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The role of aspirations, attitudes and behaviour in closing the educational attainment gap

Charlotte Carter-Wall and Grahame Whitfield

25 April 2012

Which interventions have actually improved educational outcomes?

Evidence supports interventions focused on parental involvement in children's education to improve outcomes, rolling out and closely monitoring these.

There is strong interest in aspirations because it is assumed that raising them will increase educational achievement, as well as contribute to greater equity and the UK’s economic competitiveness. Low aspirations among young people and their families in disadvantaged areas are often thought to explain their poor education levels and jobs.

This Roundup asks if children's and parents' attitudes, aspirations and behaviours (AABs) for education really do affect attainment; and whether interventions focused on these can reduce the attainment gap. Summarising key messages from research in JRF's Education and Poverty programme, it found that:

  • It was not possible to establish a clear causal relationship between AABs and children's educational outcomes, particularly due to the quality of evidence, which offers limited support for the impact of most interventions.
  • Evidence supports interventions focused on parental involvement in children's education to improve outcomes. The immediate focus should be on rolling out and closely monitoring these.
  • There is mixed evidence on the impact of interventions focused on extra-curricular activities, mentoring, children's self-belief and motivation. Further development of such interventions should be trialled alongside evaluations of effectiveness.
  • There is little evidence of impact for interventions focused on things like addressing children's general attitudes to education or the amount of paid work children do during term time.

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