Students whose teachers offer encouragement are more likely to continue their education beyond the age of 16 than those who don’t get the same support, according to a new study out of the University of Cambridge in the U.K.
The study also revealed that a teacher’s encouragement has a much greater impact on students with average grades and parents with limited educations. These students who reported receiving positive feedback from their teachers more often finished high school and pursued college degrees. (This Education Week article looks at a U.S. study that shows how teacher encouragement could counteract factors that caused students to lose trust in their school.)
“When people speak of a positive school experience, they frequently cite a personal relationship with a teacher, and the encouragement they were given,” study author Ben Alcott said in a statement. “Our research helps quantify that impact and show its significance, particularly for addressing social mobility.” Alcott is currently a lecturer at the University of Cambridge where his research addresses education access and inequalities in learning outcomes.
Alcott’s findings were published in the journal Research in Higher Education. The study tracked 4,300 students in England for seven years, between 2003 and 2010, starting at age 13. Each year, participants completed a detailed questionnaire. In the equivalent of their sophomore year of high school in the United States, the last year of compulsory education in England, students were asked whether a teacher had encouraged them to continue their schooling.
Students who reported encouragement from teachers continued their educations after they turned 16 at a rate of 74 percent. Students who said they did not receive encouragement continued school at a rate of 66 percent.
When it came to students with parents who lacked a formal education, those who reported encouragement from a teacher continued with their studies after age 16 at a rate of 64 percent. Those who lacked encouragement pursued further studies at a rate of only 52 percent.
The encouragement, according to the study, was long-lasting, increasing the likelihood that students would seek a college degree by 10 percentage points.
Positive feedback from teachers didn’t matter quite as much for students of parents with university degrees. For these students, encouragement from teachers increased the likelihood of continuing education by only 6 percentage points and had no impact on the pursuit of a college degree.
Yet advantaged students were more likely to report that teachers encouraged them to continue with schooling, the study found. For instance, 22 percent of students who said they received teacher encouragement had a parent with a university degree, compared with 15 percent of those who did not. What’s more, students who did not report encouragement were a third more likely to have an unemployed parent (12 percent as opposed to 9 percent).
Alcott concluded that teachers’ relationships with students act as “real engines for social mobility.”
“Many teachers take the initiative to encourage students in the hope they will progress in education long after they have left the classroom,” Alcott said. “It’s important that teachers know the effect their efforts have, and the children likely to benefit most.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.