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Social exclusion

COMBATING EDUCATIONAL DISADVANTAGE. Edited by Theo Cox. Falmer Press pound;18.99.

Educational disadvantage is a problematic issue, summoning up questions about labelling and, as Ron Davie notes in his foreword to this excellent collection, about whether by using the word "disadvantage" we implicitly devalue certain ways of living. Partly because of concerns of this kind, the idea of disadvantage has recently been displaced by notions of risk and social exclusion.

But there is surely something inescapable about the advantages which exist in some children's homes. As Peter Mortimore and Geoff Whitty point out in their chapter: "It would be odd if having warmer, more spacious accommodation, more nutritious food, better health, greater access to books, educational toys and stimulating experiences and more informed knowledge about how the system works, did not confer considerable advantage in any tess or examinations."

Currently it is de rigueur to insist that schools make a difference. To point out that certain children live in cold, cramped, uncaring homes - and that this may explain why they don't do well at school - comes close, as several contributors here point out, to committing a kind of solecism.

Which is why this compilation of essays on disadvantage is so interesting. The contributors address a range of matters: the education of ethnic minorities, boys' achievement, absenteeism, disruptive behaviour, and more.

Kathy Sylva's chapter, which draws heavily on large-scale American research on counteracting the effects of disadvantage, suggests solutions which may be unpopular with politicians. She points out that research reveals not only that more formal curricula may have a long-term downside, but also that serious investment is greatly needed.

Gary Thomas

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