Working around last year’s academic challenges or failures – Impaq Education
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Working around last year’s academic challenges or failures

5 min read   •   
Jacqui Smit – Copywriter

Failing a year, or even just a subject, can be quite devastating for learner and parent alike. In this situation, many parents tend to experience guilt and blame themselves, wondering if they did enough to help their child. Other times, many parents experience deep disappointment in their child, sometimes even anger. And likewise, many learners are often disappointed in or angry at themselves. Regardless of what you and your child feel, it’s important to remember that repeating a subject or a grade isn’t the end of the world. Here’s how to go about repeating a subject or grade:

1)   Do damage control

The first step is to sit down with your child and have an open and honest discussion about what both of you are feeling. While it may be difficult in the moment, it’s crucial to stay calm and non-judgmental. If you open this discussion by talking about how disappointed you are, the conversation is not going to be a productive one, and will probably cause an already bad situation to devolve further. The last thing you want is feelings of shame to grow. Instead, use this time to make a safe space where both you and your child can discuss your feelings about their failure so that both of you can feel ready to move forward with a mutual understanding.

Read more: How to foster resilience in children

2)   Identify the problem(s)

Teachers, tutors, and other education specialists will tell you that failing a subject or grade doesn’t happen overnight – it’s a steady series of small failures, and these failures don’t come out of the blue. Before you and your child can tackle repeating a subject or grade, you need to find out why they failed in the first place. While the list of possible reasons for failure is almost endless, most reasons can be reduced to a lack of understanding, a lack of motivation, or a personal/mental health issue.

  • Lack of understanding: the most obvious reason for academic failure is that learners simply do not understand the lesson material and are thus reluctant to do the necessary practice or studying needed for passing the work. Perhaps the work is too hard, and your child didn’t feel comfortable asking for assistance.

Read more: How do I choose a tutor for my child?

  • Lack of motivation: many learners fail simply because they are not motivated to do the work needed to pass. This is a tricky one because apart from some learners simply just not enjoying learning and doing schoolwork; there is a whole host of reasons why learners might not feel motivated to study, which can include other reasons for failure discussed here.

  • Personal/mental health issues: sometimes, learners fail because of issues outside of the lesson material. If learners are struggling with problems like anxiety, low self-esteem, or depression, this is likely to have a negative impact on their schoolwork if left untreated.

3)   Have a game plan

Once you’ve identified the contributing factors to your child’s failures, you and your child will need to work in tandem to create a concrete strategy for repeating the subject or year successfully. If your child’s difficulty was understanding the work, it might be a good idea to use the services of a tutor.

If a learner’s problem is more motivational/personal, it might be prudent to see a psychologist or counsellor to help your child work through their barriers to success. If you suspect your child’s issue might be mental-health related, seek out the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist. Learners’ grades often improve dramatically when they are treated for psychiatric problems that result in their previous failure.

If you can work through your child’s issues without external help, sit down with them and draw up the approach both of you will follow to prevent future failure. Here are some tips on how to ensure success:

  • Be proactive: if you see your child’s grades dropping again, call a time-out and discuss what’s going on (again, in a calm and judgement-free space) before marks become an issue again.
  • Make your expectations clear and set defined, workable goals, as well as ways in which to achieve them.

Read more: Helping your child set goals for the new year

  • On a more pragmatic level, be sure to structure your learning day and ensure that your child has dedicated homework and study time. Stress the importance of organisation.

Read more: 10 tips for home education success

  • Remind your child that if they are struggling, they can ask for help at any time – there is no shame in asking for help! Drive home the notion that no one can do everything by themselves, and they shouldn’t feel embarrassed for requesting assistance.


  • If a learner’s problem is motivation, find ways to motivate your child to complete tasks. Often, reward systems are a good way of having learners take responsibility for their learning. Everyone is different, so make sure the way you motivate your child works for them.

Read more: How to reward your kids the right way