Repeating a grade: is this a good idea and how can it be avoided?©

By Melanie Hartgill

Which children are likely to repeat and when and where should they repeat?

The first time the question of whether or not a child should repeat a grade arises is usually in grade 0, as many people underestimate the requirements for proceeding to grade 1, forgetting that a child must be emotionally ready too. An emotionally ready child can do the following: realise that he or she cannot always get her own way and realises the need to ask for help at times, can manage feelings of anger and frustration, can work independently, the ability to cope with criticism and failure, the ability to separate from caregiver, is able to verbally express feelings and needs, able to hold her own in a group, can postpone need for immediate gratification of her needs. It is important to be objective and determine, with the help of your child’s teacher, whether or not your child can do these.

However, the question of staying behind comes up for some children in other grades too. So how do parents go about making this decision? If your child is not coping with the academic requirements, regardless of receiving extra lessons and/or remedial assistance, then they will only struggle further in the next grade. However, they may then benefit from moving to a remedial or specialised school environment rather than repeating, as repeating often only involves the child doing the same work again and they often do not receive the specific help and attention necessary to help them with the work. Parents must weigh all the options carefully and be very involved in the decision.

Which children are most likely to be told they need to repeat?

Those children who have birthdays in the later half of the year are often at a distinct disadvantage as they can be up to a year younger than their classmates, which often leads to claims of emotional immaturity in comparison. In addition to this, children with delayed development and attention difficulties are often at risk, as are those children who regularly miss school. When parents are not involved in their children’s schoolwork, such as attending parents evenings, monitoring homework, assisting when necessary, etc. they tend to have children who bunk classes or don’t bother doing the work, as they feel their parents don’t care. Children who frequently change schools are at risk as well, as are children with behaviour or learning problems.

So when should a child not repeat?

Firstly, it must be noted that many children do not benefit from repeating a grade in the long run, but of particular concerns are those children whose difficulties arise from emotional issues or are due to a learning disability. In addition to this, children who are emotionally unstable or fragile, in other words, those whose self-esteem is so low that they will not emotionally cope with repeating the year, will particularly struggle with repeating a grade and so other options need to be considered.

It is essential that any article looking at children repeating a grade consider the findings of current research. Recent studies have suggested that repeating a grade is an ineffective strategy and these children are more likely to dislike school, have low self-esteem and cause trouble in class. There is a high correlation between students who repeat and those who bunk classes or drop out of school. If they do not receive intense assistance in their second year in the grade then they are more likely to continue to fall behind as they become bored and embarrassed. In general, grade retention has a negative impact on the child’s social and emotional adjustment, as well as their scholastic achievement. Very few researchers are able to list the positive reasons for a child repeating a grade and for this reason; parents need to keep on top of their child’s progress. If a child needs to repeat then the earlier this is done the better, with research suggesting this should only occur in either grade 0 or grade 1 and not later than this.

It is essential that parents keep in close contact with the school right from the start of the year. As soon as a teacher raises a concern, it is vital that the parents act on this information and try to identify the problem. Sometimes it is difficult to be objective as there may be emotional issues at home that are affecting the child negatively but this needs to be identified and resolved as soon as possible. Have your child assessed if you do not know why they are experiencing difficulties as a good assessment provides a solid grounding for helping the child progress more appropriately. Once the assessment has been done then the child’s specific difficulties would need to be identified and they would need to receive intense remediation or accommodations in these areas. Accommodations, which offer a way for kids with difficulties to demonstrate what they’ve learned and modifications, on the other hand, mean that the curriculum and/or instruction is changed quite a bit. Consider all of the available options, such as changing schools to one with a less academic and more sports orientated focus (if that suits your child), changing subjects, opting for maths literacy as opposed to maths, etc.

What should the teachers be doing?

  • Making use of a variety of learning and teaching strategies to assist all of the students in their class
  • Making time to work individually with each child so that possible problems cannot be missed
  • Using effective early reading programmes
  • Providing appropriate support and assistance, or identifying who can provide this assistance, for students who are struggling
  • Keeping in close touch with the parents and alerting them to concerns and difficulties as soon as they become apparent
  • Using effective behaviour modification techniques to manage the wide variety of personalities in the class
  • Ensure opportunities for continuous monitoring and modifying work for the children

How should parents broach this subject with their child?

  • Being open and honest with the child is of utmost importance but the focus needs to be on the positive consequences.
  • Identify the child’s strengths are and help them to focus on those.
  • Nurture them and support them at home
  • Provide a balanced lifestyle for them, in terms of extra-murals, healthy meals, exercise, time with friends, etc.
  • Keep on top of their homework, projects, etc.
  • Never tell your child they are stupid or a failure, etc.

About the author:

Melanie Hartgill
Educational Psychologist
Pr. no. 0860000115134

Specialising in: Assessments (educational, psychological, school readiness, emotional and career), Learning Disabilities, Parenting Issues and Training and Child Development
Visit Melanie's Q&A page

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