Theme 3: Education, Inequality and Social Cohesion

Theme 3: Education, Inequality and Social Cohesion

Germ Janmaat
Other Team members: 
Michela Franceschelli, Andy Green, Francis Green, Bryony Hoskins, Andrew Jenkins, Nicola Pensiero, Lucinda Platt, Peter Taylor-Gooby, Anna Vignoles, Susanne Wiborg, and Rachel Wilde

About the Theme:

Theme Three analyses the different models of lifelong learning in a number of countries and regions. We seek to understand more fully the way different systems are structured and how they work. The research will examine the mechanisms by which – in the context of different welfare and labour market regimes – these lifelong learning systems affect skills distribution, civic values and social cohesion at national and regional levels. All the Theme Three projects use international comparisons to assess the effects of macro-level contextual conditions – educational, socio-economic and cultural – on these outcomes.

We expect to generate useful new insights for policy makers on what factors promote equal opportunities and mitigate segregation and inequalities of skills and political engagement. The comparative nature of the Theme Three projects enables the identification of examples of good practice abroad and of the limitations in transferring policies that work elsewhere to the United Kingdom.

Research on education system effects on educational and social outcomes has advanced very substantially in recent years. International data on system characteristics and educational outcomes have been increasingly available from the large scale surveys conducted by the OECD (PISA and IALS) and by IEA (TIMMS, PIRLS and ICCS).

These data have made it possible, for instance, to assess the extent to which the levels of skills at age 15 and how they are distributed throughout a country’s population can be associated with school system characteristics (such as per student educational spending, the educational levels of teachers, the frequency of student assessments, the timing and degree of selection by ability in the school system and the extent of devolution of control from central to regional and local authorities).

However, the growing literature on system effects has limitations. Perhaps because of the popularity of the PISA studies (which measure the literacy and numeracy skills of 15-year-olds) and because national education systems are at their most distinctive at the lower secondary stage, most studies in this literature have focused on the effects of system properties in the compulsory education phase, and the performance and attitudes of 15-year-olds in particular.

There are numerous quantitative cross-country studies on the supply, price and uptake of pre-school education and care and of adult education and training, but few of these consider the institutional characteristics of the systems that deliver them and the effects of these on learning and social outcomes. Another shortcoming in this literature is the relatively narrow emphasis on performance in literacy, numeracy and scientific skills.

Few studies have investigated civic values – those relevant for social cohesion and liberal democracy – and the role that system characteristics play in influencing both their levels and disparities. Finally, while various studies have explored the wider social effects of private schools in specific countries, there are few studies which investigate cross-nationally the social effects of different forms of private or quasi-private school, including the various new types of ‘academies’ and ‘free schools’ which have been developed in England, Sweden and the USA.

LLAKES has already made a substantial contribution to the literature on the effects of system characteristics in the compulsory education phase. We are now aiming to build on this research in order to obtain a clearer understanding of the net contribution of each phase of education (pre-school, compulsory schooling, post-compulsory schooling, adult learning) and of type of education (private, semi-private and state) to social outcomes.

This will be achieved by analyses of longitudinal data in different countries, comparisons of the effects of education on adolescent and adult civic values, and cross-country comparison of aggregate levels and distributions of skills amongst 15-year-olds (from PISA) and adults (from PIAAC).

Projects in Theme Three include:

Project 1: Causes and Dynamics of the Unequal Distribution of Skills among Adults: A Cross-Country Analysis

Project 2: Comparative Analysis of Early Childhood Cognitive Outcomes

Project 3: Lifelong Learning Systems, Equality and Civic Values

Project 4: The Effects of Private and Quasi-Private Schooling on Society

Contact details: Dr  Germ Janmaat,,  020 7911 6631