Children’s aspirations & 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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