Reaching for the moon – Aspiration in Education
JRF and Bevan Foundation seminar on ‘the role of aspirations, attitudes and behaviour in closing the educational attainment gap’ was on 2nd May 2012. this is a summary of the presentations and discussion.
The impact of poverty on educational attainment and participation is well documented. It has often been said that parental expectations and involvement in their child’s education is a means of addressing this issue. But what can we learn from existing research evidence about the relationship between the attitudes and aspirations of parents and subsequent attainment of the child? Our recent conference organized on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, explored these issues by drawing on a recent wide ranging reviews of evidence, and also from hearing more from those on the ground about these issues.
Professor Stephen Gorard presented research, supported by the JRF, which reviewed past studies into the relationships between parents and children’s attitudes, aspirations and behaviours and educational outcomes. From close examination of past research they identified 13 distinct attitudes, aspirations and behaviours which might be relevant – four of these concern parents, and the remaining 9 concern the individual child. Significantly, the study found that parental involvement was the only factor which had sufficient evidence for a causal effect on attainment. The researchers found that other factors indicated some evidence of a causal model, but often due to a lack of available and robust evidence, it was difficult to make claims of causality.
At this event we also heard from Professor Liz Todd, who presented evidence from a study conducted by herself and colleagues, which looked at whether interventions aimed at changing attitudes might go some way to addressing the attainment gap for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. They found that rather than changing attitudes, interventions focusing on changing actions or behaviours may be more worthwhile.
Delegates also heard responses from schools and projects across Wales. There are a great many schools and community projects in Wales which seek to engage parents in their childs education. We heard about the work of Goetre Junior School in Methyr Tydfil which works closely with parents to get them more involved in their child’s education. We also heard about the many project organised by Glynoch Communities First, and the successes this community has realised in reducing the number of disengaged young people and decreasing levels of truancy.
The seminar raises a number of issues about how parents might mediate attainment, and what kind of parental interventions might go some way to making a difference. In particular, further research is needed to understand what kind of interventions might work best at reducing the gap between rich and poor in education.
Michael Donnelly is Policy and Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation
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