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A male teacher smiling at two primary school pupils sitting at a desk in a classroom

Professors emeriti in our School of Education Mike Fleming and Michael (Mike) Byram examine the importance of quality and equity in education policy.

It is widely accepted that quality and equity are important in education.  Resources need to be distributed fairly, admission policies administered justly, testing systems implemented even-handedly, and so on.  

The role of policy makers in promoting these values is clear but it is perhaps less obvious how an understanding of quality and equity is relevant to everyday practice at the institution and classroom level.  

For example, it helps to see that ‘equity’ involves treating people in a way that recognises their particular needs rather than treating everyone in the same way.

A focus on equity in education without attention to quality may result in simply ensuring fair access to poor provision.

A focus purely on quality measured in outcomes (for example test data) may show that the average achievement in a school or education system is high but conceal the fact that some groups of learners are disadvantaged.

The concepts of quality and equity are central to the values of the Council of Europe, whose work on education has been influential over many years.

With 46 members states (including the UK), its impact is significant both in Europe and beyond, through policy statements, recommendations and instruments aimed at improving practice.

Its work includes resources and guidelines of specific interest to teachers but its impact has arguably been more on policy makers than practitioners. 

Both Mike Fleming and Michael (Mike) Byram – professors emeriti in the School of Education – worked as experts and advisers to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg for several decades.

They worked closely with Joseph (Joe) Sheils who was the principal administrator of the Language Policy Division.

Together they decided to produce a book which would make the vision of the Council of Europe – developed with educators from its member States – accessible and practical for teachers in schools: Quality and Equity in Education: A Practical Guide to the Council of Europe Vision of Education for Plurilingual, Intercultural and Democratic Citizenship. Edited by: Michael ByramMike FlemingJoseph Sheils

The aim in this book is therefore to explain the implications for schools and classrooms of Council of Europe policies and recommendations concerning equity and quality in education, and show how those implications can be realised in practice.  

Some of the main principles are presented here.

Learners may be disadvantaged if the predominant language of the institution is not their first language

Education is the major means through which people, whatever their circumstances or background, can acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to engage in successful dialogue and cooperation, and live fulfilled lives.

Schools and classrooms have a role to play in making sure that the languages that are present in the school, but not taught, are welcomed and seen as a resource and not a barrier.

This is a generally accepted view, but the vision of the Council of Europe goes further in its view that education should be designed to ensure that all learners can be helped to become plurilingual, intercultural and democratic citizens. 

Some pupils struggle with the language of schooling not because it is a different language but because it is complex and different from day-to-day speech.

Some pupils can use language informally in their daily lives well enough but struggle when it comes to understanding concepts, issues and relationships within school subjects through ‘academic language’.

For other pupils this is much easier because they are familiar with more complex, abstract, formally structured language in the home.

This means that some learners may be doubly disadvantaged, both by the demands of the academic language and the fact that the language of schooling is not their first language.

Chapters in the book show the importance of the relationship between language and learning, and how all subject teachers can help learners to develop proficiency in using the language of their subject.

The needs of child and adult migrants require particular consideration

The Council of Europe has produced extensive resources aimed at helping teachers to support migrants.

The issues addressed include: how to develop proficiency in the language of schooling while providing support for the home language, the use of language as a resource for teaching and learning, the use of plurilingual and intercultural materials, the linguistic integration of adult migrants, education for democratic participation.  

At the heart of the various policy documents and resources is a focus on preserving migrants’ rights and opportunities, and respecting linguistic and cultural diversity.

School leadership has a key role to play in promoting a whole school policy for plurilingual education

In  order for the practices which spring from the above-mentioned principles, it is important for schools to create and cultivate language-friendly learning environments.

A whole-school approach to language in education helps to ensure that all aspects of school life both inside and outside the classroom approach language in a coherent and integrated way.

Supporting learners in their development of plurilingual and intercultural competence means enhancing their opportunities for citizenship and participation.

The final chapter of the book is therefore written with school principals in mind who may not have expertise in the linguistic dimensions of learning but who are crucial in the creation of a whole-school approach.

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