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Should badly behaved pupils be made to repeat the year?

Is it draconian for schools to hold students back a year for misbehaving? Source: Shutterstock

There’s nothing certain in life but death and taxes…and perhaps school children misbehaving.

Academy chain Outwood Grange Academy Trust (OGAT), which runs 31 schools in the UK, has drawn mixed reviews for saying it would hold students back a year if they break rules for student conduct.

According to their Behaviour Policy, OGAT notes: “Students who do not show, over time, good behaviour, attitude and effort in their lessons, will not graduate at the end of year 8 and may subsequently remain in year 8 until improvements are made.

“The overarching aim of our behaviour policy is to promote positive behaviour, to ensure our students grow into safe, respectful and responsible citizens and to allow them to learn in a calm environment.

“We want all of our students, during their time with us, to reach the top of the pyramid, meaning that they leave us as good citizens, and this is the rationale for our approach. We want our students to do this not only because they have to, but because they want to, and are mature enough to know how to do the right thing,” they said.

Their behaviour policy is set to be rolled out across all schools in September.

Apart from giving sanctions to students who fail to act responsibly or do not accept responsibility for their actions, OGAT said they also want to “help students to make the right choices”.

This is done in a number of ways, including giving students a ‘Praising Stars’ report every half term, which includes recognition of effort. Students whose effort is particularly high are invited to celebrate at an event hosted by the principal of the academy, it said.

Repeating a year may come with negative consequences

While OGAT’s intention to promote and instil good behaviour in children, such as to act respectfully and be kind to everyone regardless of rank or stature, can be lauded, some felt that holding students back was not the way forward.

Speaking to The Guardian, National Education Union (NEU) joint general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, said the threat of failing a year was too tough a sanction and was unlikely to resolve the underlying causes of bad behaviour.

“Separating a student from their friends and peers could cause more challenges for the child,” she said.

“Schools need the funding and staffing to put in place the right support where behaviour is disruptive and isn’t improving. The current cuts to pastoral systems leave staff under too much pressure and students without the individual support needed to improve their behaviour.”

Studies on the topic have yielded mixed results.

There are those who suggest that pupils who’ve been held back, or who are older than average for their grade, are likelier to misbehave and end up suspended from school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes “research shows that low-achieving students tend to progress at the same rate, whether they are retained or promoted. Retained students do not necessarily score better on achievement tests at the end of the repeated grade, compared with similar students who are promoted. Even if retained students improve on stan­dardized test scores, their overall learning does not appear to increase.

“You must also consider the negative effects of grade retention on social and emotional development. Quite often these students have fewer friends and a poorer self-concept. If a child already has emotional or social difficulties and has an academic deficit only in a particular area, he might benefit more from special services rather than retention.”

Another suggests that holding kids back at third grade for not meeting the academic standards may give them a boost in achievement, by some measures, and does not affect their likelihood of finishing high school.

Whether the practice of holding students back a year causes more harm than good remains to be seen, but education professionals may want to heed caution.

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