Panel A.13 — The intersectional construction of learning outcomes: micro and macro-level perspectives

Convenors Eduardo Barberis (Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo, Italy); Isabella Quadrelli (Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo, Italy); Berenice Scandone (Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo, Italy)

Keywords Learning outcomes; educational inequalities; learner pathways; intersectionality; social stratification


Over the last two decades, learning outcomes have become ubiquitous in education policy and practice across EU and OECD countries. They underpin European and National Qualification Frameworks, guide the definition of education and training curricula and are used as benchmarks to measure the (under)achievement of countries and learner groups. Yet, learning outcomes are far from neutral descriptors of individuals’ competences. Rather, they are constructed through the interplay of multiple dimensions of individuals’ background and positionality. These intersecting inequalities substantially shape learners’ pathways and outcomes in education and training, while, at the same time, the very conceptualisation of learning outcomes in education policies and strategies can play a role in the reproduction and crystallisation of this stratification.

Large-scale studies show that, in most countries, those from more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to attain higher qualification levels, particularly in the generally more rewarded academic tracks, and achieve higher grades. Gender and ethnic background also inform learning outcomes, although in less straightforward manners. In most OECD countries, despite women being more likely to participate in post-compulsory education and achieve higher grades, heteronormative gender stereotypes can heavily affect their learning trajectories and outcomes. Considerable differences also exist within and between groups as well as across countries in the learning outcomes of those of minority ethnic origins, with every-day and systemic racism playing out differently according for example to ethnic, migration and socio-economic background. Finally, beyond the traditional focus on socio-economic background, gender, and ethnicity, research has also shed light on other dimensions as being especially relevant to understanding educational inequalities, including spatial issues and mobility, care-experienced background, and so-called ‘special educational needs and disabilities’.

In all these respects, micro-level research has evidenced the influence of individuals’ background and positionality on their social and learner identities and their education expectations, outlooks, and experiences, as well as the importance of considering these aspects in making sense of unequal participation and outcomes. At the same time, such intersecting inequalities are also (re-)produced at the macro-level in public policies and decision-makers’ conceptions of education and learning outcomes, unevenly constructing opportunity structures for diverse individuals and groups.

In this session, we want to bring together different though complementary perspectives on how multiple, intersecting positionalities shape individuals’ learning outcomes. We aim to address both micro-level perspectives on how individual experiences of intersectional inequalities can affect educational (under)achievement, and macro-level outlooks exploring how this is produced and reproduced through education policies and strategies defining learning outcomes. To this end, we welcome contributions from various disciplines, angles, and research methodologies and especially, though not exclusively, encourage the following:

  • Mixed-methods studies combining breadth and depth of information on intersectional inequalities;
  • Cross-country and within-country comparisons seeking to illuminate relevant contextual factors;
  • In-depth field research on case studies of topical interest;
  • Research that brings together multiple perspectives, including those of young people, educators, and policy-makers;
  • Theoretically grounded empirical studies with relevant policy implications;
  • Research aiming to bridge macro and micro-level perspectives on intersectionality.


Guidelines and abstracts submission