The pros and cons of primary schools making binding recommendations for secondary school tracks are a hot topic of discussion in business and politics. While the majority of the German federal states leaves the secondary school track decision with parents, some states make access to certain secondary school tracks conditional on the track recommendation by the primary school. A study has now shown for the first time that the primary school recommendation already has an impact not only on the pupils’ skills acquisition but also on their well-being at the end of primary school.
Binding primary school recommendations create additional incentives to learn, which in turn can improve academic skills at the end of primary school. The study results make clear that without binding recommendations pupils’ performance is significantly lower in all tested competencies. The measured effect corresponds to a 12.5 to 17.5 per cent lower annual skill acquisition in mathematics and 10 to 20 per cent in reading, listening comprehension and spelling. “Pupils spend more time on self-study after school when recommendations are binding. These additional efforts appear to be self-determined and not the result of pressure from parents,” explains Maximilian Bach, researcher in the ZEW “Labour Markets and Human Resources” Department and co-author of the study. The researchers did not find any differences in the educational measures taken by parents, such as checking on homework or arranging for a private tutor.
The increased pressure to perform in the fourth year, however, has a negative effect on pupils’ well-being and joy of learning. Pupils in fourth year appear to be significantly more worried about their school performance and their futures, and take less joy in learning when school recommendations are binding. “Whether primary school recommendations should be binding is at the discretion of parents and policymakers. The decision also depends, among other things, on whether one is willing to trade-off improved skills for increased performance pressure for primary school pupils and the consequences that come with it,” concludes Maximilian Bach in light of the decision-making dilemma.