It’s Not About the Money, Money, Money

This week my daughter finally earned her sticker from school for doing 25 nights of reading. She has been looking forward to getting the sticker. The sticker acts as a useful ‘marker’ of her achievement. But we would have read every night anyway, because we love reading. Yesterday my son came home from school and proudly announced that he had earned 3 green slips. He was delighted to receive them, even though the prize they earn him is irrelevant because he eats packed lunches (you get to go to the front of the school dinner queue). The slips act as a lovely way for the school to let us know how hard he is working. But he would have worked hard anyway, because he loves to learn.

Today brought news of a £1.6 million study into whether cash incentives and offers of trips would boost student attainment at GCSE level. (They didn’t. No, I’m not surprised either.) I find myself baffled as to why anyone would choose to spend so much money to research this particular question, not least because of the values that lurk behind it. Motivation is an incredibly complex subject; different people are motivated by different things. But the idea that we would think to use such a blatant extrinsic reward is astonishing to me. This is Parenting 101, for goodness sake. If you constantly say to your child ‘Do x and you get y’, after a while they respond to every request with ‘What do I get if I do it?’ Just because it’s hard to get children to be intrinsically motivated, doesn’t mean that it is not worth trying. My aim as a parent has always been to teach my children that learning is of value, and deeply rewarding, in its own right. How on earth can we even envisage an education system that tells them that no, actually, it’s all about the money?

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5 Responses to It’s Not About the Money, Money, Money

  1. Mary Tudor says:

    Unfortunately modern philosophy is all about money being the desired reward. All the emphasis in every day media focuses upon money representing true worth. From footballers super-earnings to criminals celebrated for their lives of crime, to crafty bankers rewarded for deceit, to politicos recently awarding themselves £10,000 whilst wrenching money from the poor money = top dog.
    I totally agree with your sentiment, but society obviously doesn’t. Hence the monetory inducements sliding into schools……from the top!


  2. Jill Berry says:

    “Just because it’s hard to get children to be intrinsically motivated, doesn’t mean that it is not worth trying. My aim as a parent has always been to teach my children that learning is of value, and deeply rewarding, in its own right.”

    I think you are an amazing parent, Sue, and wish there were some way of bottling this and distributing it liberally. As you say of your daughter and son, they were thrilled with their rewards (the principle of it, the recognition, rather than the reward itself) but, in your words “we would have read every night anyway, because we love reading…..He would have worked hard anyway, because he loves to learn.”

    But what about the children who don’t have the support and encouragement yours get at home? How do we reach them? I agree financial incentives are morally dubious, even if they worked, and can remember an uncomfortable conversation with a colleague in my first school who admitted paying her teenage son so much per grade in his mock/finalGCSEs as, she said, it was the only method they had found that worked with him….


  3. Sh says:

    At my son’s school a green slip is what they get for not doing homework. 3 and they get a detention!! It always amazed me that at his school the most they ever offer is a paper headmaster’s certificate at the end of term for outstanding effort and yet it was really important to him. He has decided to do a btec in sports coaching rather tan A levels and the GCSE requirements for college are less demanding. I was worried this would mean he would relax and not work for his GCSEs but it seems to have had the opposite effect. He has found something he wants to do, in a way he want to do it and he has doubled his determination to get good GCSE results above and beyond what he needs. “Do you know mum, I think I could be really good at this – like probably one of the best!” This is not a reaction we have had to the endless torture of GCSEs where he thinks he is thick because in some subjects he is predicted a B (yes, sharp intake of breath the shame of it all upon the family!!!) When they get to teenage years, a trip out or a memory stick may not motivate them but seeing that there is a light at the end of their tunnel may.


  4. kevincooper777 says:

    Sh: “like”!


  5. Miriam Fredrickson says:

    At our primary school we have had countless discussions on the rewards and incentives we use in order to encourage, motivate and inspire children. We have often reflected on the dangers of children learning to depend on tangible rewards and public praise as opposed to acquiring a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment from knowing they have achieved and loving learning for its own sake. It’s a balance and the reading stickers, housepoints and other tools we use are just that – tools – a way of teaching very young children that working hard and behaving well leads to good things. We are very clear that as they progress through the school, that lesson is transferred from the tangible to the much more difficult and nebulous concept of ‘inner satisfaction’.


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