Children’s aspirations and emotional and behavioural problems

Over the past decade ‘aspirations’ have received considerable attention within UK policy. The
emphasis on aspirations has proved extremely evocative, in particular the notion that raising the
aspirations of poor families is an important device in improving low educational attainment and
social mobility. The issue of low aspirations has featured in White Papers and educational
policy of both New Labour and the previous coalition government (e.g. Department for
Education and Skills (DfES), 2004, 2005; Department for Education (DfE), 2010). The 2010
School White Paper called for the creation of an ‘aspiration nation’ (DfE, 2010).

However, the assumption of a ‘poverty of aspirations’ among disadvantaged young people and
their families has been disputed by several small scale qualitative studies (Kintrea, St Clair &
Houston, 2011). They claim that aspirations were high across all social groups, but children
and parents from poorer backgrounds had less belief that they could achieve their goals. The
difficulty of misalignment has been raised by others, particularly for children from less
advantaged backgrounds who may have the ambition, but not the resources to achieve their
aspirations (Croll, 2008; Gorard, Huat See & Davis, 2012). By raising aspirations with no
support or resources young people falling short of these aspirations may be more predisposed
to negative emotional and psychological well-being in the future.

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