Cash incentives are not an effective means of boosting pupils' performance, leading to no significant improvement in GCSE results.
New research conducted on behalf of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) reveals these incentives also have little impact on those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Researchers from the Bristol University and the University of Chicago conducted the largest-ever British randomised controlled trial of pupil incentives, involving over 10,000 pupils in 63 schools. Their research was independently evaluated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Two schemes were run with Year 11 pupils studying for GCSEs in English, maths and science. The first involved giving pupils £80 at the beginning of each half-term, telling them they would lose £10 if their attendance or behaviour fell below the required standard and £30 if they underperformed on their classwork or homework.
In the second, youngsters were given eight tickets at the start of each half-term, requiring 12 tickets to attend a school trip at the end of a full term. Tickets were taken away from pupils if they did not work hard enough in the same areas as the children in the first trial. A third group, which received no incentives, acted as a control.
The researchers found that while there was some impact on classroom performance, neither incentive led to an improvement in English, maths or science GCSE results. In addition, neither incentive had a significant positive impact on students eligible for free school meals.
However, school trips did seem to help youngsters with low attainment levels, whose maths results improved. On average, these pupils gained two extra months' progress in learning.
Dr Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF, said: "The study suggests that while incentives can increase effort in the classroom, their direct impact on learning is low.
"While incentives may change surface behaviours, what really makes the difference is how students are taught.
"The best evidence currently available suggests that the most powerful driver of achievement in schools is great teaching, particularly for students from low-income families."
Posted by Charlotte Michaels