Texting Students and Study Supporters

Attendance rates are very low among post-16 students re-sitting GCSEs, many of whom have struggled with exams, are disengaged and/or low in confidence. One study reports that after enrolment, average student attendance at further education (FE) colleges drops to 70% at 3 weeks, then 57% after 9 weeks - though reliable estimates are hard to come by.

This programme aims to improve attendance and attainment by sending text messages to students and ‘study supporters’ (a peer, parent or mentor that each student identifies as helping to keep them on track). The intervention consists of sending 35 text messages over a year, with messages including information on: course content; academic resources, such as practice websites; notifications about deadlines; details of extra tutorial sessions; and exam dates. The aim is that this is a low-cost way of prompting students to engage, attend and form better study habits: both by direct contact and by promoting positive relationships with supportive peers or adults.

The intervention will be delivered by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), which has run several promising trials involving texting in FE colleges.

Why are we funding it?

This project has been funded as part of joint initiative with J.P. Morgan to explore how to improve outcomes for disadvantaged 16-18 year old learners without a C or above in GCSE English or mathematics. You can read more about this partnership here.

Several studies in the USA and UK have shown that text messages to parents, high school graduates, and university students can have impacts on behaviour, including attainment, college enrolment and persistence. Previous trials by BIT in further education colleges have found increases in attendance of around 11% points, and a previous EEF trial of texting parents in secondary schools found improvements in GCSE mathematics and in attendance. This trial will test the impact of the approach on attainment at post-16, and assess the relative benefits of texting students and study supporters.

How are we evaluating it?

A team from NatCen has been appointed to conduct the evaluation. The main trial will involve around 30 FE colleges, with students randomly allocated within colleges to one of four conditions: 1) student receives text messages; 2) study supporter receives text messages; 3) both student and supporter receive text messages; and 4) 'business-as-usual' control group.

The primary outcome will be the percentage of students that pass their GCSE mathematics or English exams after one year. Secondary outcomes will include attendance, percentage of students taking exams, and student attitudes to learning. Information will also be collected from study supporters to assess how the nature of the relationship moderates any impact.

When will the evaluation report be due?

The evaluation report will be published in Autumn 2019.