It seems to the time of year where teachers and remedial support staff need to start making the big decisions about those children who have been struggling to keep up with the curriculum. To repeat, or not to repeat? And then of course its about getting the parents on the same page. I always tell parents that teachers do not suggest repeat years for the fun of it… they have experience in teaching 30 other children in the class and can see whether or not a child is keeping up or not. I have assessed many children with learning difficulties and have seen the benefits of repeating a grade BUT there are several things to consider.

The first question I ask is “When is the child’s birthday?”. In South Africa our schooling system runs from January to December which means that if you child is born in December, he or she could be up to 11 months behind chronologically and therefore may not find learning to read at the beginning of grade 1 as easy as their much older peers who are more developmentally ready for this. Of course there are those children who cope very well despite being the youngest.

The second is “are there any underlying learning difficulties? ” and if so “will a repeat year really benefit the child or could intervention and support assist the child to continue”.

Thirdly, it is so important to put interventions in place as soon as a child is highlighted as having difficulty. If no assessment or interventions has been put in place by the time a repeat year is mentioned, then we do not know if a little extra time and work will resolve it or if a full year would resolve the academic delays.

There are pros and there are cons to a repeat year. Personally, I feel that the feeling of success (in the repeat year) outweighs the negative impact of a child feeling “not quite good enough” for the rest of their schooling careers. The earlier the repeat year is done, the better i.e. grade 1 or 2. Grade R repeats are generally only done if a child is delayed in language, has fine and gross motor delays or is emotionally very immature.

Every child is unique in their needs and therefore each case should be treated carefully. There are several things to consider as a teacher or a parent:
1. Determine the  child’s level of progress and development. The biggest factors to consider when deciding whether to promote or retain a child in school are the child’s academic progress and level of maturity.

  • If the child has significant struggles with mathematics, reading, or writing, he or she will struggle even more in the subsequent year’s classes.
  • The child must also meet generalized performance expectations of the school curriculum. These expectations may include things like test scores and class participation.

2. Have the child tested for a learning disability. Depending on how much the learner is struggling, you may want to consider having him or her assessed to see if a learning disability might be the problem. Identification of underlying learning difficulties, and correcting the problem, can help prevent future problems in school.

3.Be sensitive to the learner’s feelings. If the decision has been made to repeat the child, do not let them know at the last minute, allow them to be ‘part of the decision and explain it in terms of why e.g. you are a bit young for the class; sometimes some children need a little extra time in grade 1.. He or she may feel angry, frightened, or otherwise concerned with having to repeat a grade with younger students. Take the time to talk to the child and work through his or her feelings before the school year starts.

4.Prepare your child for the new school year. Embarrassment may be one of the worst things for a child repeating a grade. Your child may fear that other kids at school will make fun of him or her. This may have even happened already. While you can’t prevent other kids from being mean, you can teach your child how to brush off insults and maintain his/her confidence.

  • Try to help your child make friends with other kids who will be in his/her class this year. Set up play dates over the holidays, or encourage them to meet and spend time together so your child has at least a few friends right from the start of the school year.
  • Help your child figure out what to say to mean kids. For example, your child might dismiss insults by saying something like, “I just needed to get better at some things. It’s no big deal or anything.”
  • Don’t let any siblings or other family members tease your child. It may be best to let other relatives know in private and then ask that they not bring it up to your child so he or she doesn’t feel self conscious.
  • Emphasize to your child that you still have nothing but love and pride for him or her. This type of reassurance can go a long way towards boosting your child’s self esteem.

Here are some links to further articles on the pros and cons of repeating (specifically related to Grade R/ kindergarten)