Should we be giving cash for good grades?

Should we be giving cash for good grades?

It's exam season again, and as the world becomes increasingly competitive for Gen Z, we examine the debate around paying kids for exam results. 


Data from OneFamily shows the average amount paid out per child for good exam results is £150. Some parents pay per top mark, with each Grade 9 GCSE result being worth £100 on average.


In another poll by, when parents were asked, 'What is the acceptable amount to give your children for passing their GCSEs?' around 21% of parents said they would give up to £100 per good grade, 2% said they would offer up to £200, and a further 2% said they would hand over up to £300. However, 75% of parents said they would not offer money as an incentive.


So, what are your thoughts? Is cash for grades a good thing or something to avoid? 


What does the research say


While some studies have found rewards can motivate children to work harder, they also show that rewarding studying saps a child's internal interest in learning. This means that children study less once the reward system ends, and their grades fall.   


One major study involving 10,000 children studying for GCSE exams at 63 schools found offering rewards such as cash payments to make pupils work harder failed. Pupils were randomly offered incentives, including cash payments of up to £160 a term if they met targets for homework and classwork in English, maths and science. An independent analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found no statistically significant improvement in homework or GCSE grades. 


However, other research has suggested the opposite, showing that financial incentives can help improve performance. To test this further, schools in Texas in the US  implemented the cash-for-grades scheme, giving students cash incentives for passing their advanced placement (AP) exam. The researchers found that this not only increased test results but also made students much more likely to continue working hard and get into college. 


The case for paying for grades


One of the main reasons some parents choose to incentivise their teens and reward them for grades is to teach kids about the relationship between hard work and money. Currently, 29% of parents believe that promising a reward is an excellent way to provide a more 'real world' goal for kids, while 24% cite it as an opportunity to develop money management skills.


Additional research by financial services provider OneFamily shows that:

  • One in four (23%) pledge a lump sum of cash in exchange for good grades.

  • One in twenty (4%) pay per individual grade. 

  • One in five (20%) promise gifts if their child achieves good results. 


However, for many parents, it's about more than just ensuring their teens get top marks. Nine in 10 say they'd rather see their kids take their studies seriously and work hard.  


"Many parents like to reward their kids when they get good exam results," says Louise Hill, co-founder and CEO of GoHenry. "Often, the reward is in recognition of how hard they have seen their child work or because a high grade has been achieved. However, it can be a divisive issue. Some parents feel that rewards hinder self-motivation, and others feel it's a form of bribery. As with all things parenting, it's important to do what's right for you and your child."


What are the arguments against paying for grades?


So, is it wrong to pay for grades? While it's very much dependent on what your family believes is right, research has found the motivation from rewards doesn't last, creating a phenomenon known as a "reward economy." This is where kids learn to trade desirable behaviour for a reward, making them hesitant to "give it away for free."


Lorraine Candy, writer, podcaster, and author of 'Mum What's Wrong with You: 101 Things Only the Mothers of Teenage Girls Know,' agrees and says, "We have never offered money or treats in exchange for good exam results as a family. We feel that this reinforces a message that we only value our child's success, which is not helpful for their development.


All the experts in adolescent mental health I interviewed when I wrote my book agreed with this approach. Our society today is unhelpfully goal-based; this puts unnecessary pressure on young minds and causes stress, which isn't a long-term strategy to build resilience or, indeed, happiness. Plus, failure should always be an option if a child has tried their best, and if they don't want to try, then that is something to chat with them about rather than paying them to do so."



How much are parents paying out


GCSE grade

                  Average amount per grade

Grade 9


Grade 8


Grade 7


Grade 6


Grade 5




Nici Audhlan-Gardiner, Managing Director of Children's Savings at OneFamily, who is behind the research, says, "Rewarding good grades can also be a valuable opportunity to impart lessons about money and talking to teenagers about whether they will look to set some of the sums aside can lead to a lesson in budgeting and get them thinking about the value of what they are planning to buy."


Rewarding without money


Of course, there are many ways to reward without offering money. You can reward effort, grades, and for simply making it through the exam period by talking to your child about what they’d like.


If you don’t want to offer anything that costs money, consider extra privileges that work for your child or having friends over for the night or a special meal.


Interestingly, what teens often crave after a period of stressful work is praise and recognition for effort. This means don’t focus on grade outcomes but celebrate their achievements, big and small, like their effort, the time put in, and simply making it through the stressful exam period.
Written by Anita Naik Published May 21, 2024 ● 3 mins