The idea that all human beings are or ought to be equal has high standing amongst the most hallowed Western cultural traditions. There is now a huge literature about the relationship between education and equality which, I believe, has obscured more than it has illuminated the realities of the social and economic situation. In this paper I propose to take a fresh look at some of the issues involved. In particular, I want to consider what might be meant by concepts such as ‘equality’, ‘equal opportunity’, and ‘education’; what some influential writers have said about them; how they might connect with certain historical situations; and, of supreme importance, whether equality is possible under capitalism. My perspective is historical, since I have come to think that, in order to understand where we are, it is necessary to discover how we got there. Certainly, there is already a ‘respectable’ tradition of (Marxist) analysis in this country. But I have nowhere found any attempt at the sort of comprehensive look at the political economy of education whose barest outline I attempt to sketch here.