The Future Of Education And Public Policy 2023

Hybrid Event, Monday 3rd July, 2023

Following two highly successful online events in 2021 and 2022, the Future of Education and Public Policy event returns for its third year in a hybrid format on 3rd July 2023.

This event ties into our MSc in Education, Public Policy and Equity, a programme that has been running for 7 years and attracts a very international body of students. The event provides students and staff with interactions with scholars and previous students in the field of education and public policy. We can also engage with international colleagues and help build relationships across the sector – this will also tie into the existing network in in this field, the EPPE network, which itself is an offshoot of the programme

The whole event will have a hybrid format. Students and staff are welcome to join us in the 101AB Seminar Room, Sir Charles Wilson Building.

Below is further detail on the session abstracts and speaker biographies. Please note that much of the activity will be student-led which should make for a more interactive set of seminars. Although this event is designed with the MSc students in mind, this will be open to others who wish to engage with the discussions and the ideas of the excellent set of speakers.

Please contact Benjamin Mulvey at if you have any questions.

Timetables and Abstracts



Introduction to the event

Benjamin Mulvey


Contested concepts and ways to think about gender and education systems

Elaine Unterhalter

Rosie Peppin-Vaughan


Alumni session 1

Hend Gelgel

Sadaf Sethwala





Tackling social class inequality in access to highly academically selective UK universities

Vikki Boliver 


Lunch/meet and greet session/current PhD experiences



Accountability, Autonomy and Organisational Practice: How Principals of Successful Schools Enact Education Policy for Improvement

Qing Gu




Alumni session 2

Maliha Naveed

Esomchi Agalamanyi


Wrapping up

Benjamin Mulvey

Academic Session: Contested concepts and ways to think about gender and education systems

Elaine Unterhalter and Rosie Peppin Vaughan, UCL

The presentation draws on our contributions to the current issue of Comparative Education  on Gender and Girls' education.

In these articles we both look at the way ideas about gender and the nature of education systems have been contested and negotiated over many decades, the data and forms of partnership that have been deployed in these discussions, and what they illuminate about the politics of global governance. Elaine Unterhalter will consider what the four framings of gender and girls' education she has distilled imply about education systems, and Rosie Peppin Vaughan will describe some of the ways the AGEE (Accountability for Gender Equality in Education ) project has worked on approaching data to build more accountability around gender and intersecting inequalities into education systems.

Tackling social class inequality in access to highly academically selective UK universities

Professor Vikki Boliver, Durham University, UK

Young adults from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds have long been starkly under-represented among entrants to England’s most academically selective and prestigious universities. Until recently, efforts to widen access to these institutions focused on “raising aspirations” among working-class school leavers, leaving untouched the principal barrier to access, namely large socioeconomic disparities in pre-university academic attainment. Influenced by sociological thinking and research evidence, the higher education regulator for England has begun to challenge highly selective universities to rethink how “merit” is judged in admissions. More specifically, highly selective institutions have been encouraged to move away from the traditional meritocratic equality of opportunity model of fair access, which holds that university places should go to the most highly qualified candidates irrespective of social background, and towards a meritocratic equity of opportunity model, which holds that prospective students’ qualifications should be judged relative to the socioeconomic circumstances in which they were obtained. This workshop contribution sets out the theoretical case for this shift in emphasis from procedural to distributive fairness as the guiding principle of elite university admissions, and presents empirical evidence in support of its necessity and effectiveness in reducing social class inequality in access to an elite university education.

Related published work

Boliver, V. and Powell, M. (2023) Rethinking merit? The development of more progressive approaches to university admissions in England. Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning. 24(3): 33-55.

Boliver, V. and Powell, M. (2023) Competing conceptions of fair admission and their implications for supporting students to fulfil their potential at university. Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 27(1): 8-15.

Boliver, V., Banerjee, P., Gorard, S. and Powell, M. (2022) Reconceptualising fair access to highly academically selective universities. Higher Education, 84: 85-100.

Boliver, V., Gorard, S. & Siddiqui, N. (2022). Who counts as socioeconomically disadvantaged for the purposes of widening access to higher education? British Journal of Sociology of Education 43(3): 349-374.

Accountability, Autonomy and Organisational Practice: How Principals of Successful Schools Enact Education Policy for Improvement

Professor Qing Gu, University College London, UK

This presentation considers the ways in which recent English education policy has positioned autonomy as a concomitant of accountability. Following a critical examination of the conceptual relations between accountability, autonomy and leadership, the presentation investigates, from the perspective of senior and middle leaders, how secondary principals lead their schools to achieve sustainable performance despite policy shifts. Drawing upon the case study evidence from an ESRC funded research in England, I will discuss how successful secondary schools—in different socioeconomic contexts—incorporate and use externally generated policies to support their own educational agendas, as they assert their right to apply their own educational values in practice for the improvement of teaching and learning. The research suggests that what the principals were perceived to be doing successfully was to use policies as opportunities—purposefully, progressively, and strategically—to regenerate coherent cultures and conditions which support the staff to learn to renew their practice. Key in this regard is how principals broaden and deepen their organisational, social, and intellectual capacities for the improvement of quality and standards in teaching and learning, despite rather than because of externally generated reforms.