Pros and Cons of Repeating Prep
Repeating the prep year is a decision that parents may be asked to consider. Other parents are wondering if they should be talking to their school about the possibility. This article outlines the pros and cons of repeating the prep year of school together with supporting research. It will arm you with information, advice and tips to help you talk with your school, support your child and give you more confidence in your decision.
Editor Intro: I have three children, two with special needs. While my first two entered school at the legislated school age, my final child repeated kindergarten and will enter the preparatory year late. I write this article to share all the information I found during this time. This article will provide value to you, to help you make a decision about repeating in any year of schooling, but the data mainly refers to the lower levels of primary, Kindergarten, Prep and Year 1.
Why repeat the prep year?
There can be personal and medical reasons that might factor into your decision to have your child repeat the school year but often there are developmental or emotional challenges with your child seemingly not performing as well as their peers or to curriculum standards. Your teacher might have spoken to you about their concerns for your child or you yourself might be worried either about their writing, or reading or their social immaturity. Whatever your reasons, I want you to remember, they are your reasons, and this is your child. I was told not to repeat my child, by both her speech therapist, her paediatrician and many well-meaning friends. I know they were reassuring me that everything was going to be ok, she would be ok, I just wasn’t sure I was ok with “ok”. It was a family GP who reminded me that no one knows my child as well as me, so I set about to research the facts on repeating a year of education to ensure I would be armed with more than just opinions when considering the options.
It is still a sliding doors moment. I try not to wonder what she would have achieved if she had gone through on time, had she been in the same year as her cousin etc. because there is no value in that. Whether the choice is yours, or you are here to console yourself on a decision that is out of your hands, remember that whatever happens, you can make it work.
What will be considered by the school when making a decision
According to the Department of Education Guidelines for repeating, “Principals should consider the student’s best educational interests, including factors such as the student’s age, academic performance, aptitude, ability and development. They may also consider the student’s maturity, social and emotional well-being and attitude.” According to the guidelines, schools also look at the individual’s circumstances when making a decision. They might consider the willingness of the family and child, whether a learning disability is present, whether the child has an extreme absence from school and why (this applies to any repeated year).
Who decides if your child can repeat prep?
The Department of Education states that it is ultimately the Principal of a school who will make the final decision in whether a child can repeat prep.
The Department of Education recommends a collaborative approach and involvement from teachers and parents in the decision-making process.
It should not be a surprise conversation.
Talk to the school about your concerns and your willingness or unwillingness to consider repeating a year and find out why they do or don’t support your decision.
Be open-minded and don’t take it personally. If the teacher thinks they will catch up, ask for some time to have this confidence explained and what improvements you should be looking for to validate this claim.
Remember that many parents worry their child doesn’t know their sight words or can’t write a sentence or any other of the perceived minimum benchmarks but improvements can happen quickly in the early years and in the words of a wise prep teacher, “One day it just clicks”. In the vast majority of children, this is the case and all the worry in the world will make way for relief when your child just gets it all of a sudden and you wonder what you were worried about. Sometimes, this won’t be the case and it will take them a little longer and will need a bit more intervention.
The pros of repeating the prep year of school
- Time to catch up academically. The Australian Curriculum is fairly static, which means that by repeating a year, a child will have an opportunity to revise past learnings, fill in the gaps and retain the information.
- Time to catch up developmentally. Think about milestones, If you began teaching 10 children to walk on the same day, it doesn’t mean they will all learn to walk at the same time. Kids do develop at different rates.
How do we know this can carry into education?Let’s take gender comparison as an example. Girls and boys and NAPLAN results can be formulated into some assumptions around gender. Noting upfront that NAPLAN is limited in what it can conclude because it doesn’t account for extended school absences, illness, socio-economic standard, country of origin, size of family, disability and a gazillion other potential impacts to a student result.
This article isn’t about gender differences but if you want to read the report from the Australian Early Development Census you can here, but its this conclusion that is most interesting “, “These results indicate that by the time students reach Year 9 NAPLAN the difference in performance between boys and girls is small and, in practical terms, any effect of gender is negligible for reading and numeracy skills.” The implications are, that this one factor, (gender) which is tracked, shows that boys can be behind in certain school areas in the beginning but do catch up to girls. Not all boys will be behind girls during their early education and not all boys will catch up to girls because it isn’t that simple. The study is limited and flawed.
The AEDC (Australian Early Development Census) have published research projects looking into the educational outcomes being impacted by everything from domestic violence in the home, special needs implications to educational outcomes and even maternal nutrition. Their research suggests and demonstrates that there are countless factors that impact educational outcomes at all stages of education and development yet none of the studies about repeating account for these factors in their outcomes.
Summary: “Repeating doesn’t work, they will never catch up” is a simple statement based on research that is extremely limited in terms of the factors they look at and at best selective to the exclusion of other influencing factors. Side thought: I wonder how those same children in the studies would have done if they didn’t repeat. Would they have performed more poorly overall? There isn’t a single study in the world that can tell you that.
- Time to catch up emotionally. The research was undertaken at a Canberra primary school (still ongoing) that showed that anxious kids retained less information. Literally, they do not remember the same amount of words as the less anxious child sitting next to them. (http://psychology.anu.edu.au/research/highlights/how-anxiety-affects-learning.) Kids with less resilience, a hallmark of social immaturity are likely to be more anxious. It makes sense then, just on this one emotional issue, that another year, a more confident year, could result in greater learning.What if the anxiety or lack of resilience isn’t developmental and it is environmental or part of the child’s persona? This is a good point and you can be relieved to know that anxiety can be managed and even overcome through therapy and resilience (which may go hand in hand with anxiety) is also a skill that can be learned. This is helpful whether your child repeats or not, knowing that you can undertake interventions outside the classroom that will improve learning within the classroom.
The cons of repeating prep
- They may not catch up. This is true and different research shows that there is a trend to “catch up” but that this advantage wanes as schooling goes on and that eventually children once again fall behind. Assuming this to be the case, there are some things you can do to help your child not become a statistic. Never assume they have caught up. Continue to provide support in reading, homework and maintain close contact with your children’s teachers every year to discover any areas they are struggling so that you can help and discover what they do well at so that you can help extend their learning. It’s not about pushing your child but equally, it is about being vigilant and being an active partner in their education. There is a whole other school of research that we don’t discuss in this article showing the importance of active parent participation and interest in a child’s education.
- Self esteem issues. Children that repeat a year may lose friendship groups and may struggle to understand why they are repeating the prep year without their peer cohort. Willingness to repeat is actually a factor for this reason. You can help to counteract the impact by talking positively about repeating the year but ultimately this will affect some kids more than others. Helping your child to make friends with incoming students from the next cohort may be something of value. You may also consider whether your child can have a different teacher both to benefit from a different style of teaching but also to not feel like they are just “doing it again”.
- Poor outcomes. The Queensland Department of Education Guidelines above reference studies done before prep was even introduced to support their alleged poor outcomes like increased failure to complete high school, increased behavioural issues and more. I find it difficult to understand how these assumptions apply to a year of school that didn’t exist when the guidelines were written.
What parents are worried about
Parents are worried about making the wrong decision. There is so much contrary information, research which says no, widespread anecdotes that say YES and lots of in between information. In short, it’s a decision which is made often with trepidation and with a lack of certainty that the right decision is being made.
The Guidelines for Repeating speak more like an opinion piece on the downfalls of repeating which much be a difficult read for parents who feel repeating is no longer a choice. Their approach disempowers parents instead of empowering them with the tools, tips, guidelines, reassurances they are seeking. I hope this resource gives you all sides of the story.
What you should do
- Find out the reasons why the school is suggesting your child repeat prep or on the flipside why they aren’t and you think your child should. That is step one.
- Take that information and consider the merits. If it is because they can’t retain letters, then this is a clue that you need to investigate this further. Is there an executive memory issue? Is there an underlying issue like dyslexia or hearing issues? Will any issue discovered be resolved with time or will intervention be required from a professional of some description? Is there a delay because of an emotional issue? Are they not learning because they are anxious, or because of a lack of confidence brought about by poor peer relationships. Use this information to formulate a future action plan and work with your school to implement strategies to help overcome them.
- Ask for work samples from your child to see proof alongside work from their peers so you understand the skill difference. Have them help you to understand why they think your child will catch up if they don’t repeat or what they will do to ensure a repeating year is more successful than the last.
- Discuss what support will be provided for your child and how they will monitor improvements. Agree on the support and make sure you follow-up often to ensure it is implemented and reviewed. You are your child’s biggest advocate. If you don’t advocate for them, who will?
Every single document we found supported the idea that repeating school results in poorer outcomes at the end of school. Here is what you aren’t told.
- The research we found was either looking to reinforce the claim of poor outcomes or starting from a place where this conclusion was already a known fact. They linked to general and flawed research that was then linking to even more general, flawed and very old research. There were some interesting findings in some of the research but the studies weren’t there to investigate them further.
- The research being relied on is old. Even the Department of Education parent fact sheet links to two resources to support their conclusions, one was written in 2007 and one in 2002. Prep only started in Queensland in 2007!
- The research is very limited in what factors it considers – it is a very general, encompassing all children, disregarding personal circumstance and you can’t filter these results to try and see how it might apply to your child, in their circumstance.
- If studies are detailed they tend to be too selective in their considerations, validating their results by showing other selective studies that support the same conclusion. It is difficult to rely on any of the research.
- We did find a study which seemed promising and claimed to have narrowed the field (slightly) by comparing siblings. Except, it is an American study. Secondly, it does not look at whether the grade retention was in kindergarten or whether it was grade 5. The study shows children do show improvements immediately following the repeating of a school year. The researcher then shows that academic advantage evened out after some time concluding that this short-term boost dissipates because the students might find being held back to be psychologically scarring. EXCEPT the study doesn’t differentiate between a child who repeats in the first year verse a child that repeats a year in middle or late primary school? Yet surely a kindergarten/prep student is likely to be less scarred by being held back than a mid primary school student. Is it possible that the year 5 repeats had poorer outcomes that then brought the outcomes of the whole group down? YES, IT IS! I found this lack of attention to detail frustrating and extremely unhelpful and you should too.
- The research fails to account for learning difficulties, disabilities, challenges like ADHD or any number of contributing factors, or if one is considered then another is omitted. One would assume the above challenges would result in higher repeating/retention rates and possibly (regardless of retention, poorer outcomes) some more than others, some less than others, some not at all.
- None of the studies we found considers the long-term impacts of repeating prep because prep has not been around long enough to draw any of these conclusions. A prep student that repeated in 2007 would not have even completed year 12 yet.
- Studies that have any detail go on to question the limitations of their conclusions and also ironically criticise the more general studies for their general limitations (despite these studies being used to form these big assumptions).Research we reference above (though we looked at much more)
- https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/grade-retention-research/ This is about third-grade retention (in the US)
- Repeating any year of school is not to be taken lightly
- If you choose not to repeat on advice or you are told that you can’t, then make sure you have a serious discussion about the future support that will be given to your child and the support that will be given to you to help support their learning at home.
- If your child does repeat then equally you want to work with both the school and the teacher to support your child in their learning beyond the classroom to ensure they have the best possible outcomes.
- There is no certainty in life and certainly not when it comes to repeating a year of school. It is one factor in many factors that will determine the future academic outcomes and happiness of your child. This decision does not change who your child is or their potential in life both in terms of their happiness or their future job prospects. This decision is not a reflection on you as a parent, and it is a personal decision between your family and your school in the best interests of your child.
- You are unlikely to be 100% confident in any decision you make but if you place all the best support structures in place and you are proactive with your child’s learning then you can feel 100% confident you will give them the best possible opportunity to achieve their potential regardless of the decision.
Australia Early Development Census https://www.aedc.gov.au/
The Australian Curriculum Website https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/