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  • Academic publication
  • 19th Apr 2017

I get by with a little help from my friends: Two field experiments on social support and attendance in further education colleges in the UK


In recent years, there has been an increasing recognition that broader socioeconomic and environmental conditions such as school climate and the availability of peer, parental, and tutor support shape motivation and educational success as much as, or more than, individual-level factors such as personality. Whether a student grows up feeling nurtured and supported by their family and peers is strongly correlated with their emotional and physical well-being (Scales & Taccogna, 2001; Wentzel & Caldwell,1997). However, few studies provide causal evidence that social network interventions can influence students’ success. We investigate, through two randomised field experiments, whether providing students’ social networks with personalised information about upcoming exams and course content leads to improvements in class attendance. Students nominated two ‘Study Supporters’ and were subsequently individually randomised into two arms: in one arm the Study Supporters receive weekly text messages, in the other arm they do not receive any. We consistently find positive effects of this intervention, particularly for students who are studying towards GCSE exams. We also find that the intervention appears to be particularly effective for students at the lower end of the distribution of attendance. We discuss this result in the context of the broader social support literature.