Press Releases

Today's children decide their school and career path early – University of Reading

Release Date : 18 November 2009

Children as young as 12 have a strong sense of their personal futures and can reflect thoughtfully on what life might hold for them. These are the findings of new research led by Professor Paul Croll from the University of Reading and Professor Gaynor Attwood of the University of the West of England.

Professor Croll from the University's Institute of Education said: "What is very striking is that for this generation there is absolutely no gender stereotyping in hopes for the future. Furthermore, what children say at the age of 11 about school participation after the age of 16 is highly predictive of their actual behaviour."

The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, concludes that to increase participation in schooling post-16, schools need to focus on giving advice and information to children as soon as they enter secondary education. Greater attention also needs to be paid to social relationships, in order to make school a more enjoyable experience for some children. But the study acknowledges that schools face a difficult balance between encouraging high expectations and providing realistic opportunities and goals.

Girls are as likely as boys to see themselves as supporting families and boys are as likely as girls to see marriage and children as a significant part of their lives. However, by far the most important, for both boys and girls, is getting a good job. School is seen as instrumental in achieving this.

"A major background of the research is concern for relatively low levels of participation in education post-16, as well as the under-representation of children from disadvantaged backgrounds at university." said Professor Croll.

However, the study found no support for the view that children from disadvantaged backgrounds have attitudes to education or value systems that are incompatible with those of school. Indeed, virtually all children think school is important.

Furthermore, although intentions for post-16 participation are lower than might be hoped, only a small proportion of the children said that they definitely would not go to university. This suggests that the possibility of higher education is becoming a norm for this generation of young people.

The study found that a significant number of children were confused about the educational routes available to them and did not understand the link between specific educational and employment opportunities. For example some planned to go to university but also said they intended to leave school at 16.

More significantly, the children in the study were occupationally ambitious with 70 percent choosing professional and managerial occupations. Children whose own parents were in such occupations were more likely to be ambitious but two-thirds of children whose parents were in manual occupations wanted professional and managerial jobs for themselves.

"Many more children wanted these kinds of jobs regardless if these jobs will be available in the future," continued Professor Croll. "The question arises of not just who wants them but also who will get them."

Professors Croll and Attwood have fed their findings into the Government initiative on raising the participation age (RPA) and have briefed MPs on their work.

The study, which is designed to advance our understanding of how young children see the educational and occupational possibilities available to them and how they begin to make choices, shows that boys and girls from all backgrounds see education as important for the future.

A book based on the study is being published by Continuum in December 2009; Croll, P., Attwood, G. and Fuller, C. (2009) Children's Lives, Children's Futures. London: Continuum.

The ESRC will return to this issue of young people's aspirations as apart of the longitudinal study, Understanding Society. For the first time thousands of young people will be surveyed about their attitudes offering a new insight into this group.


For all University of Reading media enquiries please contact James Barr, Press Officer tel. 0118 378 7115 or email


Professor Paul Croll (Tel: 0118 378 8875, email:


The University of Reading is rated as one of the top 200 universities in the world (THE-QS World Rankings 2009).

• The University of Reading is one of the UK's top research-intensive universities. The University is ranked in the top 20 UK higher education institutions in securing research council grants worth nearly £10 million from EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, AHRC and BBSRC. In the RAE 2008, over 87% of the university's research was deemed to be of international standing. Areas of particular research strength recognised include meteorology and climate change, typography and graphic design, archaeology, philosophy, food biosciences, construction management, real estate and planning, as well as law.

The University of Reading's Institute of Education is a major provider of teachers nationally and regionally, offering PGCE Secondary and Primary, BA (Ed) and the Graduate Teacher Programmes (GTP). The secondary programme and the primary programme have both received the top Ofsted grades in 2006/7 and the Institute is now a category 'A' provider for all our courses. The employment rates of graduates are the highest in the University and the best in the country of any initial teacher training provider.

1. This release is based on the findings from 'Children's perception of the value of education', funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and carried out by Professor Paul Croll from the Institute of Education at the University of Reading and Professor Gaynor Attwood of the University of the West of England.

2. Methodology: The research involved two principal methods of data collection, a large scale representative survey and detailed personal interviews with a sub-sample of the children in the survey. The children were in their third term of year 7, aged 11 or 12, when they completed the questionnaire and in their first term of year 8, aged 12 or, in a few cases 13, when they were interviewed. A stratified multi-stage sample was taken involving local authorities, schools within LAs and tutor groups within schools. Six local authorities were sampled in three areas of the country, the South East, the South West and South Yorkshire/North Midlands.

3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research, which impacts on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2008/09 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at

4. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peers review. This research has been graded as outstanding.


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