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Abstract

This article reports on a programme designed to encourage young people who are currently in secondary school (age range 11-18) to apply to university. Explore University is a collaborative outreach programme provided by a small group of Higher Education Institutions in the West Midlands and Staffordshire areas of the UK. Participants were 46 high school students aged 14-16 years old. There has been increasing importance placed on the value of appropriate Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) for students considering attending university in the UK (Diamond et al., 2014). A wide range of diverse factors, contexts and behaviours impact on how IAG is accessed and consumed, and how decisions about progression to higher education are made (Moogan & Baron, 2003). Q-methodology (Q) was used in this study as it was believed that this approach could find communalities in participants' perspectives that may not have been apparent had more traditional data collection methods been used. Four factors were produced that represented a range of different perspectives on attending university. The findings were associated with young people's self-perception as learners and the influence these perceptions had on their strength of commitment to attend university. These findings are relevant to any consideration of both IAG at secondary school and widening participation in higher education at a time when there are increasing financial pressures on university recruitment, and smaller pools of diverse potential applicants being targeted.
Educationalfutures Williams-Brown, Rhoades, Smith and Thompson
Vol.10(1) July 2019 Aspiring to Higher Education?
e-journal of the British Education Studies Association 31
ISSN: 1758-2199
Aspiring to Higher Education? Choice, complexity and
confidence in secondary students’ decision-making
Zeta Williams-Brown, University of Wolverhampton
Gavin Rhoades, University of Wolverhampton
Matthew Smith, University of Wolverhampton
David Thompson, University of Wolverhampton
Corresponding Author: Zeta Williams-Brown
Email: zeta.brown@wlv.ac.uk
Abstract
This article reports on a programme designed to encourage young people who are
currently in secondary school (age range 11-18) to apply to university. Explore
University is a collaborative outreach programme provided by a small group of Higher
Education Institutions in the West Midlands and Staffordshire areas of the UK.
Participants were 46 high school students aged 14-16 years old. There has been
increasing importance placed on the value of appropriate Information, Advice and
Guidance (IAG) for students considering attending university in the UK (Diamond et
al., 2014). A wide range of diverse factors, contexts and behaviours impact on how
IAG is accessed and consumed, and how decisions about progression to higher
education are made (Moogan & Baron, 2003). Q-methodology (Q) was used in this
study as it was believed that this approach could find communalities in participants’
perspectives that may not have been apparent had more traditional data collection
methods been used. Four factors were produced that represented a range of different
perspectives on attending university. The findings were associated with young
people’s self-perception as learners and the influence these perceptions had on their
strength of commitment to attend university. These findings are relevant to any
consideration of both IAG at secondary school and widening participation in higher
education at a time when there are increasing financial pressures on university
recruitment, and smaller pools of diverse potential applicants being targeted.
Keywords
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University, Secondary School, IAG, Widening Participation
Introduction
This study was commissioned by Explore University to evaluate their 2016-2017
programme that endeavoured to inspire young people to attend university. In an
attempt to address social inequalities throughout university level education, UK
government policy developed a number of initiatives which encouraged and supported
more applications from students with less traditional backgrounds. One such
outcome was the National Network for Collaborative Outreach. It involved a network
of universities led by the University of Wolverhampton, in collaboration with Harper
Adams, Keele and Staffordshire Universities and Telford College of Arts and
Technology. These institutions were tasked to work together to coordinate, their
outreach activity to schools and colleges in a defined geographical area through a
single point of contact. The Explore University programme sought to raise awareness,
provide information and organise experiences for people of school age who might find
value in studying in higher education. The range of activities included campus visits,
subject taster days, information, guidance and advice sessions in schools and summer
schools.
The present study investigated the views of young people participating in the
interventions and activities provided by Explore University. The objectives of the study
were to identify shared perspectives towards applying to university, to evaluate if
Explore University had influenced or supported participants’ perspectives and to
analyse expectations and strength of commitment to apply to university.
Literature
Complexities of Choice-making
There is increasing interest in the provision of information, advice and guidance (IAG)
regarding careers and progression to higher education (HE) in the United Kingdom
(Diamond et al., 2014). The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE),
the National Student Forum (NSF), a House of Commons Committee, and the
Confederation of British Industry (CBI) have all produced reports that have included
discussions about available IAG for prospective students (Oakleigh Consulting and
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Staffordshire University, 2010). How IAG is accessed and consumed is determined by
a diverse range of factors. These include “social” and “environmental contexts”, a
complex mix of peer relationships, behavioural traits, and environmental factors (e.g.
home lives). These are mediated through emotional and cognitive behavioural
approaches to knowledge acquisition and usage, augmented by social networks
(Moogan and Baron, 2003).
Socio-economics, culture, schools and the influence of key people in students’ lives
are considered important when choosing progression routes. Students’ choices of
careers, courses and universities do not always follow a completely rational process;
they can be dependent upon intuitive and emotional responses and what feels right
(Diamond et al., 2014). Evidence suggests that students are eschewing choices
related to subject interest and a passion for study, leaning more towards the expected
benefits of particular career paths (Maringe, 2006). An international survey of over
67,000 students world-wide indicated that 54% placed “a high graduate employment
rate” in their top five factors relating to university quality (QS Enrolment Solutions,
2018). However, for those from less affluent families, choice can also be a financial
and localised decision based upon reducing the cost of going to university. This has
implications for the provision of IAG relating to finance, benefits, and costs (Callender
and Jackson, 2008).
Choices vary depending on life experience, which is nuanced and specific to individual
circumstances. This is especially important to first generation students and their
families where choice is limited by necessity. Choices for more affluent communities
are shaped and sustained by social reproduction and cultural capital (Reay and Ball,
1998). With respect to degree choice, some “students could be described as active
researchers” but others rely on “serendipity and intuition” (Reay et al., 2005 :160). For
families with less social and cultural capital to make informed choices, children have
a “greater power influence” and choice is left more to the child (Diamond et al., 2014
:74). IAG offered by teachers, careers advisors (where they still exist), schools and
universities may therefore be critical. Whilst some argue that choice is complex, others
observe a “convergence” in students’ choice-making, suggesting that intention to
participate in HE is a decision made “irrespective of social class or gender”, illustrating
“remarkable homogeneity” (Kettley and Whithead 2012 :503-505). Paradoxically,
others suggest that there are patterns in decisions to attend university by ethnicity and
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identity, but these intersect with social class (Ball et al., 2002). Both “capital and
habitus play central roles in shaping aspiration towards HE and in gaining access to
HE institutions” (Demack et al., 2012, no page number). Complexities of choice and
provision therefore have the potential to create significant barriers through the
intersectionality of gender, culture, ethnicity and socioeconomic status (Bowes et al.,
2015).
Other factors involved with decision-making include family and peer support,
education networks, positive attitudes towards education, and relevant and timely IAG.
College and sixth form discussions about participation in Higher Education are
regarded as very important, as are employability and financial security (Bowes et al.,
2015). Possible solutions include tailoring support, raising awareness, empowering
young people and “supporting young people to access and make effective use of
information, advice and guidance for them and their families to build a relevant choice
architecture” (Bowes et al., 2015 :15).
Parental influence
There is quantitative and qualitative evidence to suggest that parents have a greater
influence on career choice than teachers and form a more integral part of the decision-
making process (Kniveton, 2004; Smyth and Banks, 2012; Haynes, 2013). Statistical
analysis has concluded that an increase in household income is directly related to an
increase in the probability of making a positive decision to attend university (Oliveira
and Zanchi, 2004). However, parents of lower socio-economic status (SES) are less
well informed and find it more difficult to obtain and determine what is accurate and
reliable information (Haynes, 2013 :461). Families in low SES locations take on greater
influence as students become more reliant on their parents (Smyth and Banks, 2012);
however, for post-16 education options, parents can also be “the weakest link”
(Foskett 2008 :53-54). Parental influence may be shaped by several factors including
social and cultural capital, being involved in support networks, facilitating access, and
economic capital. However, “disadvantaged students and their families tend to be
more dependent on their schools for access to the resources” (Smyth and Banks, 2012
:272). Correspondingly, some young people observe that their parents are simply
unaware of what options are available to them when choosing study routes in school
(Haynes, 2013). There are “close connections between material structures, agency,
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and the roles played by mothers and fathersinfluenced by their cultural and social
capital (Brooks, 2004 :511). However others conclude that, in terms of making
decisions to apply to ‘elite’ universities, there is limited evidence of working class
parental attitudes that might be regarded as ambivalent or negative. In fact, parents
of working class children were quite supportive” (Kettley and Whitehead 2012 :507).
Nevertheless, such parents can lack practical experience and skills in terms of the
application process, a key point in considering IAG (Kettley and Whitehead, 2012).
For families with limited capital, interventions provide the potential to be transformative
and to challenge entrenched family views and perceptions that higher education is
not for ‘people like them”’ (Bowes et al., 2015 :89). Smyth and Banks (2012)
investigated the different forms of social reproduction in a school serving ‘privileged’
families compared to a school that attracts students from a less advantaged
neighbourhood. Their conclusions are a complex synthesis of choice-making, family,
peer support and school habitus that reflects the analysis of others (Reay, 2005;
Thomas, 2011). The aspirations of parents can be channelled to children through
their existing relationships, this can play “a key role in determining the ways in which
expectations and achievements are associated”; emphasising the need for effective
IAG to support those parents who do not possess the knowledge or resources to help
their children (Khattab, 2015 :734-5). Unfortunately, “there is no clear evidence that
IAG is especially effective for those in most need of it” (Nicoletti and Berthoud, 2010
:9).
Peer relationships
The influences of friends and peers on students’ HE choices are often formed around
a hierarchical order based on ability and social networks. Decisions are informed by
how young people relate to their peers (Brooks, 2004). However, such “grapevine
knowledge” is uneven; this also applies to the “time and resources available to commit
to information and knowledge-gathering and accessing professional support
structures and expertise” (Ball et al., 2002 :353). Choice is related to class and the
concept of the ‘contingent’ and ‘embedded’ choosers, the former “short term and
weakly linked to ‘imagined futures’ part of an incomplete or incoherent narrative…
first-time choosers with no family tradition of higher education” (Ball 2002 :337). Some
young people have little knowledge or understanding of employing realistic plans for
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their future. Good quality and impartial school advice are consistently elusive (Haynes
2013).
First generation students may be disadvantaged, not knowing where to look for
information: “some groups of prospective students display a much stronger appetite
for information than others” especially those with better GCSE outcomes (Oakleigh
Consulting and Staffordshire University, 2010 :73). Others suggest that students’
educational choices are not simply framed by class but is complex and influenced by
the “totality of experience” (Kettley and Whitehead 2012 :505).
Schools
The barriers that students face also bring institutional habitus into focus. For state
schools, “higher education applications appear to be less ambitious even for high
achieving students when compared to independent schools that are much more
proactive (Bowes et al., 2015 :77). Schools offered limited expectations in terms of
education and career progression. Bowes’ research suggested that some state
schools do not present realistic appraisals of opportunities and lack ambition, leaving
many young people to rely on their own research. Institutional habitus can create
contrasting aspirations and where contrasting viewpoints occur with a gap between
the higher aspirations of students (and indeed their families), compared to teachers
and counsellors (Smyth and Banks, 2012; Thompson, 2019).
Schools play an integral part in the decision-making process in relation to curriculum
options, careers, or further study. It is suggested that schools serving low socio-
economic status (SES) areas provide a very different IAG service than those operating
in more affluent areas and are more geared to courses perceived as lower status,
reflecting and reinforcing the academic/vocational divide. Limited social and cultural
capital (with respect to educational choices) means that children and families from low
SES backgrounds rely more strongly on school-based IAG, yet “there are
characteristics of individual schools, whether organisational, structural or cultural, that
promote or dampen young people’s aspirations to continue their education or formal
training” (Foskett et al., 2008 :38).
Teachers and guidance professionals
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The knowledge of teachers and the role of guidance professionals are important. They
can play a critical role in supporting young people from families with little or no
background or tradition of post-16 education. “Teachers responsible for HE
admissions emerge as significant factors in this landscape… the agency of individual
teachers is an important factor in creating the right conditions for students”, holding
“unique positions of influence” (Oliver and Kettley, 2010 :750). However the low
expectations of students by some teaching staff can lead to these students being
channelled into courses seen as lower status, reinforcing stereotypes and social
reproduction. Compounding these issues is the reliability of IAG, with some students
being inadequately informed of opportunities available (Haynes, 2013).
Students create a powerful and self-fulfilling sense of their own abilities by observing
the differential teacher treatment accorded to young people perceived as high and low
achievers. They revise their expectations of their own potential and their sense of
fulfilment at their achievements and perform according to these perceived
expectations (Brattesani et al., 1984; Schunk et al., 2008; Timmermans, de Boer &
van der Werf, 2016). Some studies have suggested teachers demand “better
performance from those children for whom they had higher expectations and were
more likely to praise such performance when it was elicited” (Brophy & Good, 1970
:365; cited in Entwisle, 2018; Schenke et al., 2018). In contrast teachers allowed
students for whom they held low expectations to perform poorly without comment or
support, offering less praise for good performance, despite its lower occurrence rate.
These findings are indicative of “the behavioural mechanisms involved when teacher
expectations function as self-fulfilling prophecies (Brophy & Good, 1970 :365, cited in
Urhahne, 2015).
Marsh & Parker (1984) observed that students in low-SES/low-ability schools had
higher self-concepts than those in high-SES/high-ability schools; duplicating the
findings of Soares & Soares (1971) & Trowbridge (1972). Secondly, students who
attend a high-SES school demonstrated a somewhat higher level of academic ability
and achievement but a concomitant poorer academic self-concept when contrasted
with their peers attending low-SES schools. Student self-perception therefore can be
significant when considering the suitability of advice about trajectories to HE.
Universities
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Higher education institutions (HEIs) also play a role in supplying information, advice
and guidance to inform decision-making processes (see Diamond et al., 2014). These
include employment prospects, bursaries, course content and aspects of student life.
However, clarification in the use of “technical language” relating to HE is needed as
this can be a barrier to understanding (Oakleigh Consulting and Staffordshire
University 2010 :75). Mentoring systems help promote and encourage enrichment,
especially where there is the risk of a deficit in support (Rogers, 2009). One evaluation
suggested that outreach activities improved confidence, social skills and knowledge
(Aimhigher West Midlands, 2017). Mentors help dispel ‘myths’ and demonstrate
opportunities, “removing the fear of the unknown by familiarising learners; encouraging
confidence and self-belief. Talking to undergraduates was a critical part of the process”
(Passy and Morris, 2010 :46). However, an over-inflated or under-estimated
impression of one’s own capacity can lead to inaccurate decisions about choice of
university and course: “The challenge… is how to communicate with prospective
students who think they already know enough?” (Brennan, 2001 :222-223). Providers
of information about HE need to “engage not only with prospective students, but also
with those who shape their understandings and expectations” (Diamond et al., 2014
:5-6).
Interventions and decision-making
Thornton et al. (2014) observed high levels of commitment from schools and colleges,
concluding that best practice should include an institution-wide culture of raising
aspirations. This includes universal and targeted approaches, specialist and
knowledgeable staff with respect to careers and access to HE, early interventions from
Key Stage 3 (Years 7-9), and advice and support on applications. Bowes et al.’s report
provides a set of wide-ranging conclusions relating to raising aspiration and
addressing barriers. For example, a series of “age-and stage-appropriate
interventions” including early engagement with young people, effective IAG, informing
parents of pathways, careers advice about the labour market etc. (Bowes et al., 2015
:89-93). However, the authors remind us of what others have reiterated: that decision-
making is mediated through a complex composite of social, cultural, economic,
personal, peer group, family and institutional habitus, from which it is difficult to identify
one significant factor (Bowes et al., 2015). This reflects the “socially embedded nature
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of decision-making” patterned by gender, ethnicity and class mediated through
different dispositions towards HE (Brooks, 2002). One needs to acknowledge the:
“….complex and sophisticated nature of individual and familial decision-
making.… (causing) many state school students experienced a distance
between the home and school that rendered choice making more
problematic.… Working-class students were driven by necessity which
made certain choices unthinkable for them (Reay et al., 2005 :161).
Other studies (Thompson, 2019) point to the ambiguities and uncertainty for students
in their career aspirations and choice of HE, calling for clearer information, advice and
guidance; and more scaffolding to support families in their decision-making processes.
Combined with some students not feeling they have sufficient information, this places
even greater importance on how schools, universities and professionals shape
expectations, in terms of progression to university (Thomas, 2011). There is a need
for providers of information about HE to engage not only with prospective students,
but also with those who shape their understandings and expectations, or even those
who make the decisions on their behalf”. A reflective approach to providing IAG,
encouraging students to reflect on their preferences and reasons for their choice-
making is recommended (Diamond et al., 2014 :5).
Methodology
The present study aimed to investigate whether secondary students, attending Explore
University activities, aspired to attend Higher Education. There were three main
objectives. Firstly, the study sought to identify shared perspectives towards applying
to university. Secondly, it aimed to evaluate if Explore University had influenced or
supported participant’s perspectives and finally, it sought to investigate and analyse
expectations and strength of commitment to apply to university.
The use of Q-methodology
The intepretivist focus of the study was on the participants’ positions, acknowledging
that these positions and one’s actions can alter over time and can be dependent on
situational circumstances. Findings can then be compared and contrasted between
different periods of time or between different places (Cohen et al., 2011). To identify
shared perspectives, this study used Q-methodology. Q-methodology is not ordinarily
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used as an evaluation tool, however the research team felt that this approach could
find communalities in participants’ perspectives that may not have been apparent if
traditional data collection methods had been used. Q-methodology provides a means
of gathering quantifiable data from highly subjective viewpoints (Brown, 1997). It
investigates the complexity in different participant’s positions on a given subject where
differences of opinion are expected (Combes, et al., 2004). In doing so, it is a useful
tool for exploring opinions, perspectives and attitudes, without directly requiring
participants to expressly state (or even understand) their overall position on a topic”
(Rhoades and Brown, 2019 :88). It involves participants sorting a set of statements
onto a distribution grid, shaped as a reversed pyramid. Participants sort these cards
based on whether they agree or disagree with each statement. This process
encourages serious thought about every choice and requires the review of previous
choices until they are satisfied that their rankings truly represent how they feel at that
time. There is no right or wrong response in the card sort (Brown, 1991/1992).
Developing the set of statements
The set of statements covered differing perspectives on the participant’s perception of
themselves as learners, perceptions of support groups, such as family and friends and
differing views on aspiring to Higher Education. The statements were derived by the
research team (based on the teams experience and relevant literature) and piloted by
young people that had experienced Explore University activities before main data
collection. Examples of statements included: I can’t wait to start uni; I was surprised
that people think I could go to uni; my family really wants me to go to uni and; the
teachers think highly of me at my school. There were also five statements that
specifically mentioned Explore University. They were as follows:
I am much more positive about uni than I was before the Explore University
programme
I have found the Explore University taster sessions helpful in deciding about
uni
I would have gone to uni regardless of the Explore University programme
The Explore University programme has encouraged me to consider uni
I would never have thought about uni if it was not for Explore University
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These were included to evaluate whether the Explore University activities were
beneficial for the participants and how important they were in relation to the other
general statements on aspiring to Higher Education. We were aware that this measure
may only represent short-term impact of the programme for these participants. As
detailed earlier their positions could later alter and/or be influenced by for instance the
perspectives, opinions and actions of others and their academic achievements at the
age of 18.
The distribution had a 7 point scale from -3 (strongly disagree) to +3 (strongly agree)
and had 36 statements in total. Table 1 shows an example of one of the completed
Q-sorts, showing the distribution grid and statements used.
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Table 1
The sample size
In 2016-2017, 46 secondary school students (aged 14-16 years) sorted the statements
onto the online distribution grid. Q is well known for its facility to render large amounts
of quantitative and qualitative material from very small numbers of participants (Watts
and Stenner, 2005). In fact, it is possible to conduct a Q study on one participant’s
perspectives on any given subject. Having fewer participants in a Q study means that
each individual Q-sort forms a greater proportion of each factor produced and will
provide more detail on each individual participant’s perspective (Watts and Stenner,
2012).
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Ethical consideration that influenced the research design
The research team was aware that attending university may have been a sensitive
subject to verbally discuss with the participants, depending on the participant’s
perspectives and those of their families. It was important that participants had the
ability to disclose their perspectives honestly and retain anonymity even from the
researchers and co-ordinators of the Explore University programme. As such, a web-
based Q-sort programme was created and commissioned by a colleague from the
University of Wolverhampton for this study that enabled participants to sort the cards
online. The programme was specifically designed for young people to use with
minimal assistance. All participants were informed that their participation was
voluntary, and that they could withdraw from the research at any time.
The use of factor analysis
Q data is analysed collectively to produce consensus viewpoints, which have statistical
significance (Brown, 1993). These consensus viewpoints are known as ‘factors’ in the
analysis. Q data is usually analysed using specific factor-analysis software and in this
study PQ method was used to input the data and produce the factors. It is possible
to analyse the data manually, however this can be a lengthy and error-prone process
(Rhoades and Brown, 2019). In this study, the researchers used centroid analysis to
extract the factors in PQ method for varimax rotation. This meant that the researchers
used the Q software to run the factor analysis process, rather than choosing to
manually extract and/or rotate the factors. The study retained factors that had an
eigenvalue (strength of that factor in relation to others) of 1.00 or higher. The data
generated four factors that were kept for interpretive analysis and are detailed in this
paper.
Research implications
Access to participants was a particular difficulty for this study. This was because the
Q-sort required online access and this meant that there was a limit to how many
participants were able to complete the card sort at the same time. There were also
Explore University activities that were not in suitable environments to attempt to carry
out this form of data collection. However, using distribution boards instead of the web-
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based distribution grid would have still posed logistical difficulties including space to
complete the card sort. The study would have also benefited from the use of traditional
data collection methods, such as interviews, alongside the use of Q. However, access
at events in various locations posed a significant difficulty to practically carrying this
out. It was decided by the research team that the use of a web-based Q-sort meant
that the co-ordinators of Explore University could carry out the data collection at these
various locations and events.
This paper focuses on the study’s findings that were not expected during the
evaluation of the Explore University programme. We decided to focus on these
findings as they contribute to existing knowledge. These findings were associated
with young people’s self-perception as learners and the influence these perceptions
had on their strength of commitment to attend university.
Findings
The study retained four factors that had an eigenvalue of 1.00 or higher. Each factor
was given a descriptor that attempted to capture the essence of the collective
standpoint. These descriptors are as follows:
Factor one: ‘I have a positive perspective of myself as a secondary learner. I believe
higher education is for me’.
Factor two: ‘I think of myself positively as a secondary learner, but I do not see myself
becoming a HE learner’.
Factor three: ‘I do not positively reflect on myself as a learner. I am a bit nervous
about attending university, but I would like to give it a go’.
Factor four: ‘I believe that I am a good secondary learner and I would like to attend
university. I am however worried if I will cope at university’.
In the interpretation of these factors each Q-sort statement was given a number and
can appear in any factor. Where it appears in a particular factor, its strength of
agreement or disagreement is also numbered within brackets, for example: Factor
one, (6: +3) would refer to the position of statement 6 ‘I can’t wait to start uni’ in the
strongest positive position in Factor one. Alternatively, Factor two (6: -3) would indicate
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that the same statement was placed in the strongest negative position in that particular
factor.
The factor analysis process generated 4 strong factors (with greater than 1.00
eigenvalue) that account for 41 of the 46 participants. Table 2 details the factor Q-sort
values, showing the differences in how each of the factors placed or valued each of
the statements.
Factor Q-Sort Values for Each Statement
Factor Arrays
Statement
No.
1
2
3
4
I am much more positive about uni than I was before the ExploreUni
programme
1
-1
0
3
0
I would like to go to uni, but stay close to my home
2
-2
-3
-2
-1
I would definitely still keep in touch with all my friends if I went to uni
3
1
0
2
0
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I would feel better about myself if I went to uni
4
0
0
-1
0
I have found the Explore University taster sessions helpful
5
-1
0
1
1
I can’t wait to start uni
6
1
-2
-1
0
University is good for lots of people, but not in my case
7
-3
2
-2
-2
The amount of support available in uni sounds great
8
0
2
1
0
I would have gone to uni regardless of the ExploreUni programme
9
1
-2
0
-2
My family really wants me to go to uni
10
1
-2
1
0
My family would be really proud if I went to uni
11
1
-1
1
1
I could easily cope with going to uni
12
0
1
-1
-2
Uni seems a more friendly place than I used to think
13
0
0
0
1
I was surprised that people think I could go to uni
14
-2
-2
-1
-2
Uni seems a good idea for me
15
2
-1
1
1
Most of my friends will go to uni
16
0
0
0
-2
I think I will fit right into uni
17
1
1
0
-1
If I went to uni I would not be worried about keeping up with the work
18
-2
-1
-2
0
Being at uni would be just like being at school
19
-2
-1
-3
-1
I like school a lot
20
-1
-1
-3
1
Uni is nothing like school
21
0
-1
2
-3
I’d make lots of new friends at uni
22
0
3
2
0
I’d get a good job by going through uni
23
3
1
2
3
I would be just as clever as the other students at uni
24
-1
0
-2
-1
I am pretty good at my school work
25
2
2
-1
2
The teachers think highly of me at my school
26
2
1
0
2
I would not find uni too big for me
27
2
1
-1
-1
There are more choices to study what I want at uni than at school
28
2
3
3
3
I always knew what job I wanted
29
0
1
-2
-3
I have changed my mind about my future
30
-1
-3
0
-1
The Explore University programme has encouraged me to consider uni
31
-2
2
0
2
I would never have thought about uni if it was not for ExploreUni
32
-3
0
-1
1
I want to know more about uni before I make my mind up
33
-1
2
0
2
I have learned lots about uni that I never imagined
34
-1
1
1
2
Uni seems like the best option for me now
35
3
-2
1
-1
Even though I am a bit nervous, I am looking forward to going to uni
36
1
-1
2
1
Table 2
Factor one entitled ‘I have a positive perspective of myself as a secondary
learner. I believe higher education is for me’
The amount of variance accounted for was 22 percent and its eigenvalue was 10.1905,
which is ten times the value needed to be a significant factor. In total 15 students held
these communalities in their positions.
Educationalfutures Williams-Brown, Rhoades, Smith and Thompson
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e-journal of the British Education Studies Association 47
ISSN: 1758-2199
Analysis of factor one:
Students in this factor held a positive perspective of themselves as secondary
learners. They believed that teachers thought highly of them at school (26:+2) and
they thought that they were pretty good at school work (25:+2). This confidence was
also apparent in their aspirations to attend higher education. These students were not
surprised that people thought they could go to university and they did not think
university is too big for them (14-2; 27; +2). They also did not think university will make
them feel better about themselves (4; 0) and they wanted to experience university
away from home (2; -2).
These students clearly differentiated their school experiences from their ideas about
university (19:-2). They believed that university would provide them with more choices
to study subjects they were interested in (28:+2). They strongly agreed that university
was the right option for them. They did this by placing three statements related to their
desire to attend university in the most extreme columns of the distribution grid. This
included university being the best option and a good idea for them (35:+3; 15:+2), and
they disagreed with university being good for lots of people, but themselves (7:-3).
These students believed that university would provide good job prospects for them
(23:+3).
However, these students did state that they would be worried about keeping up with
university work (18; -2). They did not believe that they would fit right into university
(17; +1) and did not believe that they would be as clever as other students at university
(24; -1).
Factor two entitled ‘I think of myself positively as a secondary learner, but I do
not see myself becoming a HE learner’
The amount of variance accounted for was 10 percent and its eigenvalue is 4.699,
which is over four times the value needed to be a significant factor. In total 7 students
held these communalities in their positions.
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Analysis of factor two:
In comparison to factor one, these students held positive perspectives of themselves
as secondary learners. They believed that they are pretty good at school work (25:+2)
and they were not surprised that people thought that they could go to university (14:-
2). However, they were less convinced than factor one that their teachers thought
highly of them (26; +1).
In contrast to factor one these students did not believe that university at present is the
best option for them (35:-2) and they had not changed their mind about their future
(30:-3). Understandably, they disagreed with statements that discussed being excited
and having a desire to attend university (2:-3; 6:-2). They believed that university is
good for lots of people, but not in their case (7:+2). These students identified some
benefits of attending university. They stated that there are more choices at university
to study what they are interested in (28:+3), they would make new friends (22:+3) and
the amount of support available sounds great (8:+2). Importantly, they need to know
more about university before they make up their mind (33:+2).
Understandably these students placed a lot of statements about themselves as HE
learners in the more neutral columns of the distribution grid. These included believing
that they could easily cope going to university (12; +1), they would be just as clever as
the other students at university (24; 0), they would fit right into university (17; +1), they
would not find university too big for them (27; +1) and they would not be worried about
keeping up with the work (18; -1).
Factor three entitled ‘I do not positively reflect on myself as a learner. I am a bit
nervous about attending university, but I would like to give it a go’
The amount of variance accounted for was 6 percent and its eigenvalue was 2.5311,
which is over two times the value needed to be a significant factor. In total 12 students
held these communalities in their positions.
Analysis of factor three:
In contrast to factors one and two, these students did not hold a strong perspective of
themselves as secondary learners. They did not like school (20:-3) and they placed
statements about themselves as secondary learners in the more neutral columns of
the distribution grid. For instance, they did not agree that they are good at their
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schoolwork (25; -1) and they did not believe teachers thought highly of them at school
(26; 0).
Similarly to factor one, these students clearly differentiated the experiences of being
at school and university (19:-3). They believed that university is nothing like school
(21:+2). These students believed that university is good for lots of people, including
themselves (7:-2). They had not always known what job they wanted to do (29:-2).
However, even though they were a bit nervous, they were looking forward to going to
university (36:+2).
These students highlighted some of the benefits of attending university that focused
on attendance and future job prospects. They wanted to move away from home to
attend university (2:-2), there were more choices to study what they’re interested in
(28:+3) and they believed that they will get a good job by attending university (23:+2).
Friendships were important to these students. They wanted to keep in touch with all
of their friends (3:+2) and they believed that they will make lots of new friends at
university (22:+2). These students did seem to negatively differentiate themselves to
their future HE peers. They did not believe they would be just as clever as the other
students at university (24; -2). Interestingly, most of the statements that would identify
a positive HE identity were placed in the neutral columns of the distribution grid. These
included I could easily cope with going to uni (12; -1), I think I will fit right into uni (17;
0), I can’t wait to attend uni (6; -1) and I would not find uni too big for me (27; -1)
Factor four entitled ‘I believe that I am a good secondary learner and I would like
to attend university. I am however worried if I will cope at university’.
The amount of variance accounted for was 5 percent and its eigenvalue was 2.4812,
which is over two times the value needed to be a significant factor. In total 7 students
held these communalities in their positions.
Analysis of factor four:
In comparison to factors one and two, these students also held good perspectives of
themselves as secondary learners at school. They believed that they were pretty good
at school work (25:+2) and believed that teachers thought highly of them (26:+2). They
were also not surprised that people thought that they would attend university (14:-2).
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However, in contrast to the other factors this group believed that university and schools
are alike (21; -3). These students have not always known what job they would like do
(29:-3) but they disagreed that university is good for lots of people, but is not right for
them (7:-2). For these students, the benefits of attending university included having
more choices to study what they want (28:+3) and getting a good job (23:+3).
However, in comparison to factor two these students wanted to know more about
university before they make up their minds (33:+2).
Friendships were also important to this group. They state that many of their friends
would not be attending university (16:-2). This differentiation included a perceived lack
of existing friendship support at university, which may be why these students thought
they could not easily cope with going to university (12:-2). In comparison to factor
three, these students placed positive HE statements in the more neutral columns of
the distribution grid. These included I can’t wait to start uni (6; 0), I will fit right into uni
(17; -1), if I went to uni I would not be worried about keeping up with my work (18; 0),
I would be just as clever as the other students at uni (24; -1) and I would not find uni
too big for me (27; -1).
Overall analysis
Students across these differing factors understandably held a variety of perspectives
on the extent university was right for them. Interestingly, none of these students were
heavily influenced by the perspectives of their family or friends. Three statements
relating to family and friends perspectives were mostly placed in the neutral (middle)
columns of the distribution grid. The table below represents these identified
statements and the Q-sort value placed on these statements for each factor.
F1
F2
F3
F4
1
-2
1
0
1
-1
1
1
0
0
0
-2
Table 3
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Instead students were influenced more by their perspectives of themselves as
learners. Factor one students had the strongest positive perspectives of themselves
as learners. They were the only group to be able to effectively transfer their positive
perspectives into their future university selves in a confident manner. Factor two
students held some positive perspectives of themselves as learners, but they were
mostly focused on themselves as secondary students. They did not consider
themselves as future university students, because they hadn’t decided whether this
was the right option for them.
In contrast, factor three students were the only group to not state a good perspective
of themselves as students in school. They instead could see themselves as university
learners, considering themselves in relation to university peers and were nervous
about attending university. Finally, factor four students held similar positive
perspectives of themselves as school learners to factor two. However, they had
considered themselves as university learners but had not transferred their positive
perspectives from school to university. Instead, factor four students indicated strongly
there were differences between school and university and were concerned that they
may not cope in a university environment.
Discussion and concluding statements
A substantial proportion of the young people in our sample had already made up their
minds that they will apply to university without too much agonising, and fully expect
that they will be successful there, both socially and academically (Factor One, Factor
Two). Some would benefit from more information on the different types of courses
available at different universities, rather than whether to apply at all. In marketing
terms, they could be described as secure customers, and only need signposting to the
appropriate information at the right time points.
A smaller proportion of the young people that wanted to go to university intended to
apply and were aware that others had belief in them but failed to share that belief in
themselves (Factor Three). For this group, schools, colleges and universities would
be advised to offer targeted support and confidence building, perhaps by
demonstrating the learners’ strengths against the norms of university achievement.
This could be facilitated by mentors and role models; here the work of Aimhigher and
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Explore University, for example, would seem particularly appropriate (Aimhigher West
Midlands, 2017; Passy and Morris, 2010).
Another group (Factor Four) had a different reservation: their social ties with peers
who were not planning on applying to university. For these young people, there are
some very intricate and complex identity issues to resolve before they would be more
comfortable in applying to university. Their view on what is important to them may be
the antithesis of anyone promoting progression to higher education, and may perhaps
appear to be parochial. However, the importance of current friendships and community
links should not be dismissed lightly, compared to the experience of university
education, particularly if those students may also be considering developing vocational
careers within their communities as an alternative to attending university.
This is a larger philosophical question than simply a practical one; it has moral and
ethical dimensions. Prospective students once regarded as “non-traditional” have
weaker networks and potentially lower financial or cultural capital, but this deficit may
well be offset by a closer attachment to existing community, or stronger friendship and
kinship networks. A weakening or removal of these links that may result from going to
university might only serve to exacerbate feelings of alienation and isolation (see
Reay, David, & Ball, 2005).
Given the strong financial imperative that drives HEI recruitment and marketing, and
the fact that places must be filled from increasingly hard-to-reach reserves of potential
applicants, external pressures on young people to choose university are unlikely to
abate in the near future. However, education and training needs to be diverse in its
provision in ways that support young people not wishing to go to university. Modern
apprenticeships may provide the answer in time, but have also been criticised, with
concerns over low wages and short, inconsistent training programmes being identified
as issues with some apprenticeships (Hogarth & Hasluck, 2003). Further investigation
into this aspect of widening participation needs to be undertaken.
Some young people (Factor One) held very positive impressions of themselves as
learners but were worried about fitting in at University and keeping up with other
students. And yet there were others (Factor Two) who clearly felt confident that they
would cope and they consider themselves to be just as clever as other students, but
do not automatically believe University is their best option and need to know more. In
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comparison there are those (Factor Three) that appear nervous, feel they are not good
at school and are not as clever, yet they are looking forward to going to University and
making friends. Paradoxically some students (Factor Four) also want to go to
University but want to know more about University but are unsure of making new
friends and express a rather neutral response to positive statements relating to higher
education. Whilst this research did not focus on socio-economic factors, there are
echoes of Marsh and Parker’s (1984) findings here on self-concept, in that we see
very positive learners that are worried about fitting in and keeping up at University,
whilst others feel less confident and may not even be considering Higher Education,
yet they feel more confident of making friends and that they could easily cope. Our
findings also reflect Brooks’ emphasis (2004) on the importance of peer relationships
and friendship groups.
The findings represent a complex collection of young people’s experiences and
thoughts that future HE recruitment strategies and schools providing IAG on
progression may wish to consider. Our participants may not encapsulate the full range
of perspectives held in the entire population, but they do offer a wide range of nuanced
views that highlight the very diverse ways in which young people see themselves as
they arrive at a crossroads in their education. However, it is reasonable to conclude
that homogenous and clearly defined categories of student types do not exist and
there are overlaps but also contradictions in the findings that serve as a caveat to
attempts to provide a generic one-size-fits-all solution. This resonates with Diamond
et al (2014), who call for more engagement with prospective students and a greater
understanding of how their views are shaped. The evidence also correlates with
Bowes et al (2015) who suggest young people need to be supported with effective IAG
in order to support their choices. It has already been noted that teachers play a critical
role in influencing expectations and self-perceptions as learners and achievers, but
additionally a complex web of peer and familial decision-making is at play, mediated
through gender, ethnicity and class, for example (Brooks, 2002). Whilst these different
influences have been highlighted to a lesser or greater degree by different studies,
peer relationships and making friends are factors in this study. Given that some studies
point to students taking responsibility in making decisions in light of a lack of familial
cultural capital, building self-efficacy (Bandura, 1982) in the decision-making process
may also have a role to play for some students lacking confidence. Correspondingly
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over-confidence may need to be tempered with accurate IAG for students to make
realistic plans.
Providers of IAG may wish to consider how to differentiate between some of the groups
this study has identified. A short questionnaire, for example may allow for easy
identification of those students who know they want to go to university (Factor One)
from those who are interested but much less confident in their abilities (Factor Three),
which would allow for appropriate signposting for the first group and confidence
building activities for the second group.
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Using the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE), this study examines how different combinations of aspirations, expectations and school achievement can influence students’ future educational behaviour (applying to university at the age of 17–18). The study shows that students with either high aspirations or high expectations have higher school achievement than those with both low aspirations and low expectations. Furthermore, complete alignment between high aspirations, high expectations and high achievement is the most important predictor of future educational behaviour among students. However, it is also found that low expectations do not negatively impact students’ future behaviour when they have high aspirations accompanied with high school achievement. Additionally, the study finds significant ethnic differences in favour of white students at GCSE level, but that these differences are reversed in relation to applying to university at the age of 17–18.
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The provision of Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) for school pupils considering their next move after compulsory schooling is of great importance to them and their families. This study focused on three schools in a region in England that has suffered economic deprivation and low educational attainment. It sought to uncover how factors such as schools, teachers, friends and families, and the provision of IAG, impact on pupils’ ideas about careers and higher study. Several investigations have set out how this provision and subsequent choice of progression to higher education (HE) is mediated through a number of cultural, social, economic and institutional influences. This research followed a mixed-methods approach to data collection, incorporating both quantitative and qualitative data collection tools that provided elements of positivist and interpretivist paradigms. The results reveal a complex landscape, characterised by a limited understanding of progression to HE and a lack of clarity about options, but nevertheless, there are aspirations towards further study. The research has implications for IAG provision and has potential impact with respect to the need for a more consistent approach.
Book
Educational sociologists have paid relatively little attention to children in middle childhood (ages 6 to 12), whereas developmental psychologists have emphasized factors internal to the child much more than the social contexts in explaining children’s development. Children, Schools, and Inequality redresses that imbalance. It examines elementary school outcomes (e.g., test scores, grades, retention rates) in light of the socioeconomic variation in schools and neighborhoods, the organizational patterns across elementary schools, and the ways in which family structure intersects with children’s school performance. Adding data from the Baltimore Beginning School Study to information culled from the fields of sociology, child development, and education, this book suggests why the gap between the school achievement of poor children and those who are better off has been so difficult to close. Doris Enwistle, Karl Alexander, and Linda Olson show why the first-grade transition?how children negotiate entry into full-time schooling?is a crucial period. They also show that events over that time have repercussions that echo throughout children’s entire school careers. Currently the only study of this life transition to cover a comprehensive sample and to suggest straightforward remedies for urban schools, Children, Schools, and Inequality can inform educators, practitioners, and policymakers, as well as researchers in the sociology of education and child development.
Article
Student perceptions of the classroom environment are used as a policy-relevant marker of teacher quality. Yet the influences on students' perceptions are less well understood. We examined (a) whether individual-level factors (achievement goals, perceptions of their previous classroom, and teacher ratings of ability) were associated with students' perceptions of teacher emotional support, and (b) whether classroom observations of teacher unfairness/unfriendliness predicted systematic within-classroom variation in students' reports of emotional support. Multilevel analysis of 1303 students in 80 7th grade mathematics classrooms indicated that students' perceptions of their 6th grade teacher, mastery orientation, and the teacher's perceptions of ability predicted end-of-the-year perceptions of emotional support. Although the observed level of teacher unsupportiveness did not predict mean-level of emotional support, students' perceptions of their teachers were more variable in classrooms observed as higher in unfairness/unfriendliness. Investigating heteroskedasticity highlights the importance of using methods for understanding variability in students' perceptions of the classroom.
Article
The study examines whether teacher behavior is a mediator of the relationship between teacher judgment and students' motivation and emotion. Two hundred forty-six sixth grade students completed a standardized English test and answered a questionnaire on motivation, emotion, and perception of differential teacher behavior. Thirteen English teachers assessed students' test performance. Students underestimated in test performance showed lower motivation and emotion than students overestimated in test performance. The two student groups perceived differential teacher behavior. Teacher behavior mediated the relationship between performance judgments and students' motivation and emotion. A rethinking of teacher's behavior towards students might counter these undesirable tendencies.
Article
This paper explores the decision-making processes of young people aged 13–14 years in 30 consortia across England as they chose their options for Key Stage 4 at a time when a new qualification, the 14–19 Diploma, was being introduced. It draws on data collected as part of a longitudinal national study (January 2008–August 2011) of the introduction and implementation of the 14–19 Diplomas. Few studies of young people’s decision-making have considered in detail the role played by the careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) provided in schools. High quality, impartial school CEIAG provision has historically proved elusive, yet this is often the main source of information for young people and their parents. The introduction of the 14–19 Diploma provided a critical test of the quality of CEIAG in schools delivering that qualification for the first time from September 2008. Through a series of questionnaire surveys of Year 9 learners in 30 Diploma consortia and in-depth case studies in 15 consortia, we investigated young people’s decision-making in relation to this new qualification and examined how this was influenced by their school’s CEIAG. We found variations in the quality of school CEIAG about the Diploma qualification and, amongst some groups of students, a lack of knowledge and understanding of the Diploma programme of study, and the potential progression pathways. There was also evidence that inaccurate or incomplete CEIAG affected students’ levels of satisfaction with their Diploma course. Only 46% of 477 Diploma students surveyed towards the end of their course believed they had made the right choice in Year 9. Although the 14–19 Diploma has now largely been withdrawn, the findings of this study highlight the issues and challenges facing schools as they take over responsibility for the provision of CEIAG from local authorities in September 2012.