Simply texting reminders and messages of support to students has a significant effect on both attendance and attainment, according to a new report released by the Department for Education.
The research into improving engagement and attainment in maths and English courses was conducted by the Behavioural Insights Team.
It outlined the scale of the challenge: “Just over a quarter of working-age adults in England have weak numeracy and/or literacy skills: their levels of proficiency are below the level expected of an 11-year-old.”
Researchers looked at 16- to 19-year-old and adult students on maths and English courses in FE colleges and found a “number of promising findings” relating to texts.
This is a form of intervention “that colleges and other training providers can implement with minimal additional resources,” according to the report.
Inexpensive and scalable
It states: “Text messages are an inexpensive and scalable way of reaching learners at times when they can take advantage of information.”
There is a growing body of evidence in other fields to suggest that personalised text messages can have a significant effect on behaviour, such as improving health outcomes like increasing fruit and vegetable intake, reducing risky sexual behaviour and encouraging weight loss, according to the report.
Thousands of students took part in trials involving a number of colleges.
Researchers discovered that weekly text messages of encouragement to adult learners improved attendance rates by 22 percent and achievement rates by 16 percent.
An approach where updates about the progress of learners aged 16-plus were texted to their friends and relatives resulted in a five per cent increase in attendance rates and a 27 per cent rise in achievements.
Another trial, incorporating weekly text messages of encouragement to learners aged 16-19 and updates to their social network improved attainment rates by 24 percent.
Participation in English and maths
The report says: “The trials run with the FE sector were some of the largest ever in FE (or their equivalent) anywhere in the world”.
Researchers also looked at participation in maths and English courses in the workplace and community settings, but found “projects were challenging to implement due to small sample sizes”.
The report concludes: “Our work in FE colleges was our most substantive programme and leaves a legacy of high-impact, cost-effective and innovative interventions that can be implemented with minimal time, training or financial resources for colleges and other training providers.”