The research aimed to assess the nature and level of pupils’ educational aspirations and to elucidate the factors that influence these aspirations. A sample of five inner city comprehensive secondary schools were selected by their Local Authority because of poor pupil attendance, below average examination results and low rates of continuing in full-time education after the age of 16. Schools were all ethnically mixed and co-educational. Over 800 pupils aged 12-14 completed a questionnaire assessing pupils’ experience of home, school and their peers. A sub-sample of 48 pupils selected by teachers to reflect ethnicity and ability levels in individual schools also participated in detailed focus group interviews. There were no significant differences in aspirations by gender or year group, but differences between ethnic groups were marked. Black African, Asian Other and Pakistani groups had significantly higher educational aspirations than the White British group, who had the lowest aspirations. The results suggest the high aspirations of Black African, Asian Other and Pakistani pupils are mediated through strong academic self-concept, positive peer support, a commitment to schooling and high educational aspirations in the home. They also suggest that low educational aspirations may have different mediating influences in different ethnic groups. The low aspirations of White British pupils seem to relate most strongly to poor academic self-concept and low educational aspirations in the home, while for Black Caribbean pupils disaffection, negative peers and low commitment to schooling appear more relevant. Interviews with pupils corroborated the above findings and further illuminated the factors students described as important in their educational aspirations. The results are discussed in relation to theories of aspiration which stress its nature as a cultural capacity
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