Their rationale that “parents are a child’s first and most enduring teachers” (Department for Education and Employment, 1998, p. 3) experienced considerable discursive continuity under the right-of-center coalition government that replaced Labour in 2010: They continued to argue that “[m]others and fathers are their children’s first and most important educators …. What happens in this home environment has more influence on future achievement than innate ability, material circumstances or the quality of preschool and school provision” (Department for Education and Department for Health, 2011, p. 36). This emphasis on parenting lead to a blurring of the boundaries between home and school under Labour, with concerted efforts being made to increase parental involvement as, despite mixed evidence, this was presumed to increase children’s attainment in schools. This involvement can take diverse forms, from support with homework to involvement in school governance, but evidence-based policy reviews center, in a context of parental diversity, on the need to “have a clear focus on providing information, support and advice to parents and children” (Carter-Wall & Whitfield, 2012, p. 12). Our research therefore explores what parents think about state efforts to enroll them in the education of their primary-aged children and how they experience curriculum events through which schools seek to teach them how to better support their children’s school learning in the home.

The findings demonstrate considerable unanimity in support for parental involvement in schools, with only a few dissenting voices wanting to draw a firm boundary between schools as places of education and the home as a space of respite and familial love. Class differences between parents were apparent in the logics of their support, however. Middle-class parents articulated their positivity in terms of ensuring children’s success, with some noting that participation in school was also a mark of good mothering in their locality. Working-class parents, by contrast, were more likely to emphasize the need to understand children’s school lives to enhance the mother-child bond (Gillies, 2006), and to help them when they were struggling academically (cf. McNeal, 2012). Notwithstanding differences in their motivations for supporting parental involvement in schools, parents across the class spectrum believe that schools should provide curriculum events designed to explain modern teaching methods and suggest that they themselves would attend them. Middle-class mothers felt entitled to such help, arguing that schools needed to explain “curriculum speak,” and saw their own willingness to learn new methods of teaching literacy and numeracy as part of being a good mother (Landeros, 2011). Some working-class mothers felt the same, but others found curriculum events socially and intellectually challenging, leaving them with a sense that they were bad mothers when they struggled, and some who had difficulties with learning themselves (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011) were too fearful to attend.

The research demonstrates that the spatiality of education is changing, witnessed here through a deepening of the connections between schools and pupils’ homes. If we pursue an inward and outward approach to education (Holloway, Hubbard, Joens, & Pimlott-Wilson, 2010; Thiem, 2009)—which considers both how policies are enacted within schools and the role education plays in the wider neoliberal state—we can see that these changing webs of connections have important consequences for social reproduction. On the one hand, a policy designed to enhance academic achievement and state competiveness in global economies can inadvertently widen class inequalities. Middle-class children not only benefit from state education, but also increased skilled support from parents in the home; the same is not true for all working-class children, some of whom have parents who lack the cultural capital to provide this additional support (Reay, 2010). On the other hand, this bolstering of middle-class advantage in education has important gendered consequences. State efforts to enroll parents in children’s learning are articulated in gender neutral terms, but the parents in our study made clear that this most often meant a “fourth shift” being added to women’s workloads after they have already completed a first shift in paid work, a second in unpaid caring labor, and a third centered on their own workplace development (Hochschild & Machung, 1989; Kramarae, 2001). Disaggregating this fourth shift of mandated parental support for children’s learning, from the more general second shift of housework (such as cooking, cleaning and caring for children), matters as it highlights the increasing burdens being placed upon women as the state deepens its involvement in family life.

Deepening Support for Child Development

One of the interesting facets of educational reform in England is that it has not simply centered on organizational change, but has also involved significant attention to the nature of the curriculum. In 1988, this included the establishment of a national curriculum that “provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens” (Department for Education, 2013, p. 6). Although state actors argue that there is time and space in schools to teach beyond this curriculum (Department for Education, 2013), there has been increasing concern under Coalition and Conservative administrations post-2010 that the school education has narrowed, focusing closely on core Maths, English and Science skills, with increased learning by rote and testing (Adams, Monahan, & Wills, 2015; Bell, 2016; Steers, 2014). An interesting facet of policy under Labour, which has slowly degraded under Coalition and Conservative austerity, is that this focus on a national curriculum was accompanied by investment in the school signposting and provision of enrichment activities, such as drama, music, and sports clubs. This policy intersects with intensive mothering cultures (Hays, 1996; Katz, 2018; Vincent & Ball, 2007), which have seen parents invest more time and money in the raising of their children. Lareau has been highly influential in arguing that this process is shaped by social class, with middle-class parents pursuing a strategy of “concerted cultivation,” whilst working-class parents opt for “natural growth” (Lareau, 2000, 2002, p. 748).

Our research in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers (Holloway & Pimlott-Wilson, 2014b) demonstrates that middle-class children are indeed more likely to be enrolled in individual extracurricular activities (e.g., musical instrument lessons), or collective cultural, leisure, or sporting clubs (e.g., choirs, Brownies/Cubs, community football), than their working-class counterparts. A total of 79% of middle-class children take part in three or more activities per week; 74% of working-class children are involved in two or fewer such activities per week. These activities are spread across school and community spaces, and whilst both favor middle-class children, their advantage is noticeably less when the activities are provided at school. However, contra Lareau (2000, 2002; see also Stefansen & Aarseth, 2011), we find that middle- and working-class parents value the activities equally, regarding them as offering children fun, friendship, and a chance to try something new whilst improving their social skills and self-esteem. Uneven levels of use do not stem from cultural differences in attitudes to parenting, but rather reflect structural inequalities in income. Many working-class families simply cannot afford these activities whilst financially reliant on the state. In this context, research published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers illuminates middle-class children’s “elective engagement” in activities, whilst the notion of an “underscheduled child” emerges from the accounts of working-class children who cannot afford to access the activities they desire (Holloway & Pimlott-Wilson, 2018).

The differential use of enrichment activities in England highlighted through this research has implications for social reproduction. Most immediately, the greater use of enrichment activities amongst middle-class families produces significant changes in the time/space geographies of these families’ lives. These activities need to be paid for, but parents also need to prepare for them (buying equipment/clothing, washing kit, making food), chauffeur children to them, watch them at activities, and in some cases help run the clubs. This work has a fundamental impact on the time/space of middle-class family life, particularly for women, making daily life more frenetic and reducing adult leisure time. In the longer term, these activities are also literally enriching, as participation is not only associated with improved academic attainment but also provides children with opportunities to increase their social and cultural capital, which reproduces/facilitates their entry into the middle-classes (Bradley & Conway, 2016; Holloway & Pimlott-Wilson, 2018; Katz, 2018; Vincent & Ball, 2007). The long-term importance of these activities is why Labour—as part of their roll-out neoliberal championing of public spending which promotes economic prosperity and social inclusion—successfully increased their availability through schools. However, this development has been arrested under austerity imposed by the subsequent coalition and Conservative governments’ roll-back neoliberalism (Featherstone et al., 2012).


There has been vigorous debate about the subdisciplinary perspective in geographies of education. Thiem (2009) critiques the field for adopting an inward-looking approach through a focus on spatial variations in education, and argues instead for an outward-looking perspective that examines education’s role in wider social, economic, and political processes, and thus “how education ‘makes space’” (p. 157). We regard this as a false dichotomy (Holloway et al., 2010), and in this project have combined an appreciation of education’s role in neoliberal state processes with detailed analysis of how particular policies emerge in practice within individual schools and homes. For us, it is this fine-grained examination of the ways particular policies are enacted in different times and spaces that allows insights into the broader implications of education policy in unjust societies. Transcending the dualism between inward- and outward-looking geographies of education now allows us to reflect in the remainder of this conclusion on the implications of changes in the role of English primary schools for social reproduction.

In thinking about changes in the role of primary schooling, we engage with two related, but different, uses of the term social reproduction. Firstly, feminists use the term “social reproduction to refer to the activities and attitudes, behaviors and emotions, responsibilities and relationships directly involved in the maintenance of life on a daily basis, and intergenerationally” (Laslett & Brenner, 1989, p. 382). This includes the care work in the raising of children, which feminists have pointed out falls disproportionately on women, and which when undertaken for love, not money, subsidizes the capitalist system. It is striking that under roll-out neoliberalism the government’s definition of women as paid workers leads them to facilitate the provision of childcare in primary schools, thus increasing state involvement in the messy work of social reproduction. However, this is not a complete transference of responsibilities. The state is increasingly involved in service provision, often on a subsidized or not-for-profit basis, but parents are still required to pay varying amounts for this care. Equally notable is that state actors’ desire for well-educated citizen-workers is leading them to seek to educate parents so that they can better raise their children and maximize educational attainment. Neoliberal goals are thus producing greater state engagement with the work of social reproduction, engagement that supports but also seeks to shape parents as the subjects of neoliberal education policy. The outcome of the state’s interventionist agenda is that parents, and not just schools, are increasingly deemed responsible for children’s educational attainment.

Secondly, since Marx a diversity of writers have used the term social reproduction to think about the ways societies—and in particular unequal class relations—are reproduced, and Bourdieu (1973) has been a highly influential thinker on the ways education is implicated in these processes. This conception of social reproduction is equally important to our research, where we must consider how recent changes in the role of primary education are shaping the (re)production of unjust societies. The decision to expand the role of schooling to include childcare benefits middle-class families: It enables women to take advantage of employment opportunities that allow them to fund middle-class lifestyles in the here and now, and to purchase services, such as homes near good state schools and extracurricular activities, that will help reproduce their children as middle-class into the next generation. They are further helped by the parental involvement agenda, which aids their efforts to enhance their children’s academic attainment. In theory, the roll-out neoliberal state also sought to extend these benefits to working-class women, but their greater desire to mother in the home, combined with poorer position in the labor market, means they are less able to take advantage of childcare services, and they are sometimes less confident in supporting children’s academic development. Despite some positive state intentions, the middle-classes are once again better placed to benefit from state services. This is only one part of the picture in relation to the reproduction of social difference, however, as there is also a complex gendered politics at play. Some women are liberated by the childcare policies which facilitate working parenthood, most notably those in the middle-class who have better labor market opportunities, but all women have gained additional responsibilities in terms of a “fourth shift” of work spent supporting their children’s educational attainment.

In this sense, roll-out neoliberal policies which were designed both to reduce welfare dependency and to enhance social inclusion, have had complex political outcomes. In class terms, better off workers have been best placed to take advantage of policy change, but opportunities for working-class children have also increased, even if this has not been at a rate that matches their middle-class peers. In gender terms, the existing gender regime which placed responsibility for the care of children firmly in the home has been positively disrupted, but new inequalities have also emerged as that state has extended its responsibilities into the daily work of social reproduction. Education is in a state of flux—in terms of its organization, content and purpose—and geographers need to investigate the minutiae of these changes in order to reflect on their multifaceted implications for societies around the globe.


  1. 1.

    Response rates: head teacher survey 67%; parent survey >40% in schools serving all socioeconomic areas.



This research was funded by Sarah Holloway’s Philip Leverhulme Prize, her British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, and the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22-4095). We gratefully acknowledge this support.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and EnvironmentLoughborough UniversityLoughboroughUK

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