Much research in the UK has shown a close relationship between family position and educational attainment. Yet, this association seems to apply to whites rather than to children from ethnic minority backgrounds who are usually found to outperform whites in spite of their poorer family situation. The classical theories do not give an adequate account of this apparent mismatch as they were designed for the general population. I propose a thesis of ‘reinvigorated ambition’ to try to explain the second-generation drive for success. Drawing data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, I show that multiple disadvantages faced by ethnic minorities in the labour market give pervasive signals to the second generation that they have to aim higher and work harder in order not to fall too low in their life trajectory. The educational success of children from ethnic minority heritages can thus be seen as a determined effort to shield off cumulative discrimination in the labour market and in wider society.