The sociology of education emerged in the 1970s in New Zealand, and since then has taken on many forms. From the phenomenology of the 'new' sociology, to Marxist and neo-Marxist analyses, feminism, kaupapa Maori and post-modern perspectives, the field has reflected and advanced the main intellectual projects of sociology. For many working in the field, the theory/practice nexus is important. Thus, through a period of neoliberal policy formation and implementation in Aotearoa, many sociologists have turned their attention to questions such as access, cost, poverty, advantage, opportunity and achievement in an increasingly bifurcated schooling system and society. The article provides a brief overview of all these trends, and concludes by considering why there is such a separation between the work of sociologists of education and the 'mainstream'.