Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Targeting Non-Cognitive Skills to Improve Cognitive Outcomes: Evidence from a Remedial Education Intervention

By Helena Holmlund and Olmo Silva


A growing body of research highlights the importance of non-cognitive skills as determinants of young people's cognitive outcomes at school. However, little evidence exists about the effects of policies that specifically target students' non-cognitive skills as a way to improve educational achievements. In this paper, we shed light on this issue by studying a remedial education programme aimed at English secondary school pupils at risk of school exclusion and with worsening educational trajectories. The main peculiarity of this intervention is that it solely targets students' non-cognitive skills – such as self-confidence, locus of control, self-esteem and motivation – with the aim of improving pupils' records of attendance and end-of-compulsory-education (age 16) cognitive outcomes. We evaluate the effect of the policy on test scores in standardized national exams at age-16 using both least squares and propensity-score matching methods. Additionally, we exploit repeated observations on pupils’ test scores to control for unobservables that might affect students’ outcomes and selection into the programme. We find little evidence that the programme significantly helped treated youths to improve their age-16 test outcomes. We also find little evidence of heterogeneous policy effects along a variety of dimensions.cognitive and non-cognitive skills; policy evaluation; secondary schooling

OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (2005a): “An Evaluation of the Instrumental Variable Strategies for Estimating the Effects of Catholic Schooling”,
  2. (2005b): “Selection on Observed and Unobserved Variables: Assessing the Effectiveness of Catholic Schools”,
  3. (2006). Aimhigher: Excellence Challenge: A Policy Evaluation Using the Labour Force Survey”, mimeo CEP-LSE.
  4. (2004). Can Propensity-Score Methods Match the Findings from a Random Assignment Evaluation of Mandatory Welfare-to-Work Programs?”,
  5. (1999). Causal Effects in Nonexperimental Studies: Reevaluating the Evaluation of Training Programs”,
  6. (1989). Choosing Among Alternative Nonexperimental Methods for Estimating the Impact of Social Programs: The Case of Manpower Training”,
  7. (2008). Classroom Behaviour”,
  8. (2005). Does Matching Overcome LaLonde’s Critique of Nonexperimental Estimators?”
  9. (2006). Economic, Neurobiological and Behavioral Perspectives on Building America’s Future Workforce”,
  10. (2005). Education at Glance”, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,
  11. (2007). Education, Education, Education: The Evidence on School Standards, Parental Choice and Staying-on”, Policy Analysis, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics.
  12. (1978). Estimating the Effects of Training Programs on Earning”,
  13. (1986). Evaluating the Econometrics Evaluations of Training Programs with Experimental Data”,
  14. (2008). Formulating, Identifying and Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation”,
  15. (2003). Human Capital Policy”,
  16. (2006). Interpreting the Evidence on Life Cycle Skill Formation”,
  17. (1997). Matching as an Econometric Evaluation Estimator: Evidence from Evaluating a Job Training Programme”,
  18. (1998). Matching as an Econometric Evaluation Estimator”,
  19. (1973). Matching to Remove Bias in
  20. (2009). Misbehaviour, Education and Labour Market Outcomes”,
  21. (1995). Natural and Quasi-Experiments in Economics”,
  22. (2003). On the Specification and Estimation of Production Functions for Cognitive Achievement”,
  23. (2008). Parametric and Non-parametric Regressions in the Presence of Endogenous Control Variables”,
  24. (2000). Policies to Foster Human Capital”,
  25. (2005). Practical Propensity Score Matching: A Reply to Smith and Todd”,
  26. (2002). Propensity Sore-Matching Methods for Nonexperimental Causal Studies”,
  27. (2004). Remedial Education and Student Achievement: A Regression-Discontinuity Analysis”,
  28. (2007). Remedying Education: Evidence from Two Randomized Experiments in India”,
  29. (2007). Resource and standards in urban schools”,
  30. (2005). Semiparametric Difference-in-Differences Estimators”,
  31. (2007). Social Expenditure Database: SOCX”, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,
  32. (2008). Some Practical Guidance for the Implementation of Propensity Score Matching”,
  33. (2005). Targeted Remedial Education for Underperforming Teenagers: Costs and Benefits”,
  34. (2008). Targeting Pupils at Risk of Exclusion: An Evaluation of the xl Club Programme”, report to The Prince’s Trust, London.
  35. (2006). The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labour Market Outcomes and Social Behavior”,
  36. (2009). The Good, The Bad and The Average: Evidence on the Scale and Nature of Ability Peer Effects in Schools”, mimeo, London School of Economics.
  37. (2001). The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED Testing Program”,
  38. (2008). The Noncognitive Determinants of Labor Market and Behavioral Outcomes: Introduction to the Symposium”,
  39. The Prince’s Trust (2006): “The xl Strategy 05/06: Questions and Answers”, official documentation on the xl clubs project, The Prince’s Trust,

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.