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The University of Southampton

EDUC6455 The Social context of education and lifelong learning

Module Overview

The module provides an understanding of the social context of education and lifelong learning. This includes the ways in which education systems reflect broader economic, political, social and cultural structures and values; how these inform education policy; the impact of policy on education practice; and the experiences of learners. The module examines the processes and structures in different sectors, such as general, vocational, and higher education, and in relation to lifelong learning, and the impact these have on learners from different social groups. Issues of social class, gender, race and disability are discussed. Drawing on theories of the sociology of education, we will look at educational inequalities (in relation to, for example, educational attainment, access and progression) and the factors that shape them. We will critique particular policy initiatives, such as in relation to widening participation and special educational needs. We will explore these from a macro-perspective (including the political and economic conditions that have shaped policy), at the level of educational institutions (the 'meso level') and at the level of the classroom and individual learners ('micro level').

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically analyse relevant theory, practice and policy
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the key drivers and enablers in educational innovation
  • Understand educational values, structures and processes, and the impact these have on particular social groups, including in terms of social class, gender and race
  • Understand current policy initiatives across the range of education sectors and their impact on practice
  • Evaluate your own work and life experience and relate them to your practice in education
  • Critically reflect on key texts and policy documents and relate these to your own practice


In studying this module you will cover aspects of: - Theories of the sociology of education. - The development of educational systems and processes within the wider economic, political, social and cultural contexts. - Aspects of inequality, in relation to attainment, access and progression, examining the role of social class, gender and race. - Critiques of specific policy initiatives, such as those in relation to lifelong learning, widening participation, curriculum development and special educational needs, and their impact on practice. - Alternative models of education.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The teaching and learning methods will include lectures, workshops, seminars that involve group discussions, presentations, activities and self-directed study.

Follow-up work
Wider reading or practice50
Completion of assessment task70
Follow-up work20
Preparation for scheduled sessions36
Total study time200

Resources & Reading list

Gewirtz, S. and Cribb (2009). Understanding Education - A Sociological Perspective. 

Boronski, T. and Hassan, N. (2015). Sociology of Education. 

Brockmann, M. (2012). Learner Biographies and Learning Cultures: Identity and Apprenticeship in England and Germany. 

Brooks, R., McCormack, M. and Bhopal, K. (2013). Contemporary Debates in the Sociology of Education. 

Avis, J. (2016). Social Justice, Transformation and Knowledge. 

Reay, D., Crozier, G. and Clayton, J. (2010). 'Fitting in' or 'standing out': working-class students in UK higher education',. British Educational Research Journal. .

Ballantine, J. and Hammack, F. (2011). The Sociology of Education. 

Young, M. 'The return to subjects: a sociological perspective on the UK Coalition Government's approach to the 14-19 curriculum'. The Curriculum Journal. .

Lea, J. and Simmons, J. (2012). Higher education in further education: capturing and promoting HEness. 

Meighan, R. and Harber, C. (2007). A Sociology of Education. 

Key journals.  - British Educational Research Journal - The British Journal of Sociology of Education - International Studies in Sociology of Education - Journal of Education Policy



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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