YouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor

67% Britons agree with idea for underachieving pupils; parents & public disagree over school standards

Around two thirds of Britons would support schools holding back pupils from moving into the next year if they don’t make enough progress, our poll of British adults, including parents of school-age children, has found. One in five people generally oppose the idea.  

Holding back a year: general public compared to parents

  • 67% of the British public support introducing a system of holding back children a year if they don’t make enough progress
  • 21% oppose holding children back a year in schools

Parents of school-age children are slightly less likely to support holding children back, however, and just over a quarter oppose the idea.  

  • 61% of parents of school-age children support holding children back a year if necessary
  • 27% oppose the suggestion

British schools' learning standards: general public compared to parents

Regarding learning standards expected of pupils in British schools, parents are the more likely group, compared to the general public, to say that demands on students are 'about right'. A third of parents say this, while half say standards aren't demanding enough (compared to three in five people among the public generally who say demands aren't high enough).

But while half of parents of school-age children say that standards aren't sufficiently demanding, a notable third says that the balance is actually about right – substantially more than the public generally.

  • 60% of Britons think the standards of learning schools expect of children they are not demanding enough (compared to 47% of British parents of school-age children)
  • 20% of Britons generally think schools get the balance about right (and 10% say the standards of learning are too demanding) – while 34% of parents say that they're about right (and 13% say that they're too demanding)

Defining progress?

The idea of allowing UK schools to keep underachieving children back a year – and potentially allowing very bright students to skip a year ‒ has been variously discussed in Parliament but never taken up; despite many countries worldwide, including the US, France, Spain and Germany, having this system.

Teacher recruitment newsletter StepUp has discussed how making a child repeat a year is generally reliant on how ‘progress’ is defined, which should be, it says, social and emotional as well as academic.

Leading ‘emotional intelligence’ expert Sal McKeown, has been quoted explaining: “When children are kept back, the school is branding them as ‘not being good enough’. They will lose confidence and may become withdrawn.”

However, James Holloway of the Livestrong lifestyle website has suggested the potential benefits of holding back students who are struggling academically or who are not developmentally on par with their classmates.

“Proceeding to the next grade without having mastered the previous one can cause a student to fall further behind academically, since the foundations for new subjects are lacking. In some cases, students who were struggling with a grade may find that they fit in better in their new class and have an opportunity to master topics that were previously difficult.”

See the survey details and full results here (page 11)

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