Race, Racism and Education: inequality, resilience and reform in policy & practice

Society for Educational Studies

July 2013 - June 2015

Contact details

The racist murder of Stephen Lawrence sparked a series of events that led to a turning point in race relations in the UK. After years of campaigning the Lawrence family and their supporters finally secured a public inquiry (Macpherson 1999), which made specific recommendations to improve race equality in education and directly shaped changes in equality legislation.

Wider events (in the UK and abroad) also influenced subsequent policy, often in unpredictable and sometimes inflammatory ways. Key events include 9/11, a series of disturbances in northern towns (which the media sensationalised as ‘race riots’), the London bombings, growing official criticism of ‘multiculturalism,’ and widespread public disorder in the summer of 2011. Each of these events impacted on public discussion of race equality and many had direct consequences for education policy.

The project

Ours is a mixed-method project that will combine two key elements; first, a quantitative analysis of statistical data will provide an authoritative picture of the changing landscape of educational achievement and experience in relation to ethnic diversity over the 20 year span since Stephen’s murder. Second, drawing on our links with policy-makers, advisors and race equality advocacy groups, ethnographic interviews will be used to explore the processes by which policy was formed, contested, and remodelled during this unique period.

Specific questions will include: 

  • How much has changed in education as a result of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and related debates? 
  • What is the state of race equality in contemporary education? 
  • Have we achieved a post-racial education system?


This project will make a landmark contribution to social science understandings of race inequality and policy-processes in education. It is anticipated that the research will make a vital contribution to knowledge in the following ways: 

  • This will be the first study of its kind dedicated explicitly to understanding the real world policy process in relation to race equality and education 
  • It will provide an authoritative and comprehensive account of the education of the principal minoritized groups over the period 1993-2013 and chart the impacts of policy, and community involvement, on patterns of participation, achievement, and exclusion across the education system. 
  • It will advance understandings of how race and racism are threaded through the fabric of policy-making and implementation in ways that speak directly to wider contemporary debates about the nature of neo-liberalism and the possibility of a ‘post-racial’ future. In particular, the project will explore the ways in which processes and political positions that claim a colour-blind and individualistic focus, nevertheless have deeply racialized contours and consequences.

Summary reports of the research will be added to this webpage in future.

Research Team