Published January 2004
Both educational attainment and school quality are typically lower in disadvantaged areas than others and much recent policy attention has been focused on each. This paper looks at the quality problem, exploring the relationships between disadvantaged contexts, what schools do, and the quality of schooling that they provide. The findings suggest that disadvantaged contexts impact on the organisation and processes of schools and that these effects differ significantly from one area to another, in ways that are not reflected by the usual indicators of disadvantage. School managers respond by adapting organisational design and processes. They are, however, constrained in these responses by the limited and short-life funding available, by the lack of evidence of good practice in specific contexts, and by lack of flexibility over major issues of organisation design and curriculum. Challenging contexts and the constraints on school responses together exert a downward pressure on quality. The paper argues that because school processes and quality are affected by context, school improvement in disadvantaged areas will not be achieved by generic measures, but only by policies tailored to disadvantaged areas and sensitive to differences between these areas. It suggests ways in which school improvement policies could be contextualised in order to raise quality in the poorest areas.