The idea that pupils should not move up automatically each year unless they have met a certain minimum standard is common practice in many countries throughout the world, including much of continental Europe. It is regarded with distaste by most UK educationalists who talk about the damage to a pupil’s self esteem. More recently, research carried out by the Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit has highlighted the supposed negative effects of students repeating a year.
What I find interesting is that, if the evidence against it is so compelling, why do so many countries have a system which allows for it? Having taught in countries which operate such systems, I would suggest that the researchers have not taken into account the motivational effect of the desire to be promoted, which leads to higher attainment and greater effort across the board. Research evidence is misleading if it does not take into account the bigger picture – in this case, the effects the system has on the whole cohort of pupils, not just the small numbers who actually do end up repeating the year.
The UK system allows children to drift, to be, quite frankly, lazy – failing to do homework, failing to bring books to school etc. In most of continental Europe, parents and pupils alike are aware that laziness could result in not being promoted. It does away with the need for detentions and teacher nagging (leading to confrontations) which are features of the British system – the onus is on the child and their parents. Teachers in most of continental Europe can be reasonably confident that children who fall behind are doing so because they genuinely have difficulties. Interventions can be arranged accordingly. In Britain, in my experience, the average bottom set is made up of only a small number who genuinely try hard but find the work difficult. The others are those who have fallen behind as a result of laziness in the past and yet have been moved up regardless. They often realise that it is now too late to catch up and become disruptive as a result.
Now, I realise that this is just my hypothesising and I have no substantive evidence for this – just my own anecdotal experience. My ideas may be wrong, but I think it is somewhat arrogant to claim that the many countries which operate this system are wrong and we must be right. I would suggest that further research is needed before we get a definitive answer.