Improving engagement and attainment in maths and English courses


This research and project report, commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), outlines how behavioural interventions can improve participation in and completion of maths and English courses. The projects focused mainly on 16-19 year old and adult students enrolled in maths and English courses in Further Education colleges. A number of promising findings emerged. The legacy of these projects is a set of scalable and effective interventions that colleges and other training providers can implement with minimal additional resources. 

  • Weekly text messages of encouragement to adult learners (aged 19+) enrolled on maths and English courses improved attendance rates by 22 percent (7.4 percentage points, from 34.0 to 41.4 percent) and achievement rates by 16 percent (8.7 percentage points, from 54.5 to 63.2 percent).
  • A social support intervention, where updates were texted to learners’ (aged 16+) friends and family about their progress in their maths and English courses, improved attendance rates by 5 percent (4.1 percentage points, from 55.6 to 59.7 percent) and achievement rates by 27 percent (5.9 percentage points, from 22.2 to 28.1 percent).
  • An intervention that incorporated weekly text messages of encouragement to learners (aged 16 – 19) and helpful updates to their social supporters improved attainment rates by 24 percent (5.1 percentage points, from 21.1 to 26.2 percent).
  • A short writing exercise, where learners reflect on their personal values and why they are important to them, improved attainment in maths and English courses by 25 percent (4.2 percentage points, from 16.7 to 20.9 percent).

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