Understanding Gender, Class and Ethnic Differences in Educational Aspirations among UK Teenagers

Improvements in attainment and in rates of progression to higher education have been much faster for most ethnic minority groups than for white students. Political rhetoric often explains these differences in terms of a lack of aspiration, particularly among white, working class boys. In a new paper 'Understanding Gender, Class and Ethnic Differences in Educational Aspirations among UK Teenagers' in the British Educational Research Journal, CPC Member Ann Berrington, along with Steven Roberts and Peter Tammes, examine how gender, class, and ethnicity influence educational aspirations among teenagers born in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The team used a developmental-context approach which accounted for factors such as parent's attitudes and behaviour towards education, as well as young people's prior attainment and attitudes towards education.

Ann Berrington said "a key finding of the paper is that aspirations are higher among girls, especially those from professional and managerial backgrounds and non-white ethnic groups."

Other findings of the work include:

In contrast to earlier research, black Caribbean and black African teenagers now have much higher levels of aspiration as compared to white teenagers, and black African teenagers have similar levels of aspiration to Indian teenagers.

Class and ethnic differences in aspiration are explained by attainment as well as parental educational attitudes and behaviors such as attendance at parents' evenings or taking an interest in school work.

Boys in particular are more likely to have low aspirations if they had low Key Stage 2 scores and if their parents hold less positive educational attitudes.

These findings have a number of implications for policymakers as they highlight that teenagers' aspirations are not low - policies should focus on why students do not realise these aspirations. Furthermore, only a percentage of the white working class boys that aspire to attend higher education go on to study at university. Therefore focusing on aspirations alone will not reduce ethnic differences in higher education participation. The team also note that policies should be developed which consider the important role that parental attitudes and behaviours play.

The full article can be read on the British Educational Research Journal website.

A poster presented on this work at the Secondary Data Analysis Initiative (SDAI) Showcase can be seen here.

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