Repeating, getting held back, grade retention, surplus year, call it what you will.
No matter how you put it, it’s one of the biggest decisions you as a parent will make during your child’s education. And it’s not an easy one.
It is our responsibility as parents to watch our children grow, to try to keep them safe, ensure they are as healthy as possible, teach them behaviours that won’t land them in jail, instill an interest in the great outdoors and monitor that they’re developing and learning at the ‘normal’ rate.
The thing about this ‘normal’ rate is that you’re talking about a broad spectrum of male and female people, from children to teens, with ages that range over the span of 12 months for each level of schooling beginning in Kindy and finishing in Grade 12.
That’s a whole lot of different normal.
Back In My Day…
Many years ago, if a student wasn’t coping with the academic curriculum, was unable to focus or didn’t have the necessary social skills to interact on a level with their peer group, the automatic ‘fix’ was to have them repeat a grade at school. The perception was that re-doing the same stuff over would provide the chance for the student to catch up and improve academically.
About a bazillion studies now show this is far from the answer for the majority of students in any of those learning situations. In fact, repeating a grade can be more harmful than helpful, in most cases, to a child’s educational experience.
Why They’re Saying Don’t Do It
The current research data available shows that:
- Repeating does not help most students catch up academically. Strategic and differentiated learning, tutoring and parental assistance, however, does.
- Children who repeat in primary school have a higher risk of disengaging in secondary school.
- For some students, the experience of repeating contributes to poor mental health outcomes, as they may feel a sense of shame, stigma and loss of self-esteem. It could also lead to poor long-term social outcomes as students need to develop new social relationships. Does anyone else remember the playground bullying when a kid you’d been to school with for years who suddenly became the ‘dummy’ or ‘stupid-head’? Yeah, I do. Was not cool.
- Repeating may contribute to negative attitudes towards school and learning, and decrease the likelihood that a student will participate in post-secondary education.
- Schooling itself, and certainly repeating, can’t change a child’s attitude toward learning and academic achievement. Students need support and structure to develop a positive attitude toward study and homework.
- Children who repeat tend to have higher rates of behavioural problems compared with non-repeating students. Nothing makes you crankier than being told (in not so many words) that you’re not as smart/good/clever/capable as everyone else.
Unless a student has agreed to and is happy repeating the year, perhaps for their final year of schooling with the focus of achieving a higher exit position for tertiary studies or if their current year has been largely interrupted (they may be moving to another school also) then all the info is pointing to don’t do it.
What If You Are Sure It Is Necessary?
You need to discuss this with your child’s teachers and principal at length. Really make sure all of the options are identified and considered, take into account all the available information from them directly, and from the government education departments, then talk to your child about the process and the possible outcomes, both positive and negative. They’ll know what’s happening, so it’s only fair to involve them.
During the decision-making process, it may help you to consider these questions:
- What areas do they struggle the most in – reading, writing, mathematics, science, concentration, social aspects or a combination of these or more areas of learning?
- What techniques have been applied by teachers and parents during the year to assist in areas of difficulty? What has worked and what has not?
- If the same material is to be studied in a repeat year, what kind of teaching approach would your child receive to ensure they cope with or understand the subject content any differently than the first time?
- What level of expectations do you have, with regard to performance in a repeat year, for your child?
- Are those expectations realistic?
When taking into account the altered teaching methods to be applied, learning and behavioural changes that need to be implemented and structured homework support time, ask yourself if this could all be done whilst still advancing your child through to the next grade at school and potentially removing the (social and self-induced) negativity associated with repeating.
If after considering all possibilities you decide that the repeat year is still in your child’s best interests, be aware that the school principal makes the final decision. It’s the principal’s duty to consider if repeating is in the student’s best educational interests and take into account the possible impact it may have on their future.