Sending parents text messages about their children’s schoolwork can lead to improved academic performance, research reveals.
The study draws on the psychological concept of nudge theory, which says that indirect suggestions are an effective way of influencing individuals’ decision-making.
Thirty-six schools took part in the study, sending text messages to the parents of more than 15,600 students aged 12, 14 and 16. The text messages took a number of different forms. Some warned parents that their child had tests approaching: “Your child has a maths test this week,” followed up with, “Your child has a maths test tomorrow.”
Others notified parents of children’s missing homework: “Johnny didn’t hand in his English homework today.”
The final set of text messages was sent out weekly, alternating between English, maths and science. These provided conversational prompts that parents could use to discuss their child’s classwork with them after school: for example, would they consider shaving foam to be a solid, liquid or gas?
Parents received an average of one text message a week during the one-year trial. The prompts were preloaded on to messaging software, and were then sent out to the parents of an entire class.
Danielle Mason, head of research at the Educational Endowment Foundation, which carried out the research in the UK, said that the project relied on simple behavioural psychology. “You could have a requirement for every parent to talk to their child once a week about schoolwork,” she said. “That would be seen to be very heavy-handed and onerous, and might not work.
“Or you can send an unobtrusive text message to parents. Rather than using financial incentives or statutory incentives, you’re framing options in a way that might change their behaviour.”
The children who participated in the study made an average of one month’s additional progress in maths, compared with other children. In addition, their levels of absenteeism dropped. There is some evidence that children also made one month’s additional progress in English. There was no impact on their grades in science, however.
Ms Mason acknowledged that the findings were not overly dramatic. But, she said, the scheme was cheap, costing around $7.50 per child per year. Other EEF projects that were aimed at raising attainment have ranged in cost from $5.25 to more than $1,300 per student per year. “In terms of cost-effectiveness, this ranks very, very highly,” said Ms Mason.
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