More than half of parents are bribing their children to pass exams - but does it work?

21 August 2019

British parents paid out £20.5 million last year to motivate their children to do better in exams

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More than half of parents are bribing their children to pass their GCSEs and A-Levels, new research shows.

A survey of British parents’ attitudes towards their children’s exams found that 53% offered their children money in exchange for achieving good grades in 2018.

Parents are rewarding kids with £25 on average for a GCSE Grade 7 and above. For every A and A* achieved in A-Level subjects parents are giving £50 on average.

This means more than £20.5 million was paid out to children last year, according online tutoring agency Tutor House.

A third (32%) of parents said they treat their child to a celebratory day or meal out, while 15% do not incentivise or reward their child at all.

The findings come as thousands of students wait to get their GCSE exam results tomorrow and week after A-level students got their grades.

The survey of over 2,000 parents was conducted to gain insight into how parents motivate their children to achieve good grades.

Participants were asked if they offer monetary rewards and, if so, how much they were willing to pay if their child secures the top grades of a grade 7 or above in their GCSEs and an A or A* at A-level.

Alex Dyer, founder of Tutor House, says: “With all the pressures and distractions of modern life, it isn’t surprising that parents incentivise their children and teenagers with money to do well - money is an effective motivator after all.

"However, it is astonishing to think of just how much parents are collectively dishing out to their kids every year.

“It’s understandable that not all families will partake in giving cash as an incentive - whether that’s due to having low income or just not believing in that kind of encouragement - so it’s lovely to see that families are finding other ways of supporting and pushing their children to succeed.”

Bribing children to pass exams

While thousands of parents use financial incentives to motivate their children, there is growing evidence they could be wasting their cash.

The use of incentives has little positive impact on GCSE grades, according to research by the Education Endowment Foundation.

Researchers ran two schemes with 15 and 16-year-old students studying english, maths and science.

The first provided a financial incentive, where pupils were told they had £80 at the beginning of each half-term, which was deducted for poor attendance or if they performed badly in class.

In the second scheme kids were given tickets for trips or events, which they also lost if they failed to meet behaviour or work targets. Pupils that did well were rewarded with an event, chosen by pupils in the year group at the start of the school term.

The 2014 study found that incentivising children with rewards to improve their scores did lead to pupils putting in extra effort in class.

Meanwhile, the promise of a school trip did lead to some low-achieving pupils getting better grades in maths, who gained the equivalent of two months’ progress over the year.

However, the trial found there was no significant improvement from financial incentives on GCSE attainment in English, maths and science.

Ben Evans, headmaster at Edge Grove School in Hertfordshire, warns that bribing your child to pass their exams could adversely impact them later in life.

He says: “Although it might seem like a quick fix, it is not sustainable in the future.  The rewards that a child gains from achieving good results should be enough to motivate them.  Celebrating achievements together as a family is a great way of encouraging your child for the effort they have shown but paying them or bribing them to pass their exams is never the answer. 

“The worry is, paying a child to pass their exams, could foster traits of laziness and this could impact them later in life. For instance, if a child gets into university on the basis of those exam results, their parents cannot attend lectures on their behalf and write the essays for them.  The same applies to landing a first job. Will that child expect to be rewarded every time they simply complete what is required of them?

“Parents have to draw a line under this from the outset. Life is what you make it and nobody else can make it happen for you.”

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