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Publication Detail
Determinants of aspirations [Wider Benefits of Learning Research Report No. 27]
  • Publication Type:
  • Authors:
    Gutman L, Akerman R
  • Publisher:
    Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning, Institute of Education, University of London
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  • Notes:
    A review of current research across a range of disciplines, considering how educational and career aspirations are formed and setting out differences in aspirations for different groups of young people. Also examines the role of parents, and how aspirations are related to eventual outcomes. Commissioned by DCSF to fill a gap in knowledge.
Aspirations vary for different sections of the population both in terms of parents? educational and occupational goals for their children and the ambitions of the young people themselves. In this report, we review the current research literature across a range of disciplines to set out these differences and consider how educational and career aspirations are formed and developed in response to different environments and circumstances. We also examine the extent to which aspirations are related to eventual outcomes and discuss the implications for current policies and practices. Research indicates that aspirations begin to be shaped early in a child?s life, but are modified by experience and the environment. Aspirations tend to decline as children mature, in response to their growing understanding of the world and what is possible, and to constraints imposed by previous choices and achievements. This decline is particularly marked for those facing multiple barriers. Girls, young people from minority ethnic groups and those from higher socio-economic backgrounds tend to hold higher aspirations than their counterparts. Parents from these groups also tend to have higher aspirations for their children. Conversely, socially disadvantaged groups such as teenage parents tend to have low aspirations for themselves and for their children. In general, those who have, or whose parents have, high aspirations have better outcomes, even when taking into account individual and family factors, but this is not a universal effect. For some groups, high aspirations do not lead to higher achievement. In particular, there is a gap between educational aspirations and achievement for young people from some minority ethnic groups and a gap between girls? occupational aspirations and career attainment. Practical and attitudinal barriers to the formation of high aspirations are evident. Financial constraints may limit some groups? access to opportunities and enabling resources such as computers and private tuition. Equally, some individuals are limited by earlier achievement and choices such as leaving school or becoming a parent at a young age. But attitudes are also important. Young people who believe they have the ability to achieve and who attribute their success to hard work, rather than luck or fate, tend to have higher aspirations than their peers. The early years of a child?s life are a key time in the formation and development of aspirations. During this time, parents may need support to overcome both attitudinal and practical barriers to high aspirations. Schools can play a part in maintaining and realising ambitions, and the support they provide becomes more important when family resources are limited. Later, young people need easy access to advice and guidance and the involvement of professionals or volunteers ? for example in a mentoring role ? when necessary. Involvement in positive activities may also provide important socialising experiences that encourage high aspirations.
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