Research undertaken in 2016 found that 83% of parents were planning on offering rewards to their children for doing well in their exams.

The rewards ranged from £100+ in cash to day trips, lavish meals out, family holidays, and new computers. While there certainly seems to be an appetite for rewarding results, does it achieve anything?

Do rewards mean better grades?

Parents who offer rewards for results often believe that it will focus the minds of their children and increase attainment.

However, a study entitled ‘Increasing Pupil Motivation’ undertaken by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in 2012/13 cast doubt on that belief.

Students were supplied with tickets at the beginning of term and lost tickets if they failed to meet targets on four measures. While this was a school-based incentive scheme instead of a parental one, the conclusions demonstrated that it there were no significant positive impact on attainment in core subjects.

The chief executive of the EEF commented:

While promising cash for grades can seem like an easy way to motivate teenagers, our research suggests that it won’t have a huge impact on results.

This remains one of the only studies in an educational context in the UK, yet it doesn’t bode well for parents who hope that giving financial rewards will improve results. In addition, there are a couple of significant issues:

  • How will you decide what grades are realistic?
  • What happens if they don’t achieve the expected grades?
  • What’s your financial level and does it overstretch you?

All of these are conundrums that parents have faced. For instance, in the 2016 research, parents reported that 14% of children were bartering for bigger rewards prior to their exams. This implies that the value of the reward on offer is more important than the results themselves.

Equally, basing awards on certain grades could be the equivalent of children working to predicted grades and not pushing themselves any further.

Accurate expectations

If they don’t achieve the grades parents want them to, is that a failure of the child or a failure of the parent?

Some parents have unreasonable expectations that are based on what they believe their child to be capable of, irrespective of predicted grades or mock results. Setting children targets that they never likely to meet may have adverse effects not only in connection to their studies, but also emotionally and mentally.

Dr Elle Boag commented to The Guardian that, “For those children, you could promise them the moon and they still wouldn’t do well, and then they see themselves as having failed.”

With all that said, some parents go down the route of rewarding their children for sitting the exams and getting through two years of difficult GCSE study. If the reward isn’t tied to results but to the act of sitting the exams, does that make it a poor financial deal for parents?

Ultimately, many children seem to expect that they will be rewarded for their grades. Whether this is due to a cultural shift or parental pressure, there’s no denying that many students will be getting rewards following their exam results.

One question remains though – what about those who don’t fulfil expectations?