This paper presents data collected in individual case studies that aimed to investigate children and their families who succeeded against the usual ‘odds’ of disadvantage. Funded as an extension of EPPE 3–11 by the Cabinet Office for the Equalities Review, the study focused particularly closely upon the performance of disadvantaged children from White and minority ethnic groups. The study found that disadvantaged families often have high aspirations for their children and provide significant educational support through ‘concerted cultivation’. The paper discusses the implications for policy and for practice and argues that much of the popular criticism of state policies related to social exclusion fail to acknowledge the need to engage with the policy in action as well as in theory. It is also argued that these policies offer significant and valuable contexts for supporting efforts on the part of families and individuals to achieve success in education ‘against the odds’.