Widening Participation

An understanding of the relationship between class and lifelong learning is significant to the development of effective policies and practices to widen participation. Discuss the implications of theories of class for widening participation.


The purpose of this essay is to examine the relationship between social class and lifelong learning within the context of the Government’s widening participation policy. Social class is a contentious issue and I will argue that the Government employs a number of proxies for class, in their educational and social justice agendas and that a tension exists between these polices. The struggle for equality of opportunity in education and addressing the needs of industry are evident in Government lifelong learning strategies. I believe that widening participation in higher education is laudable (I am a practitioner in a ‘post 1992’ London university) but will not occur without challenging the   qualifications and institutional hierarchies inherent within the academy. I will examine three theories of class (Modernist, Post-Modernism, Feminism), explore some of the issues facing prospective students and will suggest changes to current lifelong learning strategies, which may be truly effective in widening participation.


Discourses of lifelong learning have been on the international political agenda for many years and are evidenced in the rhetoric and policies of successive British governments. Education and lifelong learning are now central to economic strategy and social policy of New Labour, and are seen as integral to the development of a competitive market economy and a just and inclusive society.   The Government espouses the need to encourage a ‘Learning Society’ (NCIHE, 1997), improving the educational attainment of young people, increasing workforce skills and widening participation in higher education. There are strong economic drivers for New Labour’s educational polices.   Britain ranks 27th...