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MBP Summary Paper

students in lecture

Evidence from MBP on how student effort raises grades

Metcalfe, Burgess and Proud (2014) examine whether the GCSE performance of school pupils in England is adversely affected when major football tournaments coincide with the exam period. They conclude that student effort has a big effect on test scores.

Methods and findings of the paper

Every two years, there are major football tournaments which are likely to attract attention – and be a potential distraction from the exam preparation – for many school pupils as they prepare for their GCSE examinations. Metcalfe, Burgess and Proud (MBP) have data on the exact dates of matches and of examinations based on National Pupil data for all English state school pupils over a number of cohorts: altogether, they use information from over 12 million observations! They focus on the question of whether performance (grades achieved) is higher per pupil in those exams which are sat early in the exam period (before major football tournaments begin) than in those which are sat later and which are more likely to clash with football matches within the tournament.

Note that these major football tournaments take place in even years (World Cups in 2002, 2006, etc); European Championships in 2000, 2004, 2008 etc). The authors are confident of being able to claim that the results they obtain are causal as exposure to the treatment is random: whether a particular student is born in a year which means that they will sit GCSE exams in an even or an odd year is random and so assignment to the treatment group or the control group is also random. Furthermore, neither students nor schools can affect the timing of exams and the potential treatment is strong as the tournaments dominate TV and other media. Of course, the impact of the treatment is likely to vary across individuals according to the individual’s interest in football, and this heterogeneity is modelled.

The authors find that performance is significantly lower on average in subjects in which exams coincided closely with tournaments. This is true for both boys and girls – though more for boys. The authors conclude that the distraction of the tournament reduces pupil effort and so harms performance in these high-stake exams.

Conclusion: Student Effort has a big effect of Test Scores!

Metcalfe, R., Burgess, S. and Proud, S., 2014, “Student effort and educational attainment: using the England football team to identify the education production function.” CMPO.