Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Students' repeating is 'futile'


Students' repeating is 'futile'
Justine Ferrari, Education writer

REPEATING a year of school offers no academic or social benefits to students, and is an "educational malpractice" that encourages delinquency.

An analysis of more than 20 years of research by Helen McGrath, a psychologist and lecturer in education at Deakin University, found that students who repeat were more likely to drop out of school and less likely to pursue tertiary education.

Dr McGrath says that repeating a year's schooling increases low self-esteem and anti-social behaviour among students, and is "an exercise in futility".

"There is probably no other educational issue on which the research evidence is so unequivocal," her study concludes.

"There is also no other educational issue where there is such a huge gap between what the research says and the practices that schools continue to adopt."

Dr McGrath said no statistics were kept on the number of Australian students who repeat, but it was estimated that between 14 and 18 per cent of all students, or up to 600,000, repeat a year of school at some stage.

More than two-thirds of the students who repeat do so in the first three years of primary school, when parents and teachers believe it is less psychologically harmful.

While students usually repeat a year to allow them to catch up academically, socially or to mature, Dr McGrath said the research was unclear on whether it was related to children starting school too young.

But the study found that any academic gains are short-lived and the stigma students feel in repeating exacerbates existing mental and social problems.

"Students who repeat are aware they have failed in some way and as a result are being removed from their same-age peers," Dr McGrath says.

"This perception is also held by their peers. This creates a sense of shame, stigma and loss of self-esteem."

Some studies found that repeating "directly increased aggression and misbehaviour in all boys, but especially in those who were already showing early signs of anti-social behaviour".

"The frustration, disappointment and anger engendered by this kind of visible school failure contributes to students following criminal and anti-social pathways," one study argues.

Other research warns that making students repeat in the absence of any evidence it benefits them may constitute educational malpractice, akin to doctors performing surgery they know is high-risk or outdated.

In her analysis, Dr McGrath says students who repeat are 20 to 50 per cent more likely to drop out of high school and those who do graduate from high school are 50 per cent less likely to enrol in tertiary education.

"These odds were even worse for those students who had repeated between Years 5 and 10," she says.

President of the Australian Primary Principals Association Leonie Trimper said parents were usually the ones pushing for children to repeat, and she thought it was a rare decision these days.

It was an individual decision for every child that depended on their age, friendships, social groups and long-term benefit, Ms Trimper said.

"It's a complex decision that is never taken lightly."

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