The Beckhams are the celebrities most children aspire to be, as celebrity culture increases its influence, says ATL

14 March 2008

David and Victoria Beckham are the top two celebrities most pupils model themselves on according to teachers, says an Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) survey.

David Beckham came top of the rankings with 53% of teachers saying their pupils modelled themselves on the footballer. His wife, Victoria, came second according to 30% of respondents.

The Spice Girl is less popular among primary school children, where she fell into sixth place behind David Beckham, David Tennant, Frank Lampard, Daniel Radcliffe and Leona Lewis.

According to 60% of teachers, sports stars are the type of celebrity most pupils aspired to be with David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Lewis Hamilton scoring highly. The second most popular aspiration was to be a pop star (58%) - with the Sugababes and Leona Lewis viewed as role models. However, 37% of teachers said their pupils just wanted to be famous for being famous, and 32% of secondary teachers said pupils modelled themselves on heiress Paris Hilton.

A majority of teachers (70%) said that celebrity culture was having an impact over their pupils' aspirations for the future although 73% felt that this could have both a positive and negative impact.

Julie Gilligan from a primary school in Essex said: "The racism issue raised by celebrity Big Brother created a useful platform for class discussion. On the other hand, I have seen and heard negative emulation of celebrity footballer/pop star language and behaviour in the playground and in school - including disturbingly age-inappropriate 'acts' by young girls in school talent shows."

A secondary teacher from Colchester, Essex said: "I think it encourages underage drinking and anti-social behaviour and most of the media focuses on many of the celebs negative behaviours. Those celebs who are excellent sportsmen or excellent actors are often overlooked and not shown as desirable to kids." 

Teachers are particularly concerned about the type of career aspirations this may give their pupils and how this is affecting their progress in school.

Elizabeth Farrar from a primary school, near Scunthorpe said: "Too many of the pupils believe that academic success is unnecessary, because they will be able to access fame and fortune quite easily through a reality TV show. They believe that they are much more likely to achieve financial well-being through celebrity than through progression to higher education and a 'proper' career. Our school is a small village school too, not an urban one."

Robert Sanders from a junior school in Bath said: "One girl said that she wished to be a WAG."

Pupils also try to look like and/or behave like celebrities they admire according to 44% of teachers. Most pupils do this by choosing a similar hair cut, using their catchphrases or dressing the same.

A teacher from a primary school in Oxfordshire said: "Colleagues and I have discussed worries about girls in particular, trying to dress in an unsuitable (i.e. provocative) way on "home clothes" days. Girls do seem more impressionable than boys, especially in their overt attempts to look like their favourite celebrities (e.g. eye make-up, nail varnish, jewellery, big belts, all of which are against school rules). We notice this in younger and younger children."

ATL general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, said: "We are not surprised about infiltration of celebrity culture in schools - it reflects the current media obsession with celebrity and the effect of celebrity culture on society as a whole. Celebrities can have a positive effect on pupils. They can raise pupils' aspirations and ambitions for the future.

"However, we are deeply concerned that many pupils' believe celebrity status is available to everyone. They do not understand the hard work it takes to achieve such status and do not think it is important to be actively engaged in school work as education is not needed for a celebrity status. Celebrity culture can perpetuate the notion that celebrity status is the greatest achievement and reinforces the belief that other career options are not valuable."

These findings came from a survey of 304 teachers from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, teaching in primary and secondary maintained and independent schools.

For facts and figures about this survey, please download the press release pdf.

Notes to editors

  1. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing approximately 170,000 teachers, headteachers, lecturers and support staff in maintained and independent nurseries, schools, sixth form, tertiary and further education colleges in the United Kingdom.

  2. ATL exists to help members, as their careers develop, through first rate research, advice, information and legal advice.

  3. ATL is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). ATL is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.


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