Mathematics students’ aspirations for higher education: class, ethnicity, gender and interpretative repertoire styles

This paper reports how students talk about their aspirations in regard to higher education (HE) and their mathematics, what ‘repertoires’ they use to mediate this discourse, and how students’ predominant ‘repertoire style’ relates to their cultural background. Our analyses draw on an interview sample (n=40) of students selected because they are ‘on the cusp’ of participation or non‐participation in mathematically demanding programmes in further and higher education. The interviews explored the students’ aspirations for their future in general and HE in particular, influences on these choices, and the place of mathematics in these. Thematic analysis revealed four interpretative repertoires commonly in use, which we call ‘becoming successful’, ‘personal satisfaction’, ‘vocational’, and ‘idealist’ repertoires. Most of the sample was found to use a single, predominant repertoire, which we call their repertoire ‘style’: what is more, this style is found to be strongly related to background factors independently obtained. The implications for policy and practice are discussed.