It’s that time of year again: school concerts, prize-givings and report cards. And discussions with your child’s teacher on how best to prepare your child for the next level of schooling, Grade 1.
What if you or your child’s teacher suspects your child is not ready for Grade 1?
Most commonly, this is the question in the hearts and minds of parents whose children are born later in the year. Perhaps they have struggled all along, or are starting to show signs of falling behind. Do you push them through or keep them back? How do you know you’re making the right decision for your child?
Kristen Strahlendorf, a registered counsellor and intern educational psychologist, says making learners repeat a year when they’re not doing well socially or academically is not uncommon in South Africa or internationally. In Australia, about 8-10% of learners repeat a grade at some point in their school life (Martin, 2009).
Cindy Glass, Director and Co-founder of Step Up Education Centres, agrees. “Without a doubt, any child who has not sufficiently mastered the skills at this level will become more fearful, less confident and progress slower if they are forced on to a more challenging level. They may even risk drowning in the process!”
Cindy adds that the principal of learning any new skill is the same. “It is best to achieve sufficient mastery of each level of study before progressing to more challenging levels of learning.”
Why keep a child back?
The major assumption underlying the practice is that retaining learners in a grade provides the opportunity to catch up with other students socially, physically, behaviourally, and emotionally. Not to mention keeping up with the curriculum.
Most learners who need to repeat a grade are having difficulty with the work and struggling to meet the grade requirements. This affects other areas such as their behaviour, social interaction and/or maturity level that may not be age or developmentally appropriate. It is often seen in learners who are younger in age than the rest of their classmates.
When is the best time to keep a child back?
Research according to Cannon & Lipscomb, shows that negative effects of repeating a grade seem more prevalent in the higher grades and so it’s often considered best to repeat a grade in the first 3 years of schooling.
The timeless analogy still rings true: education is like the foundation of a building. If the foundations are not deeply rooted and solid, one needs to take the time to strengthen those foundations. Repeating a year within the Foundation Phase allows for consolidation and reinforcement, which will stand the learner in good stead for the next educational phase.
Kirsten Strahlendorf says Grade R specifically is the crucial year where learners start to develop their own sense of self, alongside others and their peers. This is the year that their perceptual ability and reasoning is developed and strengthened, which is very important for the higher grades. Perceptual ability and reasoning is the ability to be able to take in all different types of stimuli through your senses and then be able to processes in and give meaning to it.
Perceptual development does not occur overnight and takes time, a process needs to be followed. The learners are continuously assessed throughout the year and open communication between the teacher and parents is key.
The value of psycho-educational assessment
The decision to have your child repeat Grade R should be made in conjunction with a team of experts. If you’re concerned, liaise with your child’s teacher, school principal, school counsellor and an educational psychologist. Have your child complete a school readiness test and then discuss all the facts, findings and results with your support team.
These assessments, which can be performed with an educational psychologist either at the school or externally, are very helpful as they allow you to recognise the child’s strengths and challenges, and interventions can be recommended to further develop the learner both within the class as well as in the home environment.
These assessments will also show the bigger picture in terms of your child’s intelligence quotient (IQ), emotional quotient (EQ), and scholastic and academic abilities, and together with classroom and playground observations can give the parent and teachers a far fuller picture and assist in making the best decision for your child.
Based on the outcomes of the full psycho-educational assessment, a referral may be made to other therapies such as occupational therapy (OT), speech therapy, physiotherapy, and others as required. It is essential to work with a full multi-disciplinary team in order to achieve the best possible results.
Strahlendorf recommends that a school readiness assessment be done nearing the end of grade R, and a full psycho-educational assessment be done every 2 to 3 years to manage not only parents’ and teachers’ expectations, but also to clearly see the learner’s ability and potential.
Making the decision
Here are a few questions you could ask yourself if you are struggling with making the best decision for your child:
- In what area is your child struggling the most — reading, writing, math, social skills or others? Is it just one subject or most of them?
- What have you and the teachers done this year to help your child develop the necessary skills?
- How much time does your child spend on technology? Is this aiding or hindering the situation?
- If your child was to spend another year in the same grade, what type of instruction would she/he receive in the areas she/he finds most difficult? Would a new teaching approach or new materials be used, or would the teacher do the same thing as last year?
- What level of performance would you set for your child to achieve if she/he were retained? What changes would you need to see to be satisfied that retention was effective?
- Realistically, will your child be able to meet the required standards to be promoted next year? What kind of change are you expecting in one year?
- Would considering alternative placement be more effective?
Socially & emotionally:
- Is behaviour a concern?
- How will your child feel about being retained? Will she/he be more motivated to learn and try, or will she be embarrassed and further withdraw from learning?
- Look at your child’s emotional regulation and maturity throughout the year.
Cindy gives the following advice:
1. Repeating a grade is NOT a failure. It is an opportunity for a struggling learner to better master the skills he needs. Your approach to a child repeating the grade will determine your child’s reaction toward it: they haven’t “failed”.
2. Discuss all available options with your child’s teachers before making a final decision. Have an open mind – remember this is about what is best for your child. Discuss any concerns that you may have openly and honestly.
3. Consider your child’s level of competency in the current grade. If your child is struggling significantly, he is most likely going to struggle even more so in the next grade.
4. Consider your child’s age and physical development. A child who is significantly taller or older than his upcoming classmates may feel too embarrassed for a repeat to be of any help.
5. Make a list of all the pros and cons of your child repeating the grade. Ask yourself: What is best for my child? What are the long-term benefits or harms? What would happen if I do/do not allow the repeat?
Also read: How do I know my child is ready?
Who has the final say?
Strahlendorf says “it is of paramount importance that parents remember that retaining their child in Grade R – or in any grade for that matter – is a decision that is ultimately up to them.” However, the school will provide the parents with all the relevant information in order to make their decision, and regardless of the decision the school should act as a support system for both the parents and the learner.
More about the skills your child would need to master in Grade R:
- Pencil grip
- Shape recognition
- Auditory analyis and synthesis
- Emotional readiness
- Bilateral integration
Have you decided to hold back your child instead of sending him to Grade 1? How was that experience? Was it the right decision and did you get any support from the school? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll publish them anonymously.