Educational disadvantage is an essentially contested, political concept. At the same time there is a ‘phoney consensus’ surrounding the issue, i.e., policy debates on the topic often fail to reflect this contestation. This lack of awareness of the political context to the debate is evident in relation to the targets and measures set for addressing educational disadvantage. While Lynch has pointed out the political undertones of ‘comparative’ targets and measures, the conservative political position inherent in the ‘outputs-led’ model has not properly been explored. Indeed, the apparently technical and value-free nature of targets and measures has enabled this conservative political perspective to become embedded in public educational policy without debate.