Social class and educational attainment: a comparative study of England, Wales, and Scotland

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

June 1, 2007


This article examines variations among England, Wales, and Scotland in the association between social origin and educational attainment and the role that different national educational policies may have played in shaping these variations. The findings show that country variation in the association between origins and attainment was mostly or entirely due to variations in overall levels of attainment. Moreover, inequality was the highest where the proportions attaining a particular threshold were the highest—upper secondary school or higher in Scotland. The authors propose a refinement of Raftery and Hout's theory of maximally maintained inequality that takes into account that the trajectory of inequality is not linear: inequality can widen in the initial phase of expanding opportunity, en route to an eventual contraction, because the most advantaged groups are the first to exploit any new opportunities that policy changes offer. The results show that country differences in educational policy have not yielded different changes over time in the association between origin and educational attainment.

Published in

Sociology of Education


Volume: 80 (4):330-358



No doi given

Albert Sloman Library Periodicals *restricted to Univ. Essex registered users*



Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest