Repeating a year is relatively common in the USA where the No Child Left Behind Act (2002) recommended that students be required to demonstrate a set standard of achievement before progressing to the next grade level. Students can also be required to repeat a year in some countries in Europe including Spain, France and Germany. In Finland, pupils can repeat a year in exceptional circumstances, but this decision is made collectively by teachers, parents and the student rather than on the basis of end of year testing.
In England, repeating a year is currently very uncommon and schools cannot require that students repeat a year without parental consent.
How effective is it?
Evidence suggests that in the majority of cases repeating a year is harmful to a student’s chances of academic success. In addition, studies consistently show greater negative effects for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who repeat a year, suggesting that the practice of repeating a year is likely to increase educational inequality. Repeating a year is also likely to lead to greater negative effects when used in the early years of primary school and for students from ethnic minorities.
On average, students who repeat a year fall behind peers of a similar level of attainment who move on. After one year, students who repeat a year are four months’ behind those who move on in terms of academic achievement. In addition, studies suggest that students who repeat a year are unlikely to catch up with peers of a similar level who move on, even after completing an additional year’s schooling. Studies also suggest that students who repeat a year are more likely to drop out of school prior to completion.
Although the overall average impact is negative, some studies suggest that in individual circumstances students can benefit, particularly in the short term. However, it does not appear to be easy to identify which students will benefit, suggesting that repeating a year is a significant risk.
There are a number of possible explanations for why repeating a year is so ineffective. One is that in its simplest form repeating a year just provides ‘more of the same’, in contrast to other strategies which provide additional targeted support or involve the use of a new pedagogical approach. In addition, it appears that repeating a year is likely to have a negative impact on the student’s self-confidence and belief that they can be an effective learner.
What are your thoughts on children repeating a year of schooling?