Exploring Social Inequality | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
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Exploring Social Inequality

Students explore social inequality in the UK, discussing how an individual’s background can impact their opportunities before examining graphs that display social inequality and employment trends.


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

lesson copy


English — UK


One 50-min class period
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement
  • Human & Civil Rights


About this Lesson

In the previous lesson, students began to explore their own identities. After such personal reflection, it is important for them to look outwards and broaden their understanding of the relationship between the individual and society, exploring the impact that societal institutions, social categories and one’s identity can have on an individual’s life experiences and opportunities. This is important if they are to start to make connections between identity, society, and the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others.

In this lesson, students will explore social inequality and consider the factors, societal institutions and social categories that contribute to such inequality. Such exploration will encourage them to understand the impact that social background and identity can have on opportunities, will lay the foundation for them to reflect on the continued relevance of the themes of An Inspector Calls, and will help them make links between the play, modern society, and their own lived experiences.

These topics may be difficult for some students to discuss, especially if they have been directly impacted by them. It is, therefore, essential to create a safe and reflective classroom, where students feel they can speak honestly about difficult issues without being judged or shut down by others, where they develop listening skills and the ability to hear perspectives different from their own, and where they learn to engage in constructive conversations. If you completed Lesson 1: Building a Classroom Community, the contracting lesson, we recommend that you review your classroom contract to remind students of its content. If you have not completed this lesson, then it is important to do so before moving forward with this scheme of work. When discussing sensitive topics, it is vital to communicate to students that they do not need to share information about themselves and their experiences that they do not feel comfortable sharing: they should always have a choice about what they do or don’t divulge.

  • Application of Contextual Information (Lit-AO3)
  • Clear and Coherent Writing (Lit-AO4, Lang-AO5/AO6)
  • Evidence-Based Reasoning (Lit-AO1–3/Lang-AO1–4)
  • Spoken Language Skills (Lang-AO8, Lang-AO9)
  • Summarising and Synthesising Skills (Lang-AO1)

Students are introduced to social inequality, a key theme of An Inspector Calls, and one that lays the foundation for understanding the context and the message of the play in later lessons. They also discuss and debate what it is that drives social inequality in society, and critique graphs on social inequality in a gallery walk. This not only helps develop their speaking and listening skills, but also their evidence-based reasoning as they respond to information in the graphs, using it to draw conclusions. Additionally, the use of discussion and journalling help students to verbalise their thoughts in different ways, and to practise turning them into coherent sentences, which will help them across their English GCSEs.

Learn more about this unit's Alignment with GCSE Specification.

What can J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls teach us about the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others?

  • What impact does my identity and background have on the choices that I make?
  • What impact do societal institutions have on me and the choices that I can make?
  • What impact do social categories have on me and the choices that I can make?

Students will discuss and examine the ways in which people’s choices can be influenced by their identity and social background.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes:

  • 4 activities
  • 4 teaching strategies
  • 1 PowerPoint
  • 2 handouts

Priestley was a social campaigner, who was shaped by his upbringing and his later life experiences. His mother, who died when he was very young, was a mill girl and he grew up in Bradford on the periphery of industrial England – the plight of industrial workers was thus never far out of mind. His father was a socialist, who believed that ‘helping the less fortunate was . . . a moral obligation’ and who, as headmaster of a primary school, ‘administered the first free school meals in the country’. 1 Furthermore, Priestley himself was exposed to the harsh realities of social and class inequality during his stint as a soldier in the First World War. 

Priestley subsequently dedicated his life to challenging social inequality and reporting on the problems faced by those who grew up in deprived, working-class areas. He was one of the first authors to travel through and write about the depressed areas in the UK, and was a great social commentator, publishing hundreds of articles that supported political campaigns and the formation of socialist institutions, such as the National Health Service. Throughout his life, he used his platform as a successful author to campaign for a socially just and equal society.  It is unsurprising, then, that one of the key themes of An Inspector Calls is social inequality, notably social inequality with respect to class. 

Priestley’s decision to set the play in 1912 is evidence of his commitment to challenging the social institutions and societal values that placed excessive significance on an individual’s socio-economic background and class, at the expense of their identity as a fellow human. Setting the play when he did, two years prior to the First World War, and having written it in 1945, enabled him to reflect and comment on the class divisions and social inequality, which he believed helped create the conditions for two world wars.

  • 1 "Education," The JB Priestley Society Website, accessed 24 March 2020.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

This lesson focuses on helping students understand social inequality. Depending on your students’ prior knowledge, you may need to provide them with the following definitions before or during the lesson. Consider starting a Word Wall in your classroom, which you add key terms to over the course of the scheme of work.

  • Social inequality is the extent to which there are differences between groups in society. Social inequality can be related to:
    • Differences in wealth and incomes
    • Gender
    • Ethnicity
    • Disabilities and health issues
    • Age 
    • Level of education
  • Elite (noun): the richest, most powerful, best-educated, or best-trained group in a society.
  • Elitist (adj.): organised for the benefit of those who are regarded as elite/serves the interests of the most powerful, best-educated, or best-trained group in society.
  • Social mobility: the ability to move between one level of society and another. It is linked to a change in social status. In the UK, when we talk about social mobility, we often refer to people moving upwards to a higher level.

To help build discussion points for the Four Corners activity, students conduct a gallery walk where they will be looking at graphs that depict current trends in wealth distribution and employment opportunities. You may want to print out two copies of each graph so that students do not have to crowd around one image. Hang the graphs around the classroom in advance of the activity, either at the start of the class or when students are doing another activity, so that the gallery walk is ready for the students to peruse.

This lesson uses the Four Corners teaching strategy to discuss social inequality. Before class begins, familiarise yourself with the strategy and set up the room in advance. To prepare your classroom space, create four signs that read ‘Strongly Agree’, ‘Agree’, ‘Disagree’, and ‘Strongly Disagree’, and hang them in different corners of the room. Consider printing the signs on coloured paper or card and, if your school has a machine, laminating them so you can reuse them for Four Corners and Barometer discussions this year.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson.

The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans


  • Explain to students that they will be engaging in a discussion about social equality and inequality, thinking about how society, its institutions and social categories can have an impact on the opportunities available to people. In order to prepare for the discussion, they will have some time to think about social equality by completing an anticipation guide.
  • Pass out and ask students to complete the handout Equality vs Inequality: Anticipation Guide on their own.
  • Before engaging in a Four Corners debate that uses statements from the anticipation guide, take a minute to review the classroom contract and reiterate the importance of respecting the opinions and voices of others. You might also address ways for students to disagree constructively with each other, encouraging them to speak using ‘I’ language rather than the more accusatory ‘you’.
  • Explain the Four Corners teaching strategy to students and then project and read aloud the following statements one at a time. So everyone has a chance to speak, consider having students quickly share ideas with others in their corners each round before opening the discussion to the class. Remind students that they can switch corners if they hear evidence that compels them to do so.
    • Everyone in the UK who wants to succeed can.
    • The needs of UK society are more important than the needs of individuals or groups within it.
    • Everyone has exactly the same opportunities in life regardless of who they are or where they come from.
    • Societal institutions, such as the government, the education system, and the judicial system, serve everyone in the UK equally.
    • Social categories, such as class, gender, race, and age, influence how people treat each other.
  • Debrief the activity with the class by facilitating a whole-group discussion based on the following questions:
    • On which statements was there the most agreement/disagreement in the class?
    • What did the responses suggest about the relationship between individual identity and background? 
    • What does the activity suggest about the challenges that exist in creating an equal and fair society?
    • What impact do societal institutions, such as the government, the education system, and the judicial system, have on people’s opportunities and experiences?
    • What impact do social categories, such as class, gender, race, and age, have on people’s opportunities and experiences?
  • Now that students have shared their ideas on social equality and inequality, explain to students that they will be examining some graphs that explore social inequality trends in the UK. The graphs come from three reports: Elitist Britain 2019; State of the Nation 2018–19: Social Mobility in Great Britain; and the Social Mobility Barometer. All of the reports are available on the government website and were produced by the Social Mobility Commission (SMC), which monitors progress towards improving social mobility in the UK, and promotes social mobility in England. The SMC is an advisory non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Education. 2
  • Ask students to circulate around the room in a gallery walk to examine the seven images portraying Social Inequality Trends and Views data. Let the students take a few minutes to browse all of the graphs in the collection. 
  • After students have had a chance to examine all of the graphs, instruct them to choose one graph that resonates with them and to stand beside it. Then lead students through a verbal S-I-T task where they discuss each statement (surprising, interesting, troubling) with others standing by them. 
  • When students return to their seats, give them the opportunity to work in pairs or small groups to debrief the gallery walk and discuss the following questions:
    • Which graph surprised or challenged your thinking the most? What makes you say that?
    • How do society’s institutions (i.e. the education system, employment structures, the government system, the judicial system) and social categories (i.e. age, gender identity, race, class) influence the choices available to people and the choices that they make? How do the graphs help you answer this question? 
    • To what extent is the UK an equal and fair society? Use evidence from the graphs and/or your own life experiences to answer the question.
    • What is one concrete idea that you have that would help make things fairer for all people in the UK?

Ask students to journal in response to the following questions, being sure to explain that whatever they write in their journal is private and does not need to be shown to anyone else:

  • How are you feeling at the end of this lesson? What makes you say that?
  • What questions does this lesson raise for you?

Materials and Downloads

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