Research corner

10th July 2015 at 01:00
Each week, we highlight education research conducted by teachers. This week, Sean Hand, a teacher at Southend High School for Boys in Southend-on-Sea, examines what type of reward system can help increase the attainment levels of underachieving male students.


Sean Hand, pictured, investigated whether a different reward system at his school would prompt his boys to achieve better academic results.


A lot of research has hinted that boys are, on the whole, more likely to underachieve than girls. Issues such as the pressure to fit in, a lack of engagement at school and "bottling up" frustrations have all been highlighted.

Hand sought to tackle this by identifying what made his boys want to achieve at school and what they believed the rewards for good work should be.


Hand focused his study on 34 boys of mixed ability, across four year groups between Years 7 and 10.

He set an online qualitative questionnaire for them to complete. The boys were first asked what they felt the most important thing was for them to achieve. They were then asked what rewards they would expect for their achievements.

The results

Hand found that the things considered most important by boys were good teachers and resources (12 responses) and the prospect of good qualifications (five responses).

A good job, positive reinforcement and enjoyable subjects all scored highly too, with three responses each.

As for rewards, students were asked if they could choose a new way to acknowledge achievement at school.

A large proportion of the choices were materialistic: 29 per cent wanted school trips and 12 per cent valued prizes or money. But 15 per cent desired nothing at all, as they felt the reward system in its current form was ineffective and unjust.

The impact

Hand's findings highlighted that boys at his school possessed an intrinsic desire to do well, but they just needed more support from their teachers.

After the project, he offered his boys an opportunity to change their reward system. They chose to award certificates for achievement in front of their year groups.

However, they also said that banning swearing and ensuring that people were treated as they wished to be were more important for raising achievement than creating specific rewards.

To find out more about the project, email Sean Hand at or follow him on Twitter at @mrhand87

To share your research findings, email

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