Schools around the world hold struggling pupils back to give them a second chance to master knowledge. Switzerland is no exception. Recent data show that 6.7% of primary school pupils repeated a year during their years at primary school (2012-2018) with significant differences between gender and canton.
In Switzerland, education is run by the cantons and so varies across the country. This shows up in the percentages of pupils repeating a year of primary school, which ranged from 3.5% (GR) to 11.4% (LU). The cantons of Zurich (5.3%), Vaud (10.3%), Geneva (5.6%), Bern (5.5%) and Basel (3.5%) were in between.
The chance of repeating a year was 22% higher for boys (7.3%) – who are typically disadvantaged at school – than for girls (6.0%).
Repeating a year of primary school is more likely among children with parents who left education after school (12.8%) than those who have parents with a university education (3.4%).
In addition, children born outside Switzerland to foreign parents (10.0%) were 72% more likely to repeat a year than Swiss children born in Switzerland (5.8%).
Switzerland’s rate of primary school repetition is average by international standards. In Europe rates average 7.7% and range from 1% to more than 22%. Beyond Europe rates rise even further in nations like Colombia and Morocco.
Holding children back at school is controversial. Whether it helps or hinders remains an open question. Those in favour of it argue that advancing with insufficient mastery of material is demotivating and that repetition can improve performance and motivation. Arguments against it include wasting financial and human resources, damaging self-esteem and not helping academic performance.