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Schools: 66% increase in pupils being held back in Flanders

© Taylor Wilcox for Unsplash

The school year 2020-2021 saw an increase of 66% in the number of students who were held back from passing into the next year, according to figures from the Flemish education agency.

Last year, 11,384 students received what is known as a C-certificate – insufficient to allow them to advance to the next year. Those students have to repeat the whole year, which results in them losing contact with friends, but also creates a stigma of failure, often at an early age.

This year, which has just ended, the number jumped to 18,928, an increase of just over 66%. But the increase needs to be taken into context: it is in fact roughly in line with the figure for 2018-2019.

That shows that 2019-2020 was an outlier year. Analysts conclude that as a result of the pandemic that consumed the first half of school year 2020, and the school closures that resulted, the evaluations of students was more forgiving than usual, given the circumstances.

As a result, more students escaped the C-certificate last year for charitable reasons. This year’s results may be no more than an adjustment.

That theory is backed up by the numbers of students who received a B-certificate, which allows them to go forward but in another discipline, and the number of exam resits. In both cases, the figures show an increase over 2019-2020, but a return to the levels of the year before that.

“It is reassuring that the number of B and C certificates is comparable to a normal school year,” said Flemish education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA).

“That in itself is reassuring, but we remain concerned about possible learning delays. We will keep a close eye on this and we will also ensure that thousands of extra hands will be present in the classroom from next school year to help young people and children to catch up.”