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Study Notes

Fuller ‘Sociology, Gender and Educational Aspirations: Girls and Their Ambitions’, (2009)


Last updated 19 Aug 2020

This is an overview of this contemporary piece of sociological research and how it applies to A Level specifications.

Brief summary of research methods:

  • Conducted longitudinal research (spent over two years) at a single-sex girls’ state secondary school in the south-east of England.
  • High proportion of pupils were from minority-ethnic groups and the area of the town in which the school is was regarded by OFSTED as ‘an area of high social deprivation’.
  • The school had also been graded ‘Unsatisfactory’ by OFSTED.
  • Fuller used participant observation, focus groups, case studies and both structured and semi-structured interviews. She focussed on pupils in Year 10 and Year 12.
  • Participant observation was conducted in: Year 12 student common area, staff room, main areas of the school, e.g. during assemblies, lunchtimes, tutor group times

Key findings:

  • Fuller categorises the girls into three groups: Low aspirers, middle aspirers and high aspirers.
  • The low aspiring students were intending to leave school at 16 and did not place much value on education. They also had low self-esteem and lacked a clear direction for life after school.
  • The middle aspiring students intended to continue with vocational training at the end of their schooling but not higher education. They understand qualifications are necessary for job security but often determined their own paths based on what they saw others doing.
  • The high aspirers intended to go to university after school and tended to be in top sets and more confident in their own abilities. They had a strong sense of self and were able to strategically create a path for themselves to achieve their financial goals.
  • Fuller concluded that two key factors explained these differences in aspirations: the amount of emotional support provided by families and the girls’ perceptions of themselves and their self-confidence in school.

Link to specification:

Link to Education with Theory and Methods:

  • Highlights the way in which both internal and external factors play a part in the attainment of girls and their aspirations. Their achievement is a complex phenomenon and cannot be explained in terms of one factor but rather a combination of in-school and outside of school factors.
  • Highlights that material deprivation is not a determining factor when it comes to academic aspirations. The girls from this school were predominantly working-class and despite this, not all pupils perceived their socio-economic background as a barrier and continued to aim for higher education and universities.
  • Highlights the role of schools in providing appropriate guidance and direction for pupils as the girls who had negative perceptions of school were less likely to have these ideas challenged by careers guidance and advisors.
  • Emphasises the importance of positive role models both inside and outside of school, not just meetings with the careers advisor. Exposing low aspiring girls to positive females may provide insight into alternative options after their education.

Link to Families and Households:

  • Low aspiring girls were more likely to favour traditional gender roles and motherhood as an alternative source of status. This can be linked to our understanding of the importance of family and mothers amongst the working class and that it is a role that girls aspire towards.

Link to further reading: Review of original article:

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