Models of Secondary Education and Social Inequality
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Models of Secondary Education and Social Inequality

An International Comparison

Edited by Hans-Peter Blossfeld, Sandra Buchholz, Jan Skopek and Moris Triventi

From an international comparative perspective, this third book in the prestigious eduLIFE Lifelong Learning series provides a thorough investigation into how social inequalities arise during individuals’ secondary schooling careers. Paying particular attention to the role of social origin and prior performance, it focuses on tracking and differentiation in secondary schooling examining the short- and long-term effects on inequality of opportunities. It looks at ways in which differentiation in secondary education might produce and reproduce social inequalities in educational opportunities and educational attainment. The international perspective allows illuminating comparison in light of the different models, rules and procedures that regulate admission selection and learning in different countries.
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Chapter 22: Varieties of secondary education models and social inequality – Conclusions from a large-scale international comparison

Moris Triventi, Jan Skopek, Nevena Kulic, Sandra Buchholz and Hans-Peter Blossfeld


The second half of the 20th century was a period of massive educational expansion in all post industrialized countries. Nowadays nearly all pupils attend primary and lower secondary school and the vast majority even receives some years of upper secondary education (Schofer and Meyer 2005). Historically, contemporary societies have developed various forms of institutional organization and governments have implemented educational reforms to ‘democratize’ their school systems and foster the participation of pupils from disadvantaged families (Benavot and Amadio 2004). Nevertheless, even today, pupils from low socio-economic backgrounds persistently perform less well in education than those from advantaged families. These social inequalities vary in strength from country to country depending on the specific educational and institutional arrangements (Shavit and Blossfeld 1993; Breen et al. 2009; OECD 2010; van de Werfhorst and Mijs 2010). Educational systems in all post-industrial societies face an ongoing tension between commonality and differentiation (Gamoran 2010). On the one hand, school systems are expected to provide all pupils with a common foundation in the indispensable competencies for full participation in civic and socioeconomic life. On the other hand, they also have the task of sorting and selecting pupils into different trajectories in line with their diverse life-course goals and abilities.

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