Held Back In School

Pupils in a school setting generally advance up in Years or Grades as they age up and each new year they expand upon the knowledge they should already know. However sometimes the student in question is forced to remain in their current year while all their peers advance to the next stage. Maybe they're too cool for school and they don't work hard. Possibly, they may have been more than mentally capable but have had to repeat due to health issues. Or maybe the sad truth is that it really was the best they could do; but they just can't memorize all 50 states of the USA. Either way he gets forced to repeat the year/grade with people younger than themselves. This is Truth in Television.

In media its highly likely that the character which is held back is to be The Bully, thus giving them a physical edge on their classmates. Conversely girls are rarely held back, enforcing the idea that girls perform better at school.

There is an additional more extreme version of this where a character is forced to retake multiple years all at once; a 10 year-old being forced back to Kindergarten to relearn the alphabet. Or forcing one character to perpetually retake their current grade ending up with a 15 year-old learning about the Roman Empire with 8 year-olds.

Not to be confused with Back to School; which is about adults returning to school. Or with Dawson Casting, which is where everybody just looks like they've been held back.

Contrast Grade Skipper.


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     Anime and Manga  
  • Tomoe from Sasameki Koto had to skip a year in order to save her family's company from bankruptcy (yeah, she is a Teen Genius, alright), so she is basically one year older than the rest of the cast.
  • Tomoya and Nagisa from CLANNAD wouldn't have even met if they weren't held back at school. Tomoya had to repeat his last year for delinquency, while the two-year-older Nagisa repeated hers twice for ill-related inassistance.
  • Millay Ashford in Code Geass deliberately held herself a back a year so she could be with her friends longer. She was unwilling to leave home and join the real world.
  • In Sand Chronicles after disappearing for a few months, Fuji comes back to school and has to repeat the year.
  • In High School Of The Dead, it's mentioned that Rei Miyamoto was held back for a year, which is implied to be one of the reasons she and Takashi grew apart. It is later revealed that Shidou altered her grades to threaten her father, a police officer who was investigating Shidou's father for political corruption.
  • In Popcorn Avatar, Kurando's sister Mafuyu is still in second year middle school due to her accident and the resulting rehab, despite being the same age as he is.
  • Kaoru Orihara from Oniisama e... should be a second-year, but is in Nanako and Mariko's first year class due to having been ill last year. Said illness is cancer, and it comes back later.
  • In Peach Girl Sae is held back a year and unable to graduate from high school. However despite this she pretends to be a college girl to hide it from her friends.
  • Kei Yoshikawa in The Day of Revolution left school partway through his freshman year when a minor health crisis revealed he was genetically female. Six months of medical treatments later Kei returns to repeat Freshman year as a girl hoping that pronouncing her name Megumi will prevent her old crowd from noticing her resemblance to their missing friend Kei.
  • Eventually happens to Shiho in Private Actress, as she has to repeat her last school year for all the inasistences related to her P.A work. Specifically, the Boarding School case took her several weeks to resolve, and that was the last straw for the school authorities. The last scene of the case has Shiho screeching against Kana, the Big Bad, for this reason.

     Comic Books  
  • One Archie Comics story had Jughead discovering he had never graduated grade school, having been out sick the entire last week. He took a make-up test to prove he deserved to be in high school, and the last panel showed him back in grade school, having to repeat the sixth grade.


  • Marcus Flint from the Harry Potter series had to repeat his seventh year per Word of God.
  • This happening to Shogo Kawada is the reason he had to participate in Battle Royale's Program not once, but twice.
  • During the Baby Sitters Club series, Claudia ends up getting demoted from eighth to seventh grade.
  • In Edmondo D'Amici's Heart, Gentle Giant Garrone was held back two years after being seriously ill.
  • A children's book named "The Flunking of Joshua T Bates" has the main character repeat the third grade because he can't catch up with his reading. It shows that he gets relentlessly taunted by his peers, but he manages to get through the year thanks to a sympathetic teacher. Both aspects are startlingly (and heartwarmingly) realistic.

     Live Action TV  
  • Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the "highest scoring person ever to fail to graduate". He got held back because he had several incompletes and didn't go to summer school for to make up for them.
  • James Franco's Daniel Desario, from Freaks and Geeks.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Dimension Jump", we are led to believe that Ace Rimmer progressed normally at school while Rimmer was held back. However, it's revealed that the opposite is true: Ace was held back, which made him work harder at life.
  • In order to keep the some of the cast still in high school past graduation, Degrassi: The Next Generation held a few students back. Spinner ended up repeating his junior year, due to his expulsion regarding the school shooting and zero tolerance for bullying. Jimmy missed too many days due to his rehabilitation after being paralyzed in said shooting and had to repeat his senior year. Alex graduated, but then came back for a "Victory Lap" in order to boost her grades for university.
    • In the original series, Rick was repeating seventh grade in the first season, and Joey Jeremiah was held back in eighth because he barely passed, and his parents and Mr. Raditch thought he should retake the year so he could start high school on the academic rather than the vocational track.
  • Kelso on That '70s Show was held back as a kid and kept it secret out of shame. It fits the role of Kelso as the group's resident idiot, and he takes some shots at him when they hear it. The main joke however is that he was old enough to legally buy beer for them and told nobody.
  • On Arrested Development this has happened to Steve Holt three times. There's a Freeze-Frame Bonus when his various yearbooks are shown and his most recent quote is "study hard guys - trust me"
  • In an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray and Debra are debating whether or not to hold the twins back a year in school. This leads to a shocking revelation for Raymond: his mother made him repeat a grade in preschool, not for academic reasons, but because she enjoyed walking him to school.
  • In King of Queens, Doug's parents admit to him that he had to repeat kindergarten. At the time they had told him it was "Super Kindergarten".
  • In Lizzie McGuire, Kate confides to her best friend, Claire Miller, that she got held back when she was in Kindergarten. When Lizzie and her friends find out, Lizzie's animated alter ego incredulously wonders how that's even possible ("What'd she do? Fail naptime?"). This gets a Continuity Nod later on, when Kate sheepishly admits to being a year older than the other kids in her grade.
  • In the Community episode 'Mixology Certification', Troy was revealed to have repeated fifth grade:
    Troy: Everyone is ten for two years, because fifth grade is hard for every... one... Mom! How many lies have I been living!
  • Rerun on What's Happening!! has been held back a couple of times. In fact he got the nickname Rerun because he has to repeat in the summer what he didn't learn in the winter. At one point in the series he has the chance to pass and finally graduate but he's afraid to even take the test despite studying hard for it because he's not sure what he can do beyond high school.

     Visual Novels 
  • Yasuhiro Hagakure from Dangan Ronpa, who was held back atleast two years. He's a bit... off.
  • Emi Ibarazaki from Katawa Shoujo. She's one year older than Hisao and the other girls; considering that she lost her legs and her father in an accident and spent at least year in full rehabilitation, it's fully understandable.

     Web Comics 

     Western Animation  
  • The Simpsons:
    • The episode "Bart Gets An F" revolves around Bart attempting to pass a test to avoid being held back a year.
    • Another episode had Lisa promoted from 2nd grade to the 3rd, and Bart demoted from the 4th to the 3rd.
  • Binky on Arthur is in his 2nd year of 3rd grade.
    • Buster is (sometimes) scared that he'll be held back.
    • Also on Arthur Brain's deep dark secret is that he was held back in kindergarten.
  • Francis the bully on The Fairly Oddparents comes to mind at once.
  • Sheen, the sidekick in Jimmy Neutron, may also have been held back (or in danger of same).
    • It was stated in the episode "Jet Fusion" that he had already been held back twice.
    • According to his Nick.com character bio, Nick was held back at least once due to his constant tardiness.
  • In the Grand Finale of the Nickelodeon version of Doug, Roger tells Doug that he's been in sixth grade for three years due to being scared of the big change it would entail.
  • Kevin in Daria was held back in High School.
  • Bonnie from Kim Possible had to take summer school to graduate as she skipped the last week of school which consisted of several pop quizzes.
  • Trina Riffin from Grojband has been held back for three years, despite her intelligence.
  • Harold in Hey Arnold! is said to be 13 years old and been held back. It's never stated how many years but can be implied to be four years.
  • The website for The Amazing World of Gumball describes Jamie as being held back a year and very resentful about it.

Extreme Examples

  • Micah in Easy A is repeating his senior year of high school for the fourth time. This becomes a plot point of some note later in the film.
  • Timmy does this deliberately in A Fairly Odd Movie: Grow Up, Timmy Turner! as a way so he can keep his fairies since if she still acts childish, then he won't have to lose them (That is until the Power of Love begged to differ). He still in his current grade but is 23 years old. Though for real life reasons, it was way to get a actor to play the role without worrying about him growing if they decide to do a sequel (which they did).

  • Lavan in Brightly Burning not technically being dropped back a few grades, because it's implied he was home-schooled before being sent to the Boarding School of Horrors. But he is placed with much younger students based on his prior education.

     Live Action TV  
  • In Phil of the Future Phil is sent back to second grade to gain legible handwriting, because by the time the Diffy family came from, handwriting is essentially obsolete.
  • A non-literal example with Johnny in Twin Peaks who is described as being a 27 year-old who's still in third-grade. It's clear however that Johnny has mental issues and he was being privately tutored by Laura Palmer.
  • One Mr. Young episode had a scene which shows Slab graduating high school while in his 70s at least.

     Video Games 

     Western Animation  
  • In The Emperor's New School It was discovered that Kuzco did not complete his requirements for Kuzcogarten, and he was sent back there to complete them.
  • The Simpsons:
    • When Sideshow Bob was elected mayor, Bart was demoted to Kindergarten as revenge for getting him sent to prison in the first place.
    • Kearny is actually an adult in elementary school. In real life he would have gotten a social promotion, but you know Rule of Funny.
    • In the episode "Bart Gets an F," Bart has an Imagine Spot of him in his 30's or 40's, still in 4th grade alongside Bart Jr.
    • In the episode "You Only Move Twice," Bart attends the school in the planned community the family has moved to. Since he comes from a decidedly Sucky School, he is placed in the "Leg Up" program, which is supposed to be a remedial class, but comes across more as either a special ed class or a kindergarten class, or a special ed kindergarten class.
  • In My Life as a Teenage Robot, Jenny is sent to kindergarten because despite being, well, a teenage robot, she has only been built for five years.
  • In an unknown Popeye Cartoon, Olive Oyl refuses to date Popeye unless he can get an "edumacation". He first starts out in the eighth grade but bungles so many times that he eventually gets demoted all the way to Kindergarten. He needed to eat spinach to have the courage to spell "cat". In the end, he impressed Olive by telling her he went through all grades in one day.
  • Family Guy: In one episode, Peter Griffin encounters an angry bear while on a hunting trip with his son, and his life flashes before his eyes. Twice, Peter sees himself being told by the principal that he'll have to repeat 4th grade, then his final memory before catching up with the present:
    Principal: Congratulation Peter, you finally passed the fourth grade!
    Peter: That's great, but I gotta leave for a hunting trip with my son.
    • In another episode, Peter Griffin has to repeat the 3rd grade in order to receive a promotion.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Lesson Zero", Twilight Sparkle (who panics and assumes the worst consequences any time the possibility of failing Princess Celestia comes up) becomes convinced that, if she's tardy in sending her weekly letter to Celestia, she'll be sent all the way back to Magic Kindergarten.
  • Hey Arnold! had Torvald, a boy who had been held back in fourth grade for several years.
    • Also Harold being held back in fourth grade for several years.
  • An episode of Beavis And Butthead called "Held Back" had the boys be continuously demoted due both to stupidity and poor social skills. They end up back in high school because the Kindergarten teacher refuses to put up with them any longer.
  • More Arthur: Buster was once so afraid of being held back, he had a dream that he'd been held back for so long, Arthur had become the principal while Buster was still a student, and was offering to send him back to preschool. (In a school where, in reality, the other 3rd grade classes are practically at that level, anyway.)
  • Parodied in the What A Cartoon! Show short "Larry and Steve". At one point, Larry mentions that he spent six years in kindergarten, but he insists it wasn't because he was stupid. He simply got his foot stuck in a radiator.
  • Implied in the case of Brick Flagg from Kim Possible, because when Ron's trying out for the Middleton High football team to fill the spot Brick left, Mr. Barkin (the coach for the team) explains to the people trying out for the team that Brick had finally graduated after seven years—meaning that Brick was either held back three times or it took him seven times to graduate.