University of Leicester
2016GrantTAPhD.pdf (5.32 MB)

‘I’m excited but, I don’t want to be unrealistic’: The role of hope in shaping aspirations of working class young people in Leicester towards Higher Education

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posted on 2016-06-17, 09:50 authored by Thomas Andrew Grant
This study questions how young people hope, aspire and plan towards the future, with a particular emphasis on their perceptions and attitudes towards attending university. Higher Education (HE) has become a mainstream part of transitioning towards adulthood for many young people in the UK; however there remains a political concern that participation rates are unevenly distributed across the country. Widening Participation attempts to redress this inequality amongst those from underrepresented groups. This study therefore illuminates what influences young people’s educational aspirations. Working with three secondary schools located in traditionally white working class areas of social housing in the city of Leicester, I used participatory and creative methods to investigate the educational aspirations of working class pupils. I contend that school expectations often differed greatly from the culture of the estate, where education was seldom valued. For some, there was evidence of a clear dissonance between their personal aspirations and those ‘high aspirations’ for educational success which their school promoted. However, the idea that an ‘estate culture’ exists was often challenged by other young people, many of whom did aspire to go to university. I found that this aspiration often clashed with family expectations. The process of (re)producing aspirations was often tangled, complex and confusing for young people as they negotiated feelings of close attachment to their neighbourhood, friends and family. This was also complicated by external expectations from schools to ‘raise their aspirations’ by becoming more mobile and successful (middle class) individuals. My original contribution to knowledge is to empirically test Webb’s (2007) hope theory to illuminate how young people use hope when setting aspirations for the future. I question how the conscious act of setting goals as an aspiration, interrelates with the subconscious and embedded understanding of young people’s own class identities (habitus).



Brown, Gavin; Williams, John

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of Geography

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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