Should students be paid?

Huw Carrington of online printer ink retailer, ( ponders on how to improve attendance and grades.

I’ve been doing youth work as a volunteer for seven years now, and part-time professional youth work for half of that. I’ve worked with hundreds of teenagers, from all around the UK and even from a few places in Europe. I’ve seen all manner of issues, ranging from the inspiring to the horrifying, and I’ve done my best to deal with every one of them. Through all this, I’ve realised that many young people hate school.

For a couple of years now I’ve worked regularly with one young person – we’ll call him Bobby – who dislikes school, so he simply doesn’t go in. His attendance is at less than 30 per cent, and so the school has resorted to unusual means to encourage him to turn up.

Counsellors have talked to Bobby in his home; his head of year has taken him out for coffee to discuss why he doesn’t go in; he’s been promised rewards and concessions if he can get up to a minimum attendance level. From all I’ve seen, none of these have worked; he’d rather stay up late on his Xbox, have a lie in, and then hang out with his friends when they have finished school.

Paid to learn?

I’m not going to pretend I have the answer to this, but as uncomfortable as it might make me feel, a short while ago I came across something that I suspect might improve things for kids like Bobby.

A couple of years back, Time magazine ran an article (,9171,1978758-1,00.html) detailing how a team over in the US ran a study across thousands of pupils in four different major cities, wherein, in its simplest terms, they paid students to go to school. Their results were varied, but in one city those who received a salary through the whole year had substantially higher reading scores than their unpaid peers. This was equivalent to them having had several months extra tuition.

My experience

When I was at school, and more recently at university, I didn’t hit the books as hard as I should have. However, when I started working to get a pay check that enabled me to buy the things that I wanted, I changed gear and actually got down to putting some effort in. My colleagues and friends had a similar experience, so I can’t help but wonder if something like this had been done for me, I might have tried harder and come out with better grades.

Money might not buy you happiness, but maybe, just maybe, it could provide the motivation to get young people to learn.

What are your views? Should pupils learn for the love of it, or will payment just cheapen education?



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2 responses to “Should students be paid?

  1. This article touches on a very sensitive point to me, and I cannot stress how much I disagree with students being paid.

    Paid by results will be elitist. Paid by attendance hard to enforce people staying once registered, and would result in unruly students taking up class time. And that is before even considering the quality of work resulting from it.

    Indeed using your school and university experience as an example, It’s not that you work harder at work – you work how you should have, because there are now repercussions.

    It’s not harder, you’re not inspired to go above and beyond your means, it’s merely actually bothering to do something to protect your job and everything that entails; references, the impact on other employees, your future goals etc

    There are no punishments at school, it has become such a weak culture that failure or poor behaviour is nigh on encouraged. Excelling means you are left without attention and shunned.

    Degrees have essentially been devalued to the point of ridicule. Unless you enter a direct graduate program there is now no financial or lifestyle difference to you getting a 1st or a 3rd, it is just a degree.

    Same for GCSE’s and A-levels… It doesn’t matter what you get as long as you hit the minimum requirements for the next stage, which has no knock on effect. Work is a constant knock-on from herein, for anyone with aspirations.

    Ultimately, we would all be fired if we put in the effort that school or Uni requires at present, and being paid or not will not make a fat lot of difference!

  2. I’m not going to entirely disagree with you – I’m not discussing an approach that is right for every student, nor wrong for everyone. We’re in a grey area here, and it’s not going to be applicable across the board even if it might make a difference in some areas.

    You are quite right that paying students by the end result would be elitist – those who are ‘naturally’ bright (a discussion for another time) would be rolling in cash, while the less fortunate would probably have none. It would create a class divide, further separating out the ability levels within a given form.

    That’s not to say that the idea is not without merit though – though arbitrary, target grades with pay relative to performance would reward young people appropriately, with more gifted children having to reach higher heights than their peers. Yes, the system could be gamed, and yes, setting appropriately challenging targets would be difficult and subjective, however with the right resources behind it I have every faith that it could be implemented successfully.

    I agree that paying by mere attendance would be difficult to enforce; I’m sure the professional researchers who ran this took such things into consideration, but expanding registration requirements to start and end of each lesson, potentially subject to the teacher’s judgement if the child was suitably nondisruptive, would make a difference. It’s not perfect, nothing is, but reasonable steps can be taken to make it work satisfactorily.

    You’ll excuse me if I don’t respond on whether it would have affected my personal experience just yet – I am going to give it a little more consideration.

    Regarding your final word, the research actually outright says that you’re correct for two out of the three regions studied, in that those who were paid for their school work had negligibly different final results to those who weren’t. So what about that other region? The ones where in a given year it gave the young people in the program a boost to targeted skills by the equivalent of several months. Should we ignore the benefits it can have for such children, just because it won’t help everyone?

    TL;DR? You’re not entirely wrong, but that doesn’t mean that the idea is either.

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