The pursuit of social justice is inextricably linked to the maintenance of a vibrant, well funded and accessible education system (Connors, 2000). But there are unmistakable signs that public schooling is undermined, undervalued and degraded as a consequence of the 'dictatorship of the market place' (Meier, 1995) and the reductions in government spending on public schooling following the ascendancy of neo-liberal governments. Is it possible to contest these developments? Can schools sustain a commitment to social justice in spite of its evacuation from official policy? This paper draws on a recently completed critical ethnographic study to present an argument for a reconfigured commitment to social justice in, and through, public schooling. Such a commitment, it is argued, needs to incorporate whole school responses to the classed nature of society and inequalities arising from the political economy but must also be attentive to the claims to recognition of groups who have been marginalised or excluded in traditional schooling arrangements as a result of various forms of cultural oppression. Whilst outlining the importance of locally conceived responses to educational disadvantage, the paper warns against the dangers of 'romantic localism' (Troyna & Vincent, 1995) and highlights the need for collective commitment and political action across the public education system, teacher unions, teacher education centres and community groups.