The position of children and young people (and the concepts of childhood and youth) have become increasingly politicised throughout the twentieth century; dominated by a ‘youth as risk’ discourse, there is increased public concern and political drive to protect children, prevent ‘problem youth’ and create a productive adult citizen for future society. To address this growing concern, recent UK education policy has been refocused to include ‘soft’ outcomes for educational success, in particular youth aspirations and their association with educational attainment and upward social mobility. Young people in the North East of England are said to have low educational and career aspirations which prevent them from fulfilling their potential. This qualitative research, conducted from 2006 to 2009, examines the influence of structural, contextual and individual factors upon the education and employment aspirations of six young women aged 10-14 in North East England. I examine ‘difference’ within the lived experiences these participants, consider its impact upon their aspirations for the future, and evaluate the role of young people as ‘agents of change’ with regards to their own lives. Methods of data collection included semi-structured interview, focus group, participatory diagramming, memory book, and participant-as researcher. The sample size supports a micro-level exploration of the participants’ lives, examining their developing aspirations in context and capturing the complex interrelatedness of agency, locality and social structures. My empirical data illustrates the complicated and multi faceted range of influencers interacting to shape young women’s aspirations. I argue that whilst social structures continue to have a powerful influence upon aspirations for education and employment, the interaction of a range of other factors makes understanding aspirations less predictable and offers a space for young women to shape their own transition from education to employment. In normalising particular classed notion of aspirations through education policy, I illustrate how social constructs of youth affect participants’ transitions through the provision of resources and guidance to realise aspirations. Whilst my data showed participants continued to aspire within traditional discourses of femininity, I argue young women can influence their own trajectory if exposed to an appropriate role model, relevant guidance, and an opportunity to develop reflexive skills within an environment which recognises their individual needs and context.
|Publication status||Accepted/In press - 24 May 2012|