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ASPIRES Research

Longitudinal research project studying young people's science and career aspirations.

The ASPIRES research is currently in its third stage of funding, ASPIRES 3.

ASPIRES and ASPIRES 2 were first based at King's College London, moving to the UCL Institute of Education in March 2017 during ASPIRES 2. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

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In 2019, Professor Louise Archer and her team were awarded the ESRC Celebrating Impact Panel’s Choice prize for this research. 
Research aims

ASPIRES 3 aims to address the following questions, both generally and in relation to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM):

  1. How do 20 to 23 year olds make education and career choices, and how do they change, over time? 
  2. How do early aspirations and factors, at age 10 and 16, relate to later outcomes? 
  3. What factors relate most closely to different employment trajectories?
  4. How are aspirations and outcomes shaped by gender, class and ethnic identities?
  5. Who participates in formal and informal STEM learning at age 20-23, in what way, and what influences these patterns?

We will actively share our findings with a range of different audiences. Specifically policymakers, teachers and educators, STEM engagement professionals, students, and parents/families.

You can see the research aims and outcomes for ASPIRES and ASPIRES 2 in our project summary reports, listed below.

Background

Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is an international priority for government, industry and the science education policy and practice community. There is widespread concern that participation in STEM needs to be improved for reasons of both national economic competitiveness and social equity.

The first phase of the ASPIRES study tracked the development of young people's science and career aspirations from age 10 to 14 (from 2009 to 2013). 

ASPIRES 2 continued to track young people until age 19, to understand the changing influences of the family, school, careers education and social identities and inequalities on young people's science and career aspirations. 

The third stage of the research, ASPIRES 3, will continue to track the young people as they move into adulthood and employment, from age 20 to 23. 

Phase one: ASPIRES 

The first ASPIRES study tracked the development of young people's science and career aspirations from age 10 to 14 (from 2009-2013).

We found that most young people, from primary through to secondary school, find school science interesting. However, interest in science does not translate into post-16 participation and careers - with only 15% of 10 to 14 year-olds interested in becoming a scientist.

Full findings:

Phase two: ASPIRES 2 

ASPIRES 2 continued to track young people until age 19 to understand the changing influences of the family, school, careers education and social identities and inequalities on young people's science and career aspirations. 

Crucially, this research related these aspirations to students' attainment in national examinations and their post-16 and post-18 choices. This tracking of young people's aspirations and educational outcomes until age 19 comprises a crucial link in our longitudinal study, and has had a strong bearing on educational policy and practice.

Full findings:

Phase three: ASPIRES 3

Building on our previous research, we are continuing to track our young people in order to understand the changing influences of the family, school, careers education and social identities and inequalities on young people's science and career aspirations.  

Methodology

The ASPIRES research has created a unique dataset, which tracks the development of young people's science and career aspirations from age 10 to 23. The project follows the same cohort of students from our first study.

Quantitative and qualitative data

The study uses both quantitative and qualitative data, which includes:

  • Large-scale student surveys collecting data from a nationally representative sample of students (c. 7,000-14,000)

    We have gathered data from our cohort of students in Year 6, Year 8, Year 9, Year 11 and Year 13 via surveys. Our two most recent surveys, from when the students were in Year 11 and Year 13. The Year 11 survey was distributed online from September to December 2014, administered by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER). It was completed by over 13,445 students recruited from 340 secondary schools in England (296 state schools and 44 independent). Our most recent survey took place whilst the student were in Year 13, and was live from October 2016 to February 2017. The survey, administered by EdComs, collected data from over 7,000 students studying in sixth forms and higher education institutions around the country' from students in Year 13 (age 17/18).

    We are currently planning to release the next survey to be distributed online to 21 and 22 year-olds later in 2020. 

  • Interviews with c.80 pupils and c.60 of their parents (all tracked from Years 6-13, age 10-19)

    ASPIRES 3 will interview our cohort of young people and their parents in Summer 2020 and Autumn 2020 respectively. These interviews will take at least an hour each and will be conducted by members of the research team. This will establish a qualitative data set which spans thirteen years of individuals’ aspirations, experiences and influences. 

All project data will be made available via the UK Data Service at the end of the project. For more information about our data or data storage policy please please email us at aspires@ucl.ac.uk

Findings

Over the duration of our research, we’ve made considerable discoveries relating to English young people’s views on science, STEM and careers. Our key findings are summarised here and full reports for each completed phase of the research are available for download:

Additionally, there are full lists of all the ASPIRES research policy reports and academic publications available. 

Students with low Science Capital are unlikely to see science as 'for me'

In the first phase of our project, we introduced the term Science Capital to refer to someone's science-related qualifications, understanding, knowledge (about science and 'how it works'), interest and social contacts (e.g. knowing someone who works in a science-related job).

You can find more information about Science Capital using the links below:

Enjoyment of science doesn't translate into science aspirations 

Students consistently agree that science is interesting, important and that scientist do valuable work across our study but this doesn’t translate into science career aspirations.  

Current careers education is patterned by existing social inequalities

The stratification of science at Key Stage 4 may be contributing to the STEM skills gap 

Girls pursuing the physical sciences post-16 are exceptional 

Read our blog posts summarising our findings on the subject of girls, or femininity, and science:

Young people’s career aspirations are relatively unchanged over time

Survey data from over 40,000 students aged 10-18 was used to produce this summary of young people’s career aspirations by age. It shows statistically consistent percentages of young people agreeing that they would consider a career in different industries at ages 10/11, 12/13, 13/14, 15/16, and 17/18. 

Graph showing comparison of students’ aspirations for careers in different industries at different ages, using data from the last ten years of our research.

Note: *The data from students aged 17/18 is weighted to national A Level science entries.

Read a text-only version of the infographic.

Team

ASPIRES team
  • Professor Louise Archer - Principal Investigator
  • Dr Morag Henderson - Co-investigator
  • Professor Becky Francis (Education Endowment Foundation) - Co-investigator
  • Dr Henriette Holmegaard (University of Copenhagen) - Co-investigator
  • Dr Julie Moote - Project Research Associate
  • Emma Watson – Project Administrations and Communications Officer
  • Emily MacLeod – Linked PhD student
Advisory group and collaborations

The ASPIRES research is informed by our Advisory Group. This group is formed of individuals from sectors we hope our research can impact such as education policy, schools and teaching, informal science learning, and STEM engagement.

The ASPIRES 3 project is also supported by a number of Impact Collaborations which aim to focus in on specific elements of our research. These collaborators include the Royal Society, Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics. 

Summary reports and books

Academic Papers

ASPIRES Blog

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