Will Paxton on opportunities to address inequality in education

In this video, Will Paxton gives his thoughts on inequality in education. He states that there is a big opportunity currently to change education for the better. In the lead-up to post-2015, he calls on the international community to be more ambitious with regards to their goals for education. While he agrees that universal education would be a positive achievement, he argues for more accountability and reduced inequality in education. There is currently a lot of debate about what goals to set for education to achieve by 2030. He states that one option would be to have stepping stone objectives focused on disadvantaged groups. For example the goals could measure improvement in enrolment and in learning outcomes for the poorest and most marginalised children over a number of years. At the moment the international debate is focused on what inequalities should we be addressing? Will suggests we need to shift the focus of the debate to how do we ensure fairer educational opportunities.


Will Paxton is the head of education policy and advocacy at Save the Children UK. His current areas of focus include education in emergencies, improving learning outcomes and developing Save the Children’s thinking about education and the post-2015 development framework. He is also a Research Associate at the Institute for Policy Analysis and Research in Kigali, Rwanda.


The presentation Will gave at the DFID headquarters in 2013 can be downloaded here.

A report by Save the Children titled ‘Ending the Hidden Exclusion’ discusses how many children may appear to be included in education due to their attendance at school. However, in reality, they are excluded as they are learning little or nothing. Poorest and most marginalised children are often most likely to be failed by poor-quality schooling. The international community has the opportunity to ensure that no child is excluded from learning. The report sets out an ambitious post-2015 global learning goal, with a strong focus on the most deprived children. Addressing equity will be vital to achieving universal education.

The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end the global education crisis. They believe that education is a basic human right, and their mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education. In 2012, they published a report titled ‘Equity and Inclusion for All in Education’, which included recommendations for DFID, aimed at enhancing the role it could play in advancing inclusive education for all around the world. The report advocates that DFID dedicate adequate resources to tackling the exclusion of all marginalised groups from education in a strategic manner, in line with Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2 to achieve universal primary education, the Education for All (EFA) goals and international human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A Save the Children briefing titled ‘Making it count’, focuses on MDG2 – to achieve universal primary education – and its target: to ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. To achieve MDG2 it recommends strengthening equity, institutionalising inclusive education policies and practice, improving education quality and learning outcomes, responding to conflict and emergencies, and finding innovative ways to finance education.

In a blog titled, ‘Improving education: the value of good teachers’, Will draws attention to what has become known as the ‘teacher gap’. This refers to the reality that approximately 1.7 million additional teachers will need to be recruited globally between now and 2015 if we are to achieve education for all. For the students to learn effectively and efficiently, each teacher must be present in schools, motivated, rewarded and recognised. The blog states that in the period ahead there will be considerable debate about exactly how to measure learning outcomes but that it will be just as important, and arguably more difficult, to take the measures that allow school systems to take a quality leap and improve learning. Will believes that teaching will be front and centre in this debate.

The blog references a recent report by Pearson called ‘The learning curve’, which seeks to further an understanding of what leads to successful educational outcomes – both economic and social. It outlines the main findings from analysis of a large body of internationally comparable education data – The Learning Curve Data Bank.  It also draws on extensive desk research, as well as in-depth interviews conducted with 16 experts in education. The report gives the following five recommendations to education policy makers:

  1. There are no magic bullets
  2. Good teachers are essential to high-quality education.
  3. Culture can be changed
  4. Parents are neither enemies nor saviours of education
  5. Educate for the future, not just the present

A 2009 Save the Children policy brief on inclusive education gives a solid introduction to the topic. It considers what is keeping children out of school, what does inclusive education mean and what can be done to improve the situation. It calls for equity-focused approaches to education monitoring, planning and financing, investment in inclusive practice in the classroom and school, and international action to affirm that inclusion in education can be realised, and recognise that achieving it should be a priority.

Will can be followed on twitter: @Will_Paxton1

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