One of the latest crazy education policies to come from Tory MPs is the suggestion that pupils who fail to reach a minimum standard should be held back a year.
I’ve seen the effects of holding back in German schools and I don’t like it at all. The policy is, at best, controversial there and has been abolished in some parts of Germany such as Berlin and Hamburg.
John Hattie’s “Visible Learning” study showed that out of 138 factors analysed, holding back came 136th, with a clear negative effect on achievement. (Hat tip to Warwick Mansell for spotting that one).
But that’s not all. Holding back can have spectacularly disastrous outcomes for innocent bystanders too.
On 26 April 2002 at the Gutenberg Gymnasium in Erfurt, 19-year-old Robert Steinhauser shot twelve teachers, a secretary, two pupils and a policeman before committing suicide, after unsuccessfully repeating year 11.
On 26 May 2006 at Berlin Hauptbahnhof, 16-year-old Mike P stabbed 33 people, including one HIV positive, putting the other victims at risk of infection, in addition to their knife wounds. He had repeated two years at school.
On 20 November 2006 at the Geschwister Scholl Realschule in Emdetten, 18-year-old Sebastian Bosse shot and injured five people before committing suicide. Thirty-two others had to be treated for shock or smoke inhalation due to the smoke bombs he used. He posted on the Internet under the pseudonym ResistantX about being a failure at school, repeating two years and staging a massacre in revenge. In his suicide note, he repeated these themes.
On 23 July 2008 at a Realschule in Biberach, a 15-year-old pupil stabbed his headteacher in the chest with a kitchen knife after unsuccessfully repeating year 8.
When it came to revenge against the system they blamed for their failure, there was no holding back.
The problem for these pupils and many more like them who do not resort to such extreme behaviour is that the combination of Germany’s 3-tier selective school system and mandatory holding back with no clear planned outcome means that pupils can end up in a dead-end situation with no prospect of any useful qualifications when they leave school.
If a similar system is introduced in the UK, I fear it may lead to similarly disastrous and possibly fatal results. Holding back is not the answer. Failing pupils need a way forward.