CHAPTER 11 PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS AND ATTITUDES TO SCHOOLING
Previous research has shown that the attitudes of parents (and children themselves) may predict later educational achievement. However, this association is complex. Parents with higher levels of education tend to have higher expectations for their child's achievements, but these parents will also tend to have children who already attain more highly. Parents' perceptions of their child's ability may also affect their aspirations for the child, and parents with higher aspirations are more likely to be involved in their child's education (Goodman and Gregg, 2010).
Other research has shown that parental aspirations and expectations play a role in child achievement, even when taking into account other factors. For example, analysis from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children ( ALSPAC) indicates that parental aspirations are one of the factors contributing to differences in educational attainment amongst primary school children. However, these aspirations often differed according to parents' socio-economic characteristics. For example, 81% of the richest mothers indicated that they would like their child to go to university compared with 37% of the poorest mothers (Goodman and Gregg, 2010).
Parents' aspirations for their children can also change over time. Research for the Department for Children, School and Families has shown that parents have very high aspirations when their children are young but that these aspirations fall as the child gets older (Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2008).
11.2 Key findings
- 88% of parents would like their child to attend college/university.
- Parents who were themselves degree-educated, were more likely to want their child to go to university (91%) than were those with no qualifications (84%).
- Parents of girls were slightly more likely to want their child to attend college/university than parents of boys (91% compared to 86%).
- Compared with those whose children had no additional support needs, parents of children with additional needs were more likely not to mind how far their child goes in education (4% compared with 7%).
- The most prevalent aspiration amongst parents, was that they would like their child to be in full-time employment by their mid-twenties (82% of parents would like this).
- Parents of boys were more likely to want their child to have a full-time job compared to parent of girls (85% versus 80%).
- There was also support amongst parents for their child to have gone travelling (64%) and to have left home (41%).
11.3 Educational aspirations
At age 6, parents were asked how far in school they would like their child to go in education. As can be seen in Table 11.1, almost nine of out ten respondents (88%) indicated that they would like their child to attend college or university. This is perhaps a reflection of the UK policy drive to encourage greater take-up of further education and widen access. However, it could also reflect the trend described in the literature where parental aspirations tend to be very high when children are young and lower as the child gets older. This trend could be for a variety of reasons, such as greater evidence of the child's abilities or due to financial constraints.
Table 11.1 How far parents would like their child to go in education
|Level of education
|percentage of birth cohort
|Attend college or university
|Achieve Higher Grades
|Achieve Standard Grades
Differences in educational aspirations were examined by a number of different socio-demographic characteristics of the household (household income and NS- SEC), respondent (education, employment status), partner (education and employment status) and the cohort child (gender, and additional support needs).
The biggest (and statistically significant) differences in educational aspirations were related to household NS- SEC, respondent's level of education and the cohort child's gender. These are shown in Figure 11-A. As the graph shows, over nine out of ten parents (91%) in households with a parent in a professional/managerial position wanted their child to go to college or university compared with around eight out of ten (82%) parents in households where no-one had ever worked. Similarly high levels of desire for a college or university education were observed amongst parents who themselves were degree-educated - 91% who had a degree or above said they would like to see their child attend university/college compared with 84% of those respondents with no qualifications.
Aspirations were slightly higher for girls than they were for boys. Ninety-one per cent of parents of girls wanted their child to attend college or university compared with 85% of parents of boys. These differences in aspirations between the sexes may be due to differences in perceptions of ability between parents of girls and parents of boys, perceptions which reflect observed differences in ability between boys and girls in the early years. Previous research from GUS and from the Millennium Cohort Study shows that at ages 3, 5 and 7, on average girls have higher cognitive ability than boys (Bromley, 2009; Hansen, 2008; Hansen et al, 2010). In addition, boys are more likely than girls to have difficulties with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties at entry to primary school (Bradshaw and Tipping, 2010).
Figure 11-A Percentage of parents who want their child to attend university by selected parental characteristics
Overall, 4% of parents did not mind how far their child would go in education; this was higher amongst parents of children with additional support needs of whom 7% indicated that they did not mind how far their children went in education. No other statistically significant differences were observed.
11.4 Life aspirations
Respondents were asked a further question which looked at aspirations more broadly, incorporating thoughts about employment and family life that parents may have for their children. Respondents were asked what they would like their child to be doing, or to have done, by the time he or she had reached his or her mid-twenties. The choice of options and the proportion of parents who selected each are presented in Table 11.2.
The majority of parents (82%) said they would like their child to be in full-time employment by their mid-twenties but there was also considerable support for the child to have been travelling (64%). Forty-one per cent of parents would like their child to have left home by their mid-twenties but only 4% would like them to have started a family.
Table 11.2 Parental aspiration for child to have done by mid-twenties
|Percentage of birth cohort
|In full-time job
|Had a family
|In family business
The life aspirations that parents had for their child were examined by a number of different parental and child characteristics.
In terms of employment-related aspirations, no real differences were seen by household NS- SEC, parent's education level nor the respondent's employment status. However, there were slight variations in the extent to which parents chose the option 'being in a full-time job' by whether the child was a boy or girl - 85% of parents of boys would like their child to have a full-time job compared with 80% of parents of girls.
The wish for their child to leave home increased with household income; 34% of parents from the bottom income quintile wanted this to have happened by the time their child was in his or her mid-twenties compared with 52% of those in the top income quintile (Figure 11-B). Similar trends can also be seen by the respondent's level of education. Around one-quarter (24%) of respondents with no educational qualifications wanted their child to have left home, less than half the proportion of those with a qualification at degree level who said the same (55%).
Travelling was also a more prominent choice amongst more advantaged parents. For example, 51% of parents in the lowest income quintile supported the idea of their child having travelled by their mid-twenties compared with 74% of respondents in the highest income quintile.
Although just 10% of respondents said they wanted their child to have done some volunteering work, there are some notable differences in this choice. Generally speaking, parents in more advantaged circumstances were more supportive of volunteering than were those in less advantaged circumstances. For example, 2% of respondents with no educational qualifications said would like their child to have spent some time volunteering compared with 17% of respondents with a degree or above.
Figure 11-B Selected life aspirations at mid-twenties by level of household income
11.5 Attitudes to schooling
Data in this section were drawn from sweep 4 and sweep 6 of the birth cohort. In each of these sweeps of data collection, parents were asked a series of attitudinal questions exploring their views on different aspects of education.
Parents were asked about their attitude to the role and importance of learning different subjects at school - in particular, to what extent learning basic skills such as reading and writing was more or less important than learning other subjects. The available statements and proportion of parents who selected each are shown in Table 11.3.
Table 11.3 Attitudes towards the role and importance of learning different subjects at school, birth cohort
|Percentage that selected statement
|For children, learning about other subjects and life skills is just as important as learning basic skills like reading, writing and maths
|For children, learning basic skills like reading, writing and maths is more important than anything else
|For children, learning about other subjects such as science, geography or music is just as important as learning basic skills like reading, writing and maths
Fifty-five per cent of respondents thought that learning about other subjects and life skills is just as important as learning basic skills whilst 28% thought that learning basic skills such as reading, writing and maths is more important than anything else.
Respondents from lower household incomes, those with lower NS- SEC and lower educational qualifications were more likely to support the idea that learning basic skills was most important. For example, this view was reported by 41% of parents with no educational qualifications compared with 23% of parents who were degree educated.
At sweep 4, attitudes to other schooling issues were explored including mixed-faith education and the significance of gender in supporting children's education. To examine attitudes towards mixed-faith schooling, parents were asked the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the statement: "I would not mind if my child went to school where half the children were of another religion".
A little over three-quarters (77%) of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement and 9% disagreed or strongly disagreed. The only significant difference seen was according to the respondent's religion. Sixteen per cent of Roman Catholics disagreed with the statement compared with 11% of Christian (Protestant) respondents, 7% of respondents belonging to no religion and 5% of Muslims.
A further statement explored attitudes towards whether education should have a prominence for girls and boys. Parents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed that: "sons in families should be given more encouragement to do well at school than daughters".
Almost all respondents disagreed with this statement (98%). Despite the overwhelming disagreement, a small difference was evident according to the respondent's level of education; 7% of parents with no educational qualifications agreed with the statement compared with 2% of those with a degree.
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