Holding kids back 'traumatic'

Last updated 05:00 24/01/2014

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Fifty years of research shows holding children back a year at school does more harm than good - but political legislators have ignored it, a visiting American education professor says.

The insecurities associated with a child feeling like a failure have long-term effects on their education and lead to anti-social behaviour, Professor Emeritus David Berliner said, ahead of his speech to teachers at the New Zealand Educational Institute conference yesterday.

"The policy in 12 states in the United States is that if kids aren't meeting the reading grade they are held back, but we have 50 years of research saying that doesn't actually work.

"The research is clear on this, and for politicians to deny it is them saying they know better. It's like saying there's no climate change or global warming."

He said surveyed children held back at a young age likened the experience to wetting their pants or losing a parent. "It's incredibly traumatic and makes them feel like a failure. It affects the parents' relationship with the child because they see them as underachieving, and research shows these kids are more likely to drop out of school further down the track."

In some states, young criminals are often children who were kept back at school.

Prof Berliner said it was odd that governments spent money holding a child back for a year rather than using that money to provide tutoring for those who needed it.

Myths and lies were common in education systems across the world, and saying a system was failing wasn't the truth.

"There are plenty of schools doing well - it's the economic system and the inequality of families that is failing."

He said schools claiming uniforms produced better grades for students was another well-rehearsed myth. "That's just overselling uniforms, and the people that are selling that message are the uniform manufacturers. There's plenty of problems at school, but they're community issues that need more attention."

NZEI president Judith Nowotarski said international evidence was clear on inequity, which equated to poorer outcomes for students, while systems with high levels of equity had better student learning results. There were a number of important policy changes the Government could make if it was serious about improving opportunities and education for all children, she said.

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- The Dominion Post

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