Blog by Jeremy Cripps

I’ve heard teachers complain, ‘the trouble with kids round here is they don’t have any aspirations.’ I’m never sure what they mean. Is it – ‘You can’t blame me for bad results it’s the kids, they don’t want to learn’; or – ‘These kids will never amount to anything – just look at their (unemployed) parents’; or – ‘These kids don’t aspire to the sorts of things that are important to me like going to university’? Whatever they mean there is a mismatch of expectations between teachers and children.

Occasionally you hear similar comments by (southern) politicians and commentators about the North: ‘Northern parents ought to be more like ‘Tiger Mothers’ and expect much more of their children’; ‘The trouble with Northern kids is they don’t want to get a university degree and get on in life.’

I’ve yet to come across a child or young person who doesn’t have thoughts about their future – to travel; work with animals; be a hairdresser; have a nice house and a family; learn circus skills; be on X-Factor; win the Lottery. Are teachers and the southern chattering classes saying these are incorrect aspirations? Who are they to judge which are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ dreams?

Teenagers are not stupid, they can see graduates – siblings, cousins, neighbours and friends working in shops or bars or not working at all, and realise a degree is not the guarantee of a good job. Parents worry about their children building up eye-watering debt paying for university. Young people experience their schools fixated on examination results but failing to help them move beyond school into work or training because careers guidance is no longer obligatory.

Parents’ ambitions for their children are usually straightforward but much longer term than school. When their children have grown they want them to have secure employment with a reasonable income so that they can support themselves and eventually support children of their own. Parents are happy to see their children move away as young adults but most hope they will return to live nearby when they settle down and start a family. Who better than parents know that everyone needs support from kin when they become parents? And parents look forward to becoming grandparents themselves. Academic qualifications are but one small step on that longer journey.

So let’s talk about aspirations, but life aspirations not just academic ones. We will quickly realise the issue is less the ambition of our children but the work opportunities available to them in the place where they live.