The relationship between parental background and children's educational outcomes has been a dominant theme within the sociology of education. There has been an on-going debate as to the relative merits of explanations which focus on the role of socio-cultural reproduction and those which focus on rational choice. However, many empirical studies within the social stratification tradition fail to allow for children's own agency in shaping the relationship between social background and schooling outcomes. This paper draws on the first wave of a large-scale longitudinal study of over 8,000 nine-year-old children in Ireland, which combines information from parents, school principals, teachers and children themselves. Both social class and parental education are found to have significant effects on reading and mathematics test scores among nine year olds. These effects are partly mediated by home-based educational resources and activities, parents' educational expectations for their child, and parents' formal involvement in the school. More importantly, children's own engagement with, and attitudes to, school significantly influence their academic performance. The influence of children's own attitudes and actions can thus reinforce or mitigate the effect of social background factors. The analysis therefore provides a bridge between the large body of research on the intergenerational transmission of inequality and the emerging research and policy literature on children's rights.