Parents who take an interest in schoolwork can have a greater effect on pupils' ambitions than class background.
It is commonly assumed that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds do not aspire to high-prestige or well-paid jobs because they believe these are not available to them. But Carol Fuller, of Reading University, interviewed 60 pupils at a girls' comprehensive in a severely disadvantaged area. The school went into special measures shortly after interviews were conducted. She found many girls believed educational success depended purely on hard work.
Stephanie, a Year 10 pupil, said: "School is fair. What you achieve is the result of your own effort."
Many also saw university education as a key to a better-paid future. In their eyes, greater earning potential equalled increased financial security and self-sufficiency.
Sophia, Stephanie's classmate, said: "It's important that I have a good job. I want to be able to look after myself." This was echoed by Emily, another Year 10 pupil: "Because my dad didn't go (to university) and he's having a hard time now work-wise, I want to make sure it doesn't happen to me."
Others felt a good job would provide the status they currently lack. Year 10 pupil Nasrat said: "I want one where people say . `You must be really clever to do that.'"
But Ms Fuller found that high-aspiring pupils shared more than a desire for status and financial security. Many had poorly educated parents who nonetheless valued education and encouraged their daughters to do well.
Others said that their parents were always willing to comment on their homework. Teenager Deborah said of her mother: "She is always interested and she will look at my work if I want her to."
Ms Fuller concludes that positive parental attitudes are more important in improving pupils' aspirations than practical help. "The view that the value families place on their children's education results from class dispositions is questionable," she said.
"A desire for your children to do well appears to transcend the boundaries of class."