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Retention and Success in Maths and English: A Practitioner Guide to Applying Behavioural Insights

Four principles policymakers and practitioners can implement to improve retention and success rates.


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Numeracy and literacy are essential skills required for furthering education, succeeding at work and indeed navigating everyday life, yet around a quarter of adults are operating at below the level expected of a secondary school student.

In 2014, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills funded the Behavioural Insights Team to create the Behavioural Research Centre for Adult Skills and Knowledge (ASK). The aim of ASK was to use behavioural science and rigorous evaluation to test different ways of supporting learners aged 16 years or older in their pursuit of maths and English skills.

On the basis of our findings and the broader academic literature, we have identified four principles policymakers and practitioners can implement to improve retention and success rates. For each, we provide ‘how to’ guides for practitioners to implement with their own learners. Below we summarise each principle and note our most relevant trial results. This is intended as a starting point, and a platform for further research in collaboration with those who ultimately will deliver the change required – practitioners, policymakers and learners themselves. Like any research though, variations to the approaches reported in this document may increase or decrease the effect of the intervention. Readers should be mindful of this if they are looking to adapt the interventions for their particular context. The Department for Education has separately published a full research report of ASK’s work, Improving engagement and attainment in maths and English courses: insights from behavioural research.

Date Published

February 27, 2018