School Experience, Educational Aspirations and Scholastic Achievement

Principle Investigators:
Dr.Nabil Khattab
Prof. Muthanna Samara
Prof. Tariq Modood

Postdoctoral Research Fellows:
Dr. Aiman El Asam

Funding Organisation:
Qatar National Research Fund

Start-Finish date:
January 2017 - January 2020

What are Educational Expectations?

The ‘Wisconsin model of status achievement’ by Sewell, Hauser1 suggests that educational expectations of students are an important mediating factor between socio-economic status and the future attainment and status of children1,2. Some even perceive educational expectations as the most influential vessel for intergenerational transmission of social status, even more so than measurements of scholarly or cognitive ability3. The question of whether aspirations and expectations influence scholastic effort and performance and future educational and occupational attainment has remained central to many studies since the publication of the Wisconsin Model in 1968 and throughout the period up to present days

However, since the 1990s many studies have started questioning the role of aspirations and expectations as a vehicle for raising students’ school achievement. For example, Mickelson 4 and Sue and Okazaki 5 found that many students have educational aspirations that are unrelated to either their actual performance at school or their future occupational goals and objectives.

In the UK, the role of aspirations as an important factor to raise the achievement of students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, has been critically questioned by a number of recent studies, including a series of reports for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation 8-10. The general conclusion of these studies is that there is no evidence that changing (raising) aspirations can improve the academic achievement of these students, which is contrary to what policy makers have assumed11.

In Qatar, to the best of our knowledge, no studies have been conducted on educational aspirations and expectations or systematic studies on school achievement. Qatar has its own cultural norms that are different from Western practices in some aspects. These differences could also have an effect on the educational system and performance at school.

How does educational expectations and aspirations impact on development?

Educational aspirations and expectations are an integral part of the students’ current school and learning experience and their long term achievement in life. Helping students achieve what they aspire to improve employability and enhances the labor market. Also closing the divides within society and measuring for socioeconomic differences will also benefit students in the context of Qatar.

In the modern world, education has become the most important vehicle through which a person can integrate into the labor market and achieve social mobility. Thus, for many scholars, education is an investment, not only at the individual level, but also at the societal and national levels. Countries cannot maintain the functionality of their national labor markets and the smooth running of the different institutions without investing in their educational systems and without adequate educational outputs at the school level. While in many countries, educational outputs or school achievement is highly influenced by the socioeconomic background and the country GDP per capita, in some countries neither the socioeconomic background nor the GDP per capita could be used to predict students’ school performance due to a lack of relationship between these factors. One of these countries is Qatar. Despite being one of the world’s wealthiest countries per capita, there was no significant correlation between the wealth of the country and the school performance of Qatari students as demonstrated by the results of the Program for International Assessment (PISA). According to these results, students in Qatar have been ranked near the bottom of the scale by country, which raises some important questions. Why do students in Qatar not perform well in these international tests? What explains the general under-performance of students in Qatar? To what extent does their school achievement reflect a negative school engagement and experience? Can raising aspirations elevate school achievement amongst these students? Are class, gender and ethnicity important factors, as they are in England? This study will employ a longitudinal and comparative approach to study the relationship between school experiences, students’ aspirations and educational achievement.

What is the aim of the present study?

The study will investigate the development of aspirations over time and their relationship to school experience on the one hand and students’ educational performance on the other hand. Moreover, the study will examine the impact of family backgrounds, parents expectations and involvement, out-of-school and ex-curricular activities on the way students develop their aspirations and their future orientations including career aspirations and beyond. The study will utilize the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) and the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) for comparison purposes and in order to provide a broad context for the study of aspirations and achievement.

What does the study hope to achieve?

1. We will be able to create and make available for secondary analysis the first longitudinal study of young people in Qatar (LSYPQ);
2. We will be able to identify the main mechanisms through which educational achievement among Qatar pupils is determined;
3. This study will establish important evidence in relation to the growing gender differences between boy and girl Qatari citizens in terms of school performance, educational attainment and subsequently in employment. It will also help uncover how these students perceive the connections between merit and entitlement to the labor market.
4. The project is expected to enhance our understanding of the role of parents (their socio-economic background, ethnicity, migration status, their perceptions towards education and future expectations for their children) in affecting the academic achievement of pupils;
5. The results will enable us to disentangle the school effect on pupil’s achievement and estimate its importance;
6. We expect to uncover the importance of aspirations, expectations and effort in affecting pupil’s school performance and future educational attainment
7. The results will enable us to identify the impact of aligned and misaligned aspirations and expectations on academic performance;
8. We expect this study to help us identify stories of success (schools with high performance) and explore ways through which we can copy this success to other unfortunate places;
9. We will be able to point out the similarities and differences between pupils in Qatar and pupils in the UK;
10. The results will enable us to explore whether the different factors and influences on school achievement operate in the UK and in Qatar in similar ways;
11. At the theoretical level, we expect the results to enable us examine the utility and usefulness (the universality) of the new typology of aspirations, expectations, effort and achievement;
12. The study will review the existing educational policies in Qatar and the UK and compare them. The review will help the researchers to make the required recommendations based on this study.
13. The study results will help policy makers and practitioners in the field of education identify the effectiveness and outcomes of various policies;
14. We expect this study to enhance the research culture in Qatar by establishing a long-term collaboration between Qatar higher education institutions and universities in the UK, especially the University of Bristol which is one of the oldest and most prestigious higher education institutions in the UK.

  1. Sewell WH, Hauser RM. Education, Occupation, and Earnings. Achievement in the Early Career. 1975.

  2. Jencks C, Crouse J, Mueser P. The Wisconsin Model of Status Attainment: A National Replication with Improved Measures of Ability and Aspiration. Sociology of Education. 1983;56:3-19.

  3. Jencks C. Inequality: A reassessment of the effect of family and schooling in America. 1972.

  4. Mickelson R-A. The Attitude-Achievement Paradox among Black Adolescents. Sociology of Education. 1990;63(1):44-61.

  5. Sue S, Okazaki S. Asian-American Educational Achievements: A Phenomenon is Search for Explanation. American Psycholigist. 1990;45:913-920.

  6. Kao G, Tienda M. Educational Aspirations of Minority Youth. American Journal of Education. 1998;106(3):349-384.

  7. Hill NE, Torres K. Negotiating the American dream: The paradox of aspirations and achievement among Latino students and engagement between their families and schools. Journal of Social Issues. 2010;66(1):95-112.

  8. Carter-Wall C, Whitfield G. The role of aspirations, attitudes and behaviour in closing the educational attainment gap. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 2012.

  9. Cummings C, Laing K, Law J, McLaughlin J, Papps I, Todd L, Woolner P. Can changing aspirations and attitudes impact on educational attainment. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 2012.

  10. Gorard S, See BH, Davies P. The impact of attitudes and aspirations on educational attainment and participation 2012.

  11. St. Clair R, Kintrea K, Houston M. Silver bullet or red herring? New evidence on the place of aspirations in education. Oxford Review of Education. 2013;39(6):719-738.