Late last year, when Education Secretary Damian Hinds told universities and schools in the north-east of England that they had to “raise aspirations among all working class communities”, he was following in a venerable, if thoroughly ill-informed, tradition.
Twenty years earlier his predecessor, David Blunkett, invoked a “poverty of aspirations”, later reflected in the 2003 White Paper which stated (without evidence) that “aspirations are low” among “families without a tradition of going to HE”. This was echoed more recently by OfSTED Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman’s speech to the ‘Festival of Education’ in June, which asserted that white working class communities lack “aspiration and drive”.
Indeed, this trope – that disadvantaged young people are under-represented in higher education because they have low aspirations for education or their lives in general – has thoroughly permeated policymaking and practice. The national strategy document uses the word ‘aspiration’ 23 times and it’s asserted to be a key element in various vignettes of ‘good practice’ that it showcases. Read more.