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Genesis, Contemporary Situation and Tendencies  of Inequality in School Education

Priority areas of development: state and public administration
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

Research Goal – to identify key patterns of genesis and reproduction of inequality in school education in different geographic, demographic and socio-cultural situations, to determine the relationship of educational inequality with other socio-cultural factors  and content of educational policy.

Research Objectives (2013):

  • to identify and justify the typology of educational institutions focused on teaching children with different social-demographic and cultural status in territories with varying degrees of deprivation;
  • to study tendencies in educational inequality development and reduction of the capacity of school as a channel of vertical social mobility in the post-soviet period;
  • to analyze the impact of federal and local educational policies (1990s till 2000s)  on the increase in educational inequality and the reduction of the capacity of school as a channel of social mobility 
  • to identify types of educational policy (federal, regional, municipal and school levels), organizational, management and educational tools which: a) create risks of educational inequality and reduce of the capacity of school as a channel of vertical social mobility; b) weaken inequality and provide access to quality education and high social mobility. 
  • Methodology:
  • theory of reproductive function of education and cultural capital   (Bourdieu P.);
  • theory of social capital (Coleman J.);
  • typology of “welfare state”  (Esping-Andersen G.);
  • theory school choice (Julian R. Betts)

Research Methods:

  • document analysis;
  • statistical analysis;
  • expert interview;
  • content-analyses;
  • legalistic method;
  • method of sociological legal studies

Empirical Base:  

  • statistical data, characterizing social and economical development. Educational and cultural capacity of the territory;  
  • data of educational statistics, characterizing staff and the material basis of educational institutions;
  • data of state final exams;
  • data of social passports of educational institutions, characterizing their contingent;
  • products of political discourse of high level of translation (concepts, strategies, programs, projects, doctrines, official reports);
  • legislation and law regulations in education;
  • expert interviews: 36 interview(federal experts (officials, government advisors in position  in  the analyzed period), local officials and school principals from 4 regions of the Russian Federation;
  • materials of discussions in mass media and state-public cooperation in education policy. 

Main finding during this stage of the research:

Academic performance (measured using the average of USE in Russian language and mathematics has a wide variation for schools 1) with different social composition of the student body 2) with different cadre qualification and availability of resources. However, the level of territory deprivation (territory context) has no independent impact on educational outcomes. Typically low academic results, observed in rural schools for example, are associated with their inherent lack of resources and the social characteristics of their students. 

From the point of view of further satisfactory comparison of schools in terms of results (and constructing the corresponding typology) the last fact mentioned above means that one should, as a minimum, take into account socio-economic conditions in which educational institutions are functioning (ie rough assessments can be obtained by taking into account socio-economic characteristics of the territory) and could also take into account the differences which educational institutions have in type, social composition of the student body and the availability of resources.

The results of the analysis are used as the basis for constructing a typology of educational institutions, taking into account social context and territorial specificity. The following types of educational institutions were identified: two marginal types -migrant schools and schools which exhibit extreme levels of deviant behavior; as well as the following: smaller rural schools, larger rural schools, suburban schools, conventional urban schools and top-tier (elite) urban schools.

All of these types are characterized by a high degree of homogeneity of the basic features of social composition of the student body, cadre qualification and academic performance and it provides an opportunity to conduct adequate comparisons within each group.  

This typology has a certain applied value as it can be used for conducting more suitable comparisons of academic performance in educational institutions which operate in similar socio-economic conditions.

Analysis of trends in education inequality and reducing the capacity of school as a channel of vertical social mobility showed that in the post-soviet period, in comparison with the soviet period, educational inequality is growing.

A certain stabilization of the situation could be observed at the beginning of the 2000s. But the scale and dynamics of strengthening of educational inequality was different in settlements of various size and found its greatest expression in big cities.

Nowadays the level of education inequality in Russia is still high (including inter-territory, inter-school, in-school levels). The differences in access to quality education in Russia are explained not only by the differences in families’ social-economic status, but also by regional disparities (centre-periphery), type of settlements (urban school-rural school), and specifics of socio-economical development in certain areas.  

The dynamics of educational inequality in the period under consideration is determined by several factors:  the transformation of the model of social stratification, the growth of social stratification, changes to the state educational policy, the reduction of education system funding, the behavior of social and professional groups, deprivation of certain types of areas.

Two stages of educational policy in Russia were defined in the process of analysis which differ from each other by the nature of understanding of the problem of educational inequality and by the direct impact on the scale and dynamics of educational inequality- 1st period: end of 1980s to the beginning of the 1990s;  2nd period- beginning of the 2000s. 

In the first period the main factors influencing the strengthening of educational inequality were defined as follows:

  • government and the society were not aware of the risks of the transfer of social inequality into the educational system, lack of social groups with an articulated demand for equality of life opportunities;  
  • funding of the educational system was seriously reduced;
  • specific market of educational services (with a strong “shadow” component and limited regulation (non-interference) from the side of the state was formed;
  • state (under the influence of active professional and social groups) abandoned its policy of unification, reallocation of resources and prioritisation of the state order in favor of new policy of meeting diverse public demand, variability and supporting “strong” groups;
  • federal power delegates the management of school education to a local level;
  • social and professional groups have different level of readiness to behave effectively in new social and educational conditions;
  • preservation ("mutation") in the new environment of the key principles of management and financing of the education system, which were typical for the Soviet period;

The features of the second period of the policy, which on the one hand stabilized the situation with educational inequality, but on the other hand secured the mechanism of schooling as a channel of reproduction of social inequality can be described as follows:

  • the priority of ensuring equal access to quality of education was declared and some measures which ensured this priority were introduced, but at the same time the reflection of influence of the previous periods of politics, and the influence of institutional elements of the educational system on the educational inequality as well as the analysis of the real picture of the situation with access to quality education for vulnerable social groups and school differentiation were absent;
  • the promotion of competition and economic independence in school education exacerbated the benefits of “strong” social groups;
  • characteristics of funding of the educational system (funding is growing, but still it is not enough to ensure the necessary level of social security, lack of mechanisms of targeted support of vulnerable social groups);
  • attempts (mostly unsuccessful) to introduce new organizational and economic mechanisms of market regulation and control of educational results (which potentially contributed to the redistribution of "benefits of education" between "strong" and "weak" groups).

The character of the development of educational inequality in the territorial education systems under conditions of transferring the federal government authority over school education to a local level is closely related to the resource potential of russian regions and municipalities.

A sufficiently high level of autonomy of regional and municipal educational policy in the period under review contributed to the implementation of policies in certain areas such as strengthening and neutralizing the risks of growth of educational inequality caused by federal policies. Increasing inequality at the territorial level is mostly connected with the policy of supporting "strong" schools, redistribution available resources in their favor and with the focus of administrations of educational systems on  the interests of local elites.

The specificity of the impact of government policies on the situation with inequality in school education in Russia in the post-Soviet period manifested itself in conjunction with the policies of new liberalism, new conservatism, new manageralism (which had national identity) and with the preservation ("mutation")  of elements of the Soviet education system.


Kosaretsky S., Jones M. Improving Schools in Challenging Circumstances in Russia: Identification, Issues and Progress // ICSEI EEXPRESS 2013 . 2013. Vol. Volume 4. No. Issue 2. P. 6-7.
Пинская М. А., Ястребов Г. А., Груничева И. Г. Доступ к образованию: оценка ситуации в России. // Народное образование. 2013. № 7. С. 11-17.
Yastrebov G., Bessudnov A., Pinskaya М., Kosaretsky S. Contextualizing Academic Performance in Russian Schools: School Characteristics, Composition of Student Body and Local Deprivation / NRU Higher School of Economics. Series EDU "Education". 2013.
Pinskaya М., Kosaretsky S., Froumin I., Harris A., Jones M. Schools in Difficulty: Identification, Issues and Strategies for Improvement // International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications. 2013. Vol. 3. No. 5
Ястребов Г. А., Бессуднов А. Р., Косарецкий С. Г., Пинская М. А. Проблема контекстуализации образовательных результатов в школах: социальный состав учащихся и уровень депривированности территорий С. 69-77.