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?