White children have lower educational aspirations than most ethnic minorities

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The proportion of white children with high hopes for their educational progress is much lower than for other ethnic groups in England. One of the key factors behind the difference is parents’ aspirations for their children.

These are the findings of new research by Professor Simon Burgess and Dr Deborah Wilson of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) at the University. The study analysed data from a representative survey of over 14,000 14-year-olds in England.

The children were asked when they were aged 14 what they wanted to do at age 16: stay in school, take a job, seek an apprenticeship or something else. The research reveals substantial and significant differences in the percentages of pupils wanting to stay on at school across different ethnic groups:

  • Among girls, 85 per cent of white pupils want to stay on at age 16, compared with 94 per cent of ethnic Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils, 95 per cent of ethnic Indian and Black Caribbean pupils and 99 per cent of Black African pupils
  • The gap between groups is greater among boys: 73 per cent of white pupils want to stay at school, compared with 81 per cent of Black Caribbean pupils and over 90 per cent among the South Asian groups and Black Africans
  • The figures also reflect a strong gender difference for some groups, widest for white and Black Caribbean pupils, and zero for ethnic Indian pupils.

The survey also asked the 14-year-olds about their longer-term hopes of going to university and career aspirations. Again, there are large differences:

  • Almost all pupils of Indian or Black African ethnicity plan to apply to university
  • About 15 per cent of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black Caribbean think it unlikely that they will apply
  • 30 per cent of white pupils think it unlikely that they will apply
  • There is little difference across groups in the importance of having a career at all, but big differences in the importance attached to getting ahead and getting promoted.

The research uncovers a number of reasons for the differences, including pupils’ ability and academic self-image, family characteristics, school and neighbourhood. One of the most important factors is parents’ aspirations for their children:

  • Among Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and Black African families, over 90 per cent of parents want their child to stay on at school at age 16, compared with 77 per cent of white families.

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