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Parental expectations set teen ambition levels
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11 Jun 2020 / education Print

Parental expectations set teen ambition levels

An ESRI study has found that having an educated mother is a significant determinant in the educational ambition of teenagers.

Young people hold higher expectations if they have mothers with a degree and where they have done well at primary school.

And settling in well to secondary school and developing good relationships with teachers is a key determining factor in setting high expectations, according to new ESRI research, based on Growing Up in Ireland data.


Positive interaction with teachers, being praised or given positive feedback, also drives higher teenage expectations. In tandem, those who have negative interactions with teachers hold lower expectations.

However, 13-year-olds also hold lower expectations than their parents about their educational career, though the majority of young people in Ireland now make the transition to higher education after leaving school.

After the transition to second-level education, only half of young people say they expect to go on to higher education.


In contrast, over three-quarters of their mothers expect them to go to university or an institute of technology.

Those with a special educational need have much lower expectations than their peers, even taking account of other factors. Parents of young people with a special educational need hold much lower expectations for their children than the 13-year-olds do for themselves.

Parents hold much higher expectations for their daughters than their sons, but all highly-educated parents expect the same for their children.

The research shows a very large gap in expectations between mothers with a post-graduate degree and those with a Junior Certificate or lower qualification.

Author Emer Smyth, who wrote Shaping Educational Expectations: The Perspectives of 13-year-olds and their Parents commented: “Young people at 13 are still settling into second-level education, and feel some self-doubt about how they’re doing as learners.

“It is important that they are given early access to guidance at school so that they don’t limit their future pathways by taking subjects or subject levels they later regret.

Insider knowledge

“This is especially important for young people whose family has less insider knowledge of the educational system

The article draws on information collected on Cohort ’98 (first surveyed at nine years of age) in wave two of the Growing Up in Ireland study, involving interviews with a total of 7,423 13-year-olds and their parents.

Gazette Desk
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