Operationalising educational and career aspirations in the middle years of schooling  

Year: 2012

Author: Gore, Jenny, Albright, James, Smith, Maxwell, Southgate, Erica, Holmes, Kathryn, Ellis, Hywel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Little is known about how career aspirations and educational trajectories are seeded and shaped in the middle years of schooling This paper reports on how our research on the relative impact of, and relationships among, student-level and school-level factors is operationalized, in particular how socioeconomic status (SES) shapes students' educational and career aspirations. Our research will identify the extent do educational and career aspirations slowly “solidify” or transform at key “tipping points” in a student's development or stage of schooling, whether low SES backgrounds circumscribe and compromise career aspirations earlier and more often than their higher SES peers, and if there is a different interplay of student level and school level factors for high achieving /high aspiration students versus low achieving /low aspiration students from low SES backgrounds?

The overall approach is a 'wide (quantitative) poll' of students, their parents and teachers from existing NSW DEC data and surveys developed for the research, to produce a comprehensive profile. This profile is complemented by 'deeper (qualitative) dives' into the experiences of particular types of students, their families and teachers.

The research adopts a sequential mixed method approach, utilising complementary qualitative and quantitative components, while following student cohorts in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 over a four year period. Although the study is focussed on understanding the aspirations of middle year students, one cohort will be followed from Year 9 through to Year 12 in order to provide a comparative analysis with previous studies relating to student educational and career aspirations, which have primarily focused on the later years of schooling. The design enables tracking of trends in aspirations in relation to a range of student and school level variables over a four year period, thus facilitating identification of the ways in which a range of social factors interplay to influence student aspirations over time. Quantitative data is collected in each year of the study and will be supplemented by qualitative data collection in the second and fourth years.

In collaboration with the NSW DEC, three regions were selected to participate in the study to ensure variance with regard to SES and geographic location. The regions chosen also demonstrate variance with respect to Aboriginality and cultural and linguistic diversity. Within each region, clusters of schools comprised of one or two high schools in close proximity, together with their feeder primary schools (typically between five to eight primary schools) were selected.