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Incentive schemes 'can help raise GCSE attainment levels among poorer students'

26/10/2016 Kelly

Low-achieving students from poorer areas may be able to raise their grades through the use of special incentive schemes, according to a new research study.

Carried out by the University of Bristol's Centre for Market and Public Organisation, the research aimed to see whether pupil incentives could make a difference in helping low-achieving students to raise their effort and engagement at school.

The large-scale field experiment involved more than 10,000 year 11 pupils in 63 schools, recruited in the poorest parts of neighbourhoods across England. The incentives compared included cash rewards of up to £80 per half-term, as well as a non-financial reward in the form of a high-value event determined jointly by the school and students.

These prizes were offered for inputs such as effort and engagement, rather than outputs such as test scores. Nevertheless, a substantial impact on the maths and science GCSE performance was seen for around half of the pupils - an effect great enough to wipe out half of the secondary school attainment gap between students eligible for free school meals.

Looking specifically at the impact of the incentives on summary measures of GCSE performance, including passing the 5A*C(EM) threshold, it was shown that the rate increased significantly by around ten percentage points for low attainers, whereas no improvement at all was seen for high attainers.

Professor Simon Burgess, director of the university's Centre for Market and Public Organisation, said: "Our hope was that improved effort and engagement would raise GCSE scores, even though the scores themselves carried no rewards.

"Among pupils with low predicted GCSE scores, pupils in the intervention group scored substantially more than in the control group. For those pupils expected to do well, and already making a huge effort at school, the incentives made little difference."

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