Paying for Failure

by Beth Cherryman

Some schools in the UK have started schemes to incentivise their students to undertake an appropriate amount of work to pass their exams.  And indeed to enroll for these exams in the first place.

Blackburn College is offering £5000 to students who fail their A Levels.  Of course, this is qualified.  A fail constitutes not managing to obtain an E pass, even though the student had attended 95% of classes, met targets, and handed in work on time.

The idea, apparently, is to encourage people to sign up for A Levels.  That is, to invoke the prospective student with the confidence they will not be wasting their time – supposedly the school does not intend on paying out too many £5000 cash gifts.

Indeed I’m quite sure Blackburn College will not be paying out any cash gifts.  To me this seems like an ingenious scheme from the point of view of the school – they drum up participants and thus funding courtesy of the government.

While £5000 may sound an impressive sum to impressionable 16 year olds, who probably work for a few hours at the weekends for minimum wage, it does not strike me as adequate compensation for two years solid effort and work towards one’s A Levels.

It seems to me that Blackburn College is taking their students on a bit of a ride.

Maybe this scheme should be interpreted as more of an incentive to encourage good behaviour (even if it is in effect with reverse psychology).

This angle offends me more.  Paying someone to turn up to school and take non-compulsory classes – or more precisely tempting someone to take these non-compulsory courses because if they fail they get £5000 – seems wholly contrary to my notion of education and, moreover, the purpose of education.

A monetary bribe to dissuade bad behaviour is one thing.  While again intuitively I dislike it with regards to education, I suppose it is essentially what happens the world over in adult employment.  We work for money and understand that in order to keep up this deal we must behave as our employer would like.

But the Blackburn College scheme is not even like this.  They pretend to promise money in exchange for good behaviour, which leads to unhappiness or lack of success.

Surely I’m not the only one that finds such schemes (for Blackburn College is not the only school to run them) nonsensical and frankly just another convoluted and backhanded way for schools to get their hands on a bit of extra funding, potentially at the cost of someone’s current and future happiness?