Closing the Gap – Aspiration in the Classroom.

Many generalisations are made about pupils in the classroom and perhaps the greatest relates to aspiration and social background.  Do all children from socially deprived areas lack ambition?  In my opinion the simple answer is no!  When a Nursery child attends School for the first time they are filled with awe, wonder, an element of fear and excitement but I would also argue that they are full of ambition.  They want to learn how to play, to use the computer, to be the first to hold the teddy or play with a car.


The pupils want to make new friends, they discover how to relate with other children and often they learn from each other.  Their aspirations for the future begin with the role play area of the classroom.  Pupils choose to be a Doctor, Nurse, Fireman, Police Officer and often they will copy the Teacher.  If aspiration to achieve is linked to ambition then the first seeds are sown in the dressing up box. The social background of the pupil is not an issue at this stage, enjoyment and having fun are the key components of the role play area, as well as providing literacy opportunities.

When does a lack of aspiration become a greater barrier?

Almost all my teaching experience has been in the Primary setting (3-11).  My question leads you into a belief that a lack of aspiration can form a barrier to future success.  The link below is definitely worth a visit.  It is linked to the Sutton Trust Toolkit.

What should I consider?

  • The relationship between aspirations and attainment is not straightforward; in general, approaches to raise aspirations have not translated into increased learning.
  • A key reason for this may be that most young people have high aspirations for themselves. As a result, it is more important to keep these on track by ensuring that students have the knowledge and skills to progress towards them.
  • The attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that surround aspirations in disadvantaged communities are diverse so generalisations should be avoided.
  • Effective approaches almost always have a significant academic component, suggesting that raising aspirations in isolation will not be effective.
  • Have you considered how you will monitor the impact on attainment of any interventions or approaches?

Do young people have high aspirations for themselves?

A child said to me that she would like to work in a Hospital but she wasn’t sure whether she would be able to achieve this.  On asking what she would like to do in a Hospital she replied that she would like to work with babies.  I explained to her that she could research certain jobs and discover what she would like to do.  The answer came the following day,

“I would like to be a Midwife.”

That pupil created an ambition, a goal, a target for her future.  Will she attain her goal? Only time will tell however the aspiration burns brightly and provides a reason for learning.

Do young people believe they can achieve their aspirations?

In my experience the answer isn’t linked to social background but rather parental support.  If parents provide their children with a sense of belief, a feeling that they can achieve, then aspiration sets a path to success.  Parental support is the key factor in supporting a child in their ambition.  Parents that wish to encourage their children despite their own personal circumstances will often provide the springboard to allow them to succeed. They realise that the path will be bumpy but they are always present with the safety net.

Many parents worry when their child discovers that they want to be a football player or a rugby player.  How many truly achieve a professional contract? Is it a realistic ambition? Yet, if a parent shows belief in a child then the World is still an oyster waiting to be discovered.

Teachers also have an important role to play!

As a result, it is more important to keep these on track by ensuring that students have the knowledge and skills to progress towards them.

We are the key to providing the ingredients that feeds the aspiration!  We are the key to encourage, support and provide the skills in order to develop the next Gareth Bale, Jacqueline Wilson, Tim Berners-Lee, Richard Branson, Katherine Jenkins etc.  We are there to facilitate the dreams of others by giving them the belief, the confidence and sometimes the knocks on the road to success. Those that learn that failure also provides a route to eventual success are normally the ones that are the highest achievers in adulthood.

If a child believes they are no good and that they can not achieve then it is our job in every educational establishment across the Globe to change their mind and provide them with a feeling of self worth!  Too often, well being is discussed as a means of measuring success.  I have also done this but actually well being is part of developing a child that to believe that they have an important role to play in society.

One of the greatest pressures today is one that has always existed, peer pressure.  Street culture is prevalent in many areas yet does this mean that we should generalise about what pupils would like to achieve?  Many teenagers will fall into the traps of peer pressure because they want to be accepted, to have a sense of purpose a feeling that they are worthy of belonging to something greater than themselves. Perhaps it is the need to belong that is the greatest pull on the attentions of young people and that is why I feel it is important to provide children with the respect they deserve and to listen before judging, to think before reaching conclusions and to realise that every single pupil can achieve as long as we support their aspiration and provide the path to success.

Primary schools are the first and best chance that we get, as a society, to transform the life chances of children, regardless of background. Let’s make the most of that opportunity. –

It is true that a Primary School can provide the tools for achievement thus allowing pupils to believe in their aspiration and leadership is an important part of the equation.  When a school leadership raises the bar for all pupils with the belief that all pupils can achieve then it breeds a sense of confidence within a team of professionals.  As indicated above, I also believe that parents have an important role to play in supporting this process. Sometimes they might not have the tools to provide that support and we therefore should help in developing opportunities for parents.

The research identified a number of programmes where there are strong indicators of success. It found that the most effective way of helping children from low-income households to achieve their ambitions is engaging parents in their children’s learning and in their own learning and in providing a range of support for children such as mentoring. Parents need to understand how the education system works and what choices are available for their children and, critically, how they can work with schools to help their children reach their full potential.

More than anything, this is the focus of my post! We need to involve parents, to help them understand the curriculum, the expectations for Literacy and Numeracy, to access areas of support that they might not realise exist.  We all need to work together to turn aspiration into achievement.

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