Exams ‘cash bribes’ don’t boost grades

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Offering teenagers cash to do well in their GCSEs is likely to have little impact on their results, according to research.

While parents may use financial incentives to motivate their children to get good grades, a new study indicates that doing so may well be pointless.

But the prospect of a trip or outing in return for doing well in their school work could encourage pupils struggling with maths to do better in the subject.

More than 10,000 teenagers in 63 schools studying for GCSEs in English, maths and science took part in the research project, run by Bristol University and the University of Chicago, which covered two different trials.

In the first, pupils were told that they had £80 at the start of each half-term, and would lose £10 if they missed a set target for attendance, the same for behaviour and £30 for classwork and homework.

For the second, students were given eight tickets at the beginning of each half-term and promised a trip or outing if they retained 12 tickets by the end of the half-term period.

They lost one ticket each for missing attendance and behaviour targets and three for missing classwork and homework goals.

In each of the schemes, the rewards were based on a theory of “loss aversion” – that people dislike losing something, more than they like gaining something.

The findings show that, in the case of the cash incentives, overall there was no evidence that offering the pupils money had a significant positive impact on their GCSE results, in any of the three subjects studied.

There was also no impact on the students’ behaviour, attendance or homework effort, the researchers also added.

The study also concluded that offering pupils the chance of a trip or outing had no overall significant impact on GCSE results.