Contextualising variations in educational and career aspirations in the middle years of schooling 

Year: 2012

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

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


No other study, nationally or internationally, has sought to identify the relative impact of, and complex interplay among, student and school level factors on the career and educational aspirations of students in the middle years of schooling, using a mixed method, longitudinal design. Both the scale of the study and its mixed method longitudinal design, are innovative in the field of aspirations research. The study provides the largest qualitative longitudinal study of educational and career aspirations anywhere. Involving students, parents and teachers, the research offers a rich multi-layered picture of the social dynamics that shape educational and career aspirations, especially the social norms that emerge from particular socioeconomic, geographic or cultural milieus.

The quantitative data cross-sectionally and longitudinally analysed from the first year of the study will be presented. Future cross-sectional data from each year of the study will enable comparisons between the various student year levels both within and between participating schools and regions. Over time, as student cohorts progress, longitudinal data will allow for trends in aspirations to be tracked across key transition points and to be matched with corresponding variables representative of the four capitals. Structural equation modelling is used to examine the complex interactions between the student and school level variables; and between the four dimensions of capital in relation to student educational and career aspirations. This modelling examines the relative influence of the four capitals in relation to student aspirations and elaborates on the interplay between the capitals and the key variables within each capital, permitting estimates of: (a) career and educational aspirations overall, and; (b) changes in aspirations over time (within participant individuals and groups and between schools and regions). Since each of these estimates will be mapped concurrently, over time, the relationships between and among them will be modelled statistically using: (a) individual level cross-sectional analyses of the relationships among these phenomena; (b) multi-level modelling of variance within and between students, parents, teachers and schools; and (c) over time change modelling (growth modelling). The analysis will identify the relative importance of key variables in determining student educational and career aspirations within a capitals framework.