Behaviour incentives improve exam results for low-achieving students

Low-achieving students respond to incentives to increase their effort and engagement at school and do better than predicted on GCSE exams as a consequence. That is the main finding of a discussion paper published by the University of Bristol.

The project, led by Simon Burgess, Director of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO), included more than 10,000 Year 11 students in 63 schools. The schools were recruited in the poorest parts of neighbourhoods in England and were randomised to one of the following treatment groups: financial incentives, non-financial incentives, or control. Students in the incentive treatment groups earned rewards every half-term based on inputs such as attendance, conduct, homework, and classwork, rather than for outputs such as assessment results. The financial incentive rewarded students with cash up to the value of £80 per half-term, while the non-financial incentive offered students the chance to qualify for a high-value event determined jointly by the school and students, such as a sporting event or trip to a theme park.

The researchers hoped to find that the incentives would improve effort and engagement and ultimately lead to improved GCSE performance even though the results themselves carried no rewards. The analysis showed that overall the impact of either financial or non-financial incentives on achievement was low, with small, positive but statistically insignificant effects on exam performance. However, among students with low predicted GCSE grades, those in the intervention groups got better marks than students in the control group, with treatment effects stronger for the financial incentives than the non-financial incentives (particularly in science). For students who were expected to do well, and already making an effort at school, the incentives made little difference.

Source: Understanding the response to financial and non-financial incentives in education: Field experimental evidence using high-stakes assessments (2016), Discussion Paper 16 / 678, University of Bristol

Preschool inattention and conduct problems linked to reduced exam scores

New research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry has used data from the University of Bristol Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to investigate whether preschool hyperactivity/inattention and conduct problems are independently associated with academic outcomes at age 16.

Adverse effects were apparent in both boys and girls (n = 11,640). For boys, hyperactivity/inattention scores were associated with reductions of 10 GCSE points, and borderline and abnormal conduct problem scores were associated with reductions of 9–10 and 12–15 points respectively. For girls, early conduct problems rather than hyperactivity/inattention were important, with reductions of 9 and 12 points for borderline and abnormal scores respectively.

The authors say that there is a strong argument for the early identification of behavioural problems, and that this needs to be linked to appropriate interventions to be effective. They also suggest that teachers should be aware of the long-term implications of early behavioural difficulties, particularly for children they might regard as being at risk, and to take parental concerns about behaviour problems seriously.

Source: Pre-school Hyperactivity/Attention Problems and Educational Outcomes in Adolescence: Prospective Longitudinal Study (2013), British Journal of Psychiatry.

Are pupils paying the price for regulation of teachers’ salaries?

A paper from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at the University of Bristol investigates the relationship between regulated teacher salaries and school performance and finds that regulated wages could be having a negative impact on pupils’ achievement.

The study analysed school performance data from around 3,000 state secondary schools in England and matched it with data on local wages. They identified a loss of approximately one GCSE point per pupil – the equivalent of dropping one GCSE grade in one subject per pupil – when average outside wages increased by 10 per cent. The study accounted for variances in schools’ intake to allow for different levels of difficulty in educating pupils of varying backgrounds.

Source: Does wage regulation harm kids? Evidence from English schools (2012), Centre for Market and Public Organisation

Do summer schools help to widen participation in higher education?

The Sutton Trust has run summer schools aimed at Year 12 pupils from a “non-traditional HE background” since 1997. Around 10,000 young people have participated in the scheme, which aims to widen participation in higher education.

A new report from the University of Bristol looked at young people’s subsequent applications and registrations to universities. It found that the summer schools are effective in generating proportionately more UCAS applications and registrations from attendees. Underprivileged students are less likely to target the more elite universities, but the summer school helped to reduce this difference.

Source: The impact of the Sutton Trust’s summer schools on subsequent higher education participation: a report to the Sutton Trust (2011), Sutton Trust