PARENTS HAVE higher university aspirations for their daughters than for their sons, according to new research that maps a dramatic turnaround in the space of a generation.
The change poses an added challenge for teachers in helping boys through to higher education: they must combat not only boys' lower academic attainment but also deep-seated family attitudes.
A survey of 137,000 parents and 288,000 pupils at more than 500 secondary schools, conducted by the research firm Kirkland Rowell, found marked differences in aspirations for boys and girls.
Among parents, 66.7 per cent with daughters between 11 and 16 said it was important that their child went on to university, compared with just 61.5 per cent with sons. Girls were also more ambitious: more than four in five (79.9 per cent) said they would like to go to university, compared with three-quarters (75.2 per cent) of boys.
The figures, based on school evaluation forms, raise questions about why parents have differing hopes for sons and daughters. They may be responding to test scores in which girls are performing better from a young age, and adjusting expectations accordingly. But the findings may also recognise the influence of mothers who are anxious that their daughters gain the higher education that was not an option to previous generations of women.
At the same time, teachers and careers advisers say that boys are considering a broader range of options when they leave school, including apprenticeships and setting up their own businesses, following the example of high-profile entrepreneurs such as Sir Alan Sugar and Sir Richard Branson.
Mark Chaplin, managing director of Kirkland Rowell, described the findings as surprising: they indicated that girls' achievement was driven by their parents' ambitions for them from an early age.
Kate Myers, an expert in gender in the education faculty at Cambridge University, said: "The fact that the girls are getting positive feedback from their school teachers encourages them and their parents to think university is an option. Once parents wanted their daughters to find a husband who could support them; now they look to a university degree for that support."
Further reports, page 21