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Held Back in School

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Those that don't learn history are doomed to repeat the class.
"Don't act like you're smarter than me! I've been in high school for SEVEN YEARS! Ain't nobody smarter at school stuff than Misuzu!"
Misuzu, River City Girls

Students 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 cannot memorize all 50 states of the USA. Either way, they get forced to repeat the year/grade with people younger than themselves. This is Truth in Television in some countries.

In media, it's highly likely that the character who 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.

In extreme cases, the character may be held back for 10 — sometimes even 20, or more — years. This is usually played for comedy, as the jarring image of a 20- or 30-something adult sitting with little kids to learn the alphabets often make a hilarious scene.

Due to there being a stigma surrounding it, characters who are held back are Acceptable Targets — expect this to be used as proof that the character is an idiot, and not just Book Dumb either, and very frequently an Insufferable Imbecile. Characters who are held back are rarely portrayed sympathetically — and when they are, they often keep this as a hidden shame. This is especially the case in the United States where "No Child Left Behind" laws make it much harder to fail.

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 & Manga 
  • Raimu-sempai in Bakuon!! was at least 20 when the current principal was a student herself. She's still at school and since she never takes off her helmet, her true age remains a mystery.
  • Buso Renkin: Due to his chronic ill health, Koushaku Chouno (who would go on to become Papillon) was twice held back a year during high school. This was one of the reasons that his father decided to disinherit him in favour of his younger brother Jiro.
  • In A Centaur's Life, Nozomi's grades are bad enough that she's also in danger of being held back. Himeno convinces her to try to improve her grades, saying that she would be sad if they couldn't go up a year together and be in the same class.
  • Milly Ashford in Code Geass deliberately held herself back a year so she could be with her friends longer. She was unwilling to leave home and join the real world.
  • Kaoru Orihara from Dear Brother 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.
  • 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.
  • In Girls und Panzer, Mako Reizei's reason for competing on the tankery team is that despite being an excellent student, she's in danger of being held back due to being late so often. The tankery team offers 200 tardiness passes for those who do well, and she, Oarai's best driver, manages to earn them in the end.
  • The Heart of Thomas: Oskar Reiser traveled with his father for a year and a half after his mother's death; by the time his father drops him off at a boarding school whose headmaster is Oskar's biological father, he's one grade behind.
  • 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.
  • Kaguya-sama: Love Is War:
    • Ishigami was in danger of getting held back early in the series due to a complete lack of desire to apply himself during exams. Kaguya ends up helping him pass a crucial exam due to owing him a favor and later convinces him to actually take school seriously by telling him that getting good grades could help him attract his crush Tsubame. And before that, he almost didn't graduate from middle school as a disciplinary punishment for his incident with Ootomo, but was allowed to due to Iino's protests convincing the Principal.
    • It's revealed in Chapter 202 that Gigako had to repeat her senior year of high school and only graduated the second time around because the principal is her grandfather.
  • Ira Gamagoori from Kill la Kill deliberately held himself back for two years in middle school to ensure he could continue to serve Satsuki Kiryuin, with the result that he's still in high school at the age of 20. The fact that he's a member of the Absurdly Powerful Student Council (and — by extension — the MegaCorp that runs them and the school) is what lets him get away with it, and he's honestly a student In Name Only.
  • Played with for often discussed in The Kindaichi Case Files. Hajime Kindaichi, the protagonist of the series, actually has the IQ of 180, but he's such a Brilliant, but Lazy Apathetic Student that the danger of being held back a year looms over him periodically due to his bad grades (not helped by him often being Asleep in Class instead of paying attention to the teachers and barely bothering to study for school exams), which Miyuki, his "childhood friend", is quick to remind him when the right occasion presents itself.
  • My Monster Secret
    • In the omake for the first volume, Youko wonders if one of Asahi's friends is older than the rest, while looking at the 6-foot-tall-and-built-like-a-rugby-player-and-has-a-five-o-clock-shadow Sakurada, only for Okada to reveal that the (relatively) short and scrawny Shimada was held back a year.
    • Karen has been the student council president for 20 years. Although in her case, it's less because of her grades, and more because she works for the Principal, who has realized that she doesn't have to pay Karen if she's a student.
  • Naruto:
    • It's mentioned that the titular character of Naruto failed the exams several times in a row. Despite this, he's the same age (in actuality, Naruto is younger by a few months) as the rest of his classmates. This is never retconned away because being Book Dumb is a core part of Naruto's characterization.
    • Genin students in Konoha customarily take the Chunin Exams as soon as they graduate from the Academy, but Guy had his team wait a year because he felt they weren't ready. This means that Lee, Neji, and Tenten are a year older than the rest of the Konoha rookies.
    • While Naruto is away from Konoha during the Time Skip, the rest of the rookies have all been promoted to chunin (or in Neji's case, a jonin). The fact that he is still a genin throughout Part II is surprisingly seldom mentioned, barring a humorous episode near the anime's ending, where Naruto has to take a crash course with Iruka so he can be promoted to jonin (though by this point everyone recognizes that Naruto is the strongest ninja in the world and therefore more than adequate to become Hokage; the promotion is just a formality). Sasuke is the other Konoha rookie who is technically still a genin, and unlike Naruto, he never has a rank promotion. But nobody cares, because he spends most of Part II as an enemy of Konoha.
    • Iwabee from Boruto is taller and older than the other academy students because he failed to graduate twice. He has good taijutsu skills but fails at the other skills. Iwabe started out as The Bully but became friendlier after being beaten up by Boruto and told off by Inojin.
  • By the end of Parasyte, Shinichi loses a school year due to having spent most of it hunting down the malevolent Parasytes with Migi's help.
  • Evangeline and Sayo in Negima! Magister Negi Magi have both attended school much longer than they should have. The immortal vampire Evangeline was cursed by Negi's father to attend school. Said curse was only supposed to last until graduation, but since Nagi's gone missing no one could undo the curse. Sayo, on the other hand, is just haunting the school where she died so many years ago.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Eventually happens to Shiho in Private Actress, as she has to repeat her last school year for all the inconsistencies 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.
  • In Sand Chronicles after disappearing for a few months, Fuji comes back to school and has to repeat the year.
  • Yota of Video Girl Ai is badly injured trying to save Ai from her sadistic creator shortly before end-of-year exams and is forced to repeat a year. This doesn't seem to affect his relationship with his old friends, however. Note that the OVA series, which ends at this point in the story, does not mention him getting held back.

    Asian Animation 
  • BoBoiBoy: Subverted. Gopal is a year older than BoBoiBoy but is in the same class as him, and he has delayed homework for months on end. When BoBoiBoy asks him why, however, Gopal answers that his father forgot to bring his birth certificate on registration day and attempted to provide info from memory instead. He got Gopal's birth-date wrong, resulting in him being one grade lower than expected of his age.

  • Jeff Foxworthy includes this in his routines:
    "If your dad walks you to school because you're in the same grade, you might be a redneck."
    "If you missed fifth grade graduation because you had jury duty, you might be a redneck."
  • This joke, set in a North Dakota school (replacing the place names as appropriate):
    "Dad! Dad! Today the teacher asked for all the letters of the alphabet and I knew them all! And then when she asked if we knew how to write in cursive I was the only one who knew! She wondered if it was because we're from South Dakota."
    "(sigh) No, son, it's because you're 35 years old."

    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics:
    • One 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.
    • Another story has him overhearing Miss Grundy talking about Jughead's test scores and suggesting he didn't belong in his grade. He's utterly depressed at the thought of getting sent back a grade until she tells him he's been testing super smart and should be moved up a grade. (He opts to stay where he is, with his pals.)
  • In one issue of Paperinik New Adventures, when the villain blames (not without reason) western society and culture for the destruction of his home country's culture, Paperinik half-jokingly replies that he's talking to someone who got out of elementary school only because of seniority.
  • In a lengthy Peanuts storyline from 1984, Peppermint Patty was held back for failing every subject. When school resumed in the fall, her former classmates were stunned to discover they could still hear snoring noises coming from the perpetually Asleep in Class Patty's old desk, and began referring to it as "the snoring ghost." The teacher and principal finally solved the problem by moving Patty back to her old class.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes is often in danger of this due to his poor grades, but two examples especially stand out.
    • In one strip, Calvin's dad finds him not doing his schoolwork, and Calvin claims to be visualizing it. Dad then tells Calvin to imagine being the only 40-year-old in first grade.
    • A variant comes up in another strip. Calvin says that he doesn't feel like going to school for most of the year for various reasons and concludes that there would be only two days per year he'd feel like attending. They discuss what it would be like if Calvin got his way and only had to attend for those two days, and Hobbes concludes that Calvin would be a very old man by the time he actually moves up to the next grade.

    Fan Works 
  • Apprentice and Pregnant:
    • After giving birth, Hollyshine was held back a few months from becoming a warrior.
    • As punishment for attempted murder under the guise of insanity, Ivypaw is held back from becoming a warrior for six months.
  • Exaggerated in the The Baby-Sitters Club fanfic Caludia Keeshi Middel Skol Mamma, where, ten years after the series ended, Claudia is still in the eighth grade, because she can't be arsed to apply herself and pass the exit exam. Her former charges are now her peers (and some are her fellow BSC members) and her former classmate Cokie is now her gym teacher. It's pretty clear too that, aside from having a car and breast implants, she still has the mentality of a 13-year-old (and even hit on a kid with the justification that 'we're in the same grade'). She finally passes the exit exam at the end and declares how much she'll enjoy starting high school (at age 23-24) with the rest of the club. The funny thing is she thinks Claire Pike had it worse: Claire had to repeat fourth, fifth, and sixth grade.
  • In Distrust, one of the requirements to compete on the season is that you have to be in high school. Yasuhiro Hagakure only gets to compete because of this trope.
  • Katawa Shoujo: Rumbling Hearts: Hanako had a breakdown in her final year of high school which stopped her from graduating. After recovering, she came back the next year to repeat the grade.
  • Little Fires: Goosepaw is training to be a medicine cat under her brother Beechfur's guidance. Unfortunately, he's too overprotective of her to the point where he delays her renaming several months. It makes her upset that she hasn't been given her full name at her age. She's an adult but he coddles her like a father.
  • In Second Year, Second Try, Yu Narukami fails his classes and gets held back a year, something Rise had imagined happening during the Christmas celebration in canon.
  • In One shots, pt 7 Ron has to repeat first year after serving a three-month suspension for bullying.
  • In When Reason Fails, some students, usually the demi-human ones, choose to stay behind in UA because a lot of demi-humans have specific biological needs that UA more easily meets than the general human society. Ibara specifically gives the example of the Frozen Hell zone of UA being the perfect habitat for Cold-Ones, and the other closest suitable habitat for them is in the Himalayas.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Bells of St. Mary's: A point of argument between Sister Benedict and Father O'Malley. Patsy has failed her exams, and on that basis, Sister Benedict wants to hold her back. Father O'Malley wants to pass her, on the grounds that St. Mary's should be in the business of helping its students. Subverted when Patsy eventually reveals that she failed her exams on purpose in order to stay longer at St. Mary's.
  • From Better Off Dead:
    Charles De Mar: Lane, I've been going to this high school for seven and a half years. I'm no dummy.
  • 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 to keep his fairies, since if he still acts childish, then he won't have to lose them (until the Power of Love begged to differ). He's still in his current grade but is 23 years old. Behind the scenes, it was a way to get an actor to play the role without worrying about him growing if they decide to do a sequel (which they did).
  • Grease: At the start of the movie, a couple of the teachers are grousing about having Kenickie in their classes again, saying he's been at the school longer than they have, implying he's been held back more than once already.
  • If You Could Say It in Words: Sadie's family moved around so much when she was a teen that it disrupted her education. She didn't graduate high school until she was 20.
  • Problem Child 2: Murph has been at the school for at least as long as his long-suffering teacher. He's practically an adult.
    Murph: I'm senior student in this school.
    Junior: No shit, you've been here since 1970.
  • In Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins, Shaggy reluctantly admits that he was held back twice when the others in the teenage Mystery Gang ask how he has a driver's license already.
  • Secrets In The Hot Spring: Qie is revealed in a phone conversation with his aunt at the beginning of the movie to still be attending High School at 20 years of age.
  • Invoked by Van Wilder who is deliberately repeating his last year at Coolidge College for the third or fourth time in fear of not adjusting to post-grad adult life. In the meantime, he developed a rep on campus for being Fun Personified, quite the Chick Magnet, and just an all-around Nice Guy.

  • Briony Tate from And Then I Turned Into a Mermaid got held back a year after a case of glandular fever caused her to miss several months of school.
  • The Baby-Sitters Club: In book #101, Claudia ends up getting demoted from eighth to seventh grade.
  • Battle Royale: This happening to Shogo Kawada is the reason he had to participate in the Program not once, but twice.
  • The Berenstain Bears: According to the Big Chapter Book ...and the Bermuda Triangle, Too-Tall has been held back twice, which is why he's in Teacher Bob's class instead of Miss Glitch's.
  • Both Can Be True: During Ash's first attempt at sixth grade, they missed a month of school due to appendicitis, and while they were in the hospital, their parents split up. As a result, they flunked the year, which is why they're almost 14 but still in seventh grade.
  • Holly from Breakfast at Tiffany's mentions that her brother Fred had been held back at least three times in eighth grade.
  • In Christine, Buddy Repperton and his gang are mostly around 20 years old and still trying to graduate high school. This fact could be considered as partly justifying the obvious Dawson Casting in the film version.
  • The Curse of the Blue Figurine: In the later sequel The Hand of the Necromancer, Johnny has a run in with his old classmate Eddie Tompke, who'd been in the same class as him "until the previous year", having been held back. Eddie pretends it doesn't bother him, but it clearly does.
  • Ella and Friends: The entire class gets held back at least twice due to failing to learn the multiplication tables. First they have to repeat second grade, and then they move up to "grade 2½".
  • 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.
  • Harmonic Feedback: Justin is repeating junior year after spending time in juvie and rehab.
  • Harry Potter series:
    • Because Writers Cannot Do Math, Marcus Flint ends up having to redo his Seventh Year, as per Word of God. Later editions of the first book averted this by simply making him a year younger.
    • Since she is absent during the 1997-1998 school year, having gone on the run with Harry and Ron, Hermione graduates from Hogwarts at the age of 19. The boys, on the other hand, opt to drop out.
  • In Edmondo D'Amici's Heart, Gentle Giant Garrone was held back two years after being seriously ill.
  • Heralds of Valdemar:
    • 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.
    • Briefly discussed in Exiles Honor. Alberich, despite being a man grown and at least in part because of being a captain in the Sunsguard of Karse when he was Shanghaied*cough* Chosen, had enough knowledge gaps and probable internalized misinformation that even those who fully trusted him thought he needed a fair bit of instruction before being formally given his Whites. However when the elderly Weaponsmaster gave him the job of his Second it was decided to have him tutored after hours rather than compromise the authority needed to teach young muscleheads how to fight.
  • I Am J: J's friend Chanelle is 20 and still in high school. She's one year off from the cutoff age in NYC. Chanelle plans on going to college to become a poet afterwards.
  • Jake and the Dynamo: Jake, just before graduating to high school, ends up going all the way back to fifth grade.
  • In Language Arts, Charles notes that the fourth grade class bullies have a hardened look that makes him think they were held back.
  • Zigzagged in Malory Towers: Girls who do poorly can be held back a form, but students who are too young to advance can be held back too, while girls who are too old to be held back might be allowed to advance with their peers despite their poor performance.
    • Gwendoline, despite consistently placing bottom in her class, is also one of the oldest girls in the form, so she's always allowed to move up with the rest of the main cast.
    • In the third book, Zerelda starts out as a fourth former but is unable to keep up with the lessons and is sent to the third form.
    • Connie from Upper Fourth is held back while the main cast moved to their fifth year after failing her exams.
    • Catherine, Moira, and Jane from the fifth form where left behind from the previous year.
  • Sam from The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester spent the first seven years of their life in foster care, where they received almost no education. They're still a year behind everyone else, which is why they're still in high school despite being almost 19.
  • Lukas from May the Best Man Win had to repeat fourth grade. It may have been for the better, because he was the biggest kid in freshman year and got onto the varsity football team.
  • In Mindblind, Grade Skipper Nathaniel is surprised to learn that his bandmate Logan Finley is still in middle school despite being almost 16, like the other band members.
  • Victor Tugelbend, the main character of Moving Pictures, starts the novel trying to stay in this state perpetually on purpose. He had inherited an overly generous educational trust fund from a relative, which pays out until he graduates or his grades drop below a B-. Since getting a B+ or above would cause him to graduate, and thus lose his gravy train and have to get an actual job (note that he's attending a Wizarding School and Discworld wizards practice Klingon Promotion), he goes to considerable effort to ensure that he gets straight Bs, and thus remain a student forever.
  • One of Us is Lying: In the sequel, One of Us is Next, we learn that Maeve has been held back a year due to missing so much school as a kid as a result of her leukaemia. Knox started school a year late because he was small for his age and his parents were concerned he'd be at a disadvantage. This does not help his "Well Done, Son" Guy tendencies.
  • In Peta Lyre's Rating Normal, recovering heroin addict Kat is 19 and trying year eleven for the third time.
  • Planet Earth Is Blue: When 12-year-old Nova first starts classes at Jefferson Middle School, she's unhappy to learn that she'll be placed in sixth grade, even though she was already halfway through seventh.
  • Patricia Reilly Giff's Polk Street School series starts with Richard "Beast" Best being forced to repeat the second grade.
  • Prudence Penderhaus: Prudence's friend Bonnie is a delinquent who is repeating senior year.
  • Rain Reign: Rose Howard, who has Asperger's, is in fifth grade despite being almost 12 because the school doesn't know what to do with her.
  • Rogue: Chad Elliot's grades are so low, he's sure this will happen to him.
  • There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom: This happens to Bradley, causing him to be well older than the other students in his class.
  • Thirteenth Child: Eff missed most of a school year due to a serious illness, which is why her twin brother is one year ahead of her.
  • Warrior Cats: Swiftpaw and Brightpaw were repeatedly left back from becoming warriors and kept as apprentices. They try to chase off a group of dogs in hope that saving the clan will help show that they're worthy warriors, but it ends with Swiftpaw dead and Brightpaw seriously injured and blinded in one eye.
  • Wild Orchid:
    • Taylor spent an extra year in kindergarten to work on her social skills because of her undiagnosed Asperger's.
    • After Martin Phoenix was born with cerebral palsy, his older brother Luke and his father Alan spent the next year taking him to different hospitals. Luke missed so much school that he had to repeat a year.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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"
  • The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon mentions in "The Cooper Extraction" that his twin sister Missy took six years to complete high school, meaning that she must've gotten held back twice (either in two different grades or she got held back twice in the same grade).
  • 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 to make up for them. Of course, the Doylist explanation is that the writers didn't want him to graduate a year before the other characters.
  • Thanks to a ridiculously light course load that was scattered all over the place, it takes eight and a half years for Dauber of Coach to get his college diploma... in Physical Education, English, and Forestry. The reason Hayden made him an assistant coach in the first place was so that his protégé could stay in college after his football scholarship ran out at the end of year four.
  • In El Chavo del ocho:
    • A common gag involves Don Ramón saying that he was at school for 9 years, then Chilindrina comments "Eight in first grade, and one in second".
    • In one episode, Don Ramón is assisting Profesor Jirafales' class, at first as an excuse to escape from Doña Florinda, later, she and Profesor Jirafales agree to allow him in class, as he could use some good education.
  • In the Community episode 'Mixology Certification', Troy was revealed to have repeated fifth grade.
    Troy: Everyone is 10 for two years because fifth grade is hard for every... one... Mom! How many lies have I been living!
  • In order to keep the some of the cast still in high school past graduation, Degrassi: The Next Generation will occasionally hold a few students back.
    • In season 5, 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. Ashley actually skipped her senior year in order to study music in London and returned at the end of the season. Alex subverted it: she graduated that season, but then came back for a "Victory Lap" in season 6 in order to boost her grades for university.
    • In season 11, Fiona missed most of her classes due to a combination of her alcoholism and her going to rehab to treat it, causing her to repeat her senior year.
    • In season 12, Imogen failed to hand in most of her assignments and had to repeat her senior year. Drew dropped out early in the season, and thus had to do the same. Subverted with Mike; like Alex, he was doing a victory lap, the only difference being he didn't actually walk the stage and officially graduate.
    • In addition, several characters were mentioned to have been held back in their backstories — Sean starts the show repeating grade 7, Mia had to repeat grade 8, Tori had to repeat grade 4, and Jonah had to repeat grade 11.
    • 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.
  • In the Series Finale of Due South, Fraser and the second Ray meet a schoolmate of Fraser's... from fourth grade. Said friend looks to be about 20 years older than Fraser. He was held back a bit.
  • 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 High&Low, Oya High is almost completely comprised of guys in their mid-20s. How? They all held themselves back so that they could stay in the gang. Lampshaded when another character asks them how dumb they are.
  • In The 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".
  • Wally’s pal Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford in Leave It to Beaver, much to the embarrassment of his snobby and pretentious father.
  • Little Lunch: In "The Nightmare Before Graduation", Mrs. Goncha tells Rory that he is going to have to repeat Grade 6 for failing to complete most of his assignments. His classmates band together in an attempt to help him complete all of his assignments before the end of school.
  • In Lizzie McGuire, Kate Sanders confides to her best friend, Claire Miller, that she got held back in Kindergarten, making her at least a year older than the rest of their classmates. When Lizzie and her friends discover this, Lizzie's animated alter ego incredulously wonders how that's even possible ("What'd she do? Fail naptime?"). This gets a Continuity Nod in a later episode when Kate sheepishly admits to being a year older than the other kids in her grade.
  • One Mr. Young episode had a scene which shows Slab graduating high school while in his 70s at least.
  • The Nanny: In one episode, as part of an effort to hide her real age, Fran claims that her friend Val was held back a few times. She's making it up, of course, but Niles finds it a believable excuse.
  • Our Miss Brooks: Discussed several times through the course of the series:
    • Walter Denton is frequently under the threat of being held back, being either Brilliant, but Lazy or just plain Book Dumb. Walter is never actually held back a grade, as Walter Denton (and Harriet Conklin) stay 16 or 17 through the course of the series on radio, television and in The Movie Grand Finale. Not Allowed to Grow Up means not allowed to fall behind.
    • Walter Denton does occasionally fail individual courses. In "Mr. Leblanch needs $50" (a Sound-to-Screen Adaptation), Walter's said to have taken three terms of first term French.
    • In the Summer of 1949, several radio episodes, beginning with "Taxidermists", have Walter Denton attending "Madison High Summer School" so he won't be held back. Naturally, Walter's friend Stretch Snodgrass attends too. More perplexingly, so does Harriet Conklin in spite of being a straight-A student. Miss Brooks needs the money while Mr. Conklin considers himself principal in and out of season.
    • In "The Big Game", it's discovered that beloved Assistant Coach "Snakehips" Gehry never graduated high school. He failed his final English exam some 40 years before. Miss Brooks gives him an English exam so he can get his high school diploma and keep his position with the team.
    • In the television episode "The Dream", Miss Brooks dreams that Walter Denton takes about 25 years to graduate high school.
    • Stretch and Bones Snodgrass were either held back in school several times ("The Yodar Kritch Award", The Movie Grand Finale) or they've always passed "by the skin of their teeth" ("Two Way Stretch Snodgrass").
  • 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.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Dimension Jump", we are led to believe that Ace Rimmer progressed normally at school while Rimmer-prime was held back. However, it's revealed at the end that the opposite is true: Ace was held back, which made him work harder at life.
  • Riverdale: Archie himself is held back in school in season 5, missing out graduation, because his various shenanigans in the previous year meant his grades weren't sufficient for him to graduate. Instead of repeating senior year, he chooses to leave Riverdale and join the army.
  • SCTV: On "Half Wits", a 'Jeopardy'-style quiz show, Martin Short is contestant Lawrence Orbach, about 30 years old, going bald, and still in school. The host asks 'Postgraduate work?' and he replies 'High school.'
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation has Wesley Crusher repeat a year at Starfleet Academy, along with the other members of his flight squadron, as punishment for attempting to cover up a training accident that killed another cadet. Picard points out that they were very nearly expelled and only got to stay because their squadron leader (who was expelled) took all responsibility for the accident and the cover-up. A later episode had another member of the squadron, Sito Jaxa, talk about how difficult it was to stay at the Academy after that, with everyone knowing what they had done.
  • The Suite Life on Deck: London Tipton's shown to be in the same grade as Zack and Cody Martin, despite being at least three years older than them (she was stated to be 15 in the first season of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody while the twins were stated to be 12). In one episode of On Deck, Miss Tuttweiler says that London won Senior Prom Queen, and in the series finale, it's confirmed that London was held back at least twice.
  • 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.
  • Teen Wolf: Allison keeps her birthday a secret because she doesn't want anybody to know she's been held back a year. It was due to how often her family moves, but she resents the fact that whenever people find out, they assume it's because Allison did something wrong.
  • 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.
  • In Unhappily Ever After, older son Ryan has to repeat his senior year of high school. Done in part so they didn't have to write the character out; then the next year he and his sister Tiffany go to the local community college.
  • 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.
  • In Young Sheldon episode "Blonde Ambition and the Concept of Zero", Billy is going to be held back in sixth grade if he doesn't pass math, so Sheldon ends up tutoring him. In The Tag, adult Sheldon informs us that Billy miraculously passed to the seventh grade... where he stayed for several years.

  • Eminem, who was held back three times in real life, poked fun at himself for this in "My Name Is":
    My English teacher wanted to flunk me in junior high. Thanks a lot! Next semester, I'll be 35!
  • Implied in several of Barry Louis Polisar's songs:
    • In "He Eats Asparagus", it is revealed that "the boy next door" to whom the protagonist is often unfavorably compared is 34 years old, despite (apparently) attending the same school as the narrator. However, it's never mentioned what level of education their school is (it might be a graduate school, for all we know), and it's not too clear whether the guy is actually there as a fellow student or a teacher.
    • The narrator of "I Don't Brush My Teeth" mentions having a beard although he still goes to school to learn grammar. Again, it might not be too implausible for the protagonist to be an older teenager who is attending high school.
    • In "I've Got a Teacher, She's so Mean", the narrator says that the Stern Teacher must secretly love him because he's still in first grade, implying that he should have been in a more advanced grade but is held back because he keeps on deliberately giving gibberish answers whenever she asks him a question.

    Video Games 
  • In Ensemble Stars!, both Ritsu and Rei were held back a year. This helped contribute to Rei's delinquent image that led to him being named as one of the Five Oddballs, but none of the main characters seem to really care — he's well-known as one of the most talented, intelligent, and wise students in school regardless. Ritsu's being held back is rarely brought up, too, with characters being more likely to bring up his current laziness. (Incidentally, Ritsu and Rei are brothers, and both suffer from a chronic disease that leaves them tired during the middle of the day.) Valkyrie was also threatened with this — due to their unit having taken a break for a while due to fine's sabotage and Nazuna's leaving, they almost failed to participate in the mandatory minimum number of performances per school year.
  • Flay has to repeat his senior year in Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis. This enables him to remain in the party despite his being a year older than the protagonist in a game that follows the protagonist's time at the titular school.
  • Persona 2's Ulala Serizawa was held back a year due to poor grades, explaining why she's a year older than her friend since high school, Maya Amano. It's implied to be the first in a series of Ulala's failures that are contrasted with Maya's successes, leading the former to be secretly resentful of the latter.
  • In Persona 3, Saori Hasegawa, the Hermit Social Link for the female protagonist's route in Portable, had to go abroad and take two years off of school due to an incident in her past. As a result, she's a second-year who's a year older than the third-years.
  • The Prince of Landis: According to Tommy Jason was held back three grades... or maybe just two. The only reason the school keeps him is because he's on the ball team.
  • In Pokémon Masters, Team Star's leader Penny tells the player that she'll have to repeat a year of school because of her actions as Team Star's leader and for not taking classes seriously for it.
  • It's implied in the vid comics for Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal that Captain Qwark had been held back in 9th grade. And he was still there at age 26, when he served as The Bully to a 15-year-old Dr. Nefarious, apparently causing the latter's Start of Darkness.
  • Misuzu, as depicted in River City Girls, claims to have spent seven years at Nekketsu High School, mainly to earn money as an enforcer.
  • Senran Kagura:
    • Daidouji has been deliberately refusing to take her graduation exam, causing her to repeat the third year in Hanzou Academy for ten years. It is because she wants to defeat her friend Rin before she thinks she is worthy to graduate, which is hard because she has been assumed to be KIA. In her side story in Shinovi Versus, she finally gets her chance to defeat the still alive Rin, allowing her to graduate
    • Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus has Miyabi and Imu, both 21 and having to repeat their senior year. An odd example, because they had already graduated from a Shinobi school, but after an incident left Miyabi catatonic for years and Imu taking leave of her duties to care for her, the two are so rusty they need to retrain to re-earn their rank.
  • Twisted Wonderland: Leona Kingscholar is held back two years because of his constant class-cutting, making him technically a Token Adult among regular student characters.

    Visual Novels 
  • Nagisa from CLANNAD is repeating her senior year due to her poor health, and ends up having to repeat it again after most of the other characters graduate. She and Tomoya would not have even met had she not been held back the first time. Tomoya himself nearly ended up flunking out due to delinquency, though he does graduate with everyone else in his year.
  • Yasuhiro Hagakure from Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, who was held back at least two years. He's a bit... off.
  • This happens to Henry in Double Homework after he failed a bunch of classes but mistook his report card for a guitar score. He thus skipped out on summer school by accident.
  • Amane in If My Heart Had Wings deliberately refused to graduate for almost ten years because her high school was a special engineering school that boasted great facilities, which she needed to produce the glider she had been working on ever since making a close friend as a teenager there.
  • 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 a year in full rehabilitation, it's fully understandable.

    Web Animation 
  • This trope is the main plot of a category of GoAnimate "Grounded" videos, wherein usually one, two, or more students start out in the 12th grade and keep knocking themselves all the way back to preschool before being expelled and sent home (with predictable results) by getting themselves in trouble by injuring a classmate or teacher, being disruptive, and/or merely making someone mad.
  • Strong Bad Email #110, "For Kids", has Strong Bad cite this (along with "low standardized test scores") as the eventual fate for any children raised on an "educational" show hosted by resident Cloudcuckoolander Homsar. To his credit, he admits beforehand that his own TV series would have resulted in public riots for his likely antagonism to the audience (as an Interactive Narrator, he'd have no patience for his wards not immediately answering correctly).

  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Antimony is forced to repeat a grade when her long-absent father reappears and learns that she's been systematically copying Kat's work.
  • Joe vs. Elan School: Exploited by the titular abusive school, which regularly holds back its students in order to extract further tuition fees. Elan forces Joe to repeat his senior year, and when it looks like Ron is "testing" Joe by offering an escape, Joe mentally notes that the oldest person at the school at that time is 22.
  • Let's Get Divorced!: A flashback in chapter 11 reveals that Han-gyeol was held back a year, which is part of why he's a surly outcast when he first transfers in.
  • In The Order of the Black Dog Julia King had to repeat a year, which causes her classmate Melissa some confusion. Though her cast profile indicates it was due to her problems with authority, she's an Astrophysics major and gets an internship at the space center.

    Web Videos 
  • In Dis Raps For Hire, it's not uncommon for Epic Lloyd to go after bullies who got held back in school:
    • In one season 1 episode, Lloyd dealt with Tyrance, William, and Reshad, a Gang of Bullies who were still in high school despite being 19 years old. Lloyd theorizes that the three don't want to leave school because that's where they feel the most secure and powerful.
      "This is like high school, fellas, and you're too old for that shit!
      You're 19, and you idiots haven't even graduated!
      But I get it, I guess; you don't wanna leave yet.
      Your high school rep I bet's the best your small lives ever get"
    • In season 2, Lloyd targeted Diamond, a school bully who was 16 years old at the time but still in K-8 school:
      "You should try to pass class a little faster, guy
      You should not be able to drive yourself to junior high
      You're 16, dumbass! Still in 8th grade?
      At this rate, you'll be 24 before you graduate!"
  • In Mr. Toucan Gets Held Back, Mr. Toucan is in eighth grade at first and gets held back all the way to preschool for disruptive behavior. And then he gets expelled from preschool.

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius:
    • Sheen, the sidekick of Jimmy Neutron, has already been held back twice according to "Jet Fusion".
    • According to his character bio, Nick was held back at least once due to his constant tardiness.
  • The website for The Amazing World of Gumball describes Jamie as being held back a year and very resentful about it.
  • In American Dragon: Jake Long local Jerk Jock and Book Dumb Brad Morton has been held back at least twice as he bragged to Jake and friends that he was old enough to get his driver's license in one episode and in another announced that he had just done the "Bradster's" fourth annual eighth grade prank on his middle school's principal, making it uncertain just what his age actually is beyond being at least 16.
  • Arthur:
    • Binky is in his 2nd year of 3rd grade. He explicitly states in "The World of Tomorrow" that he hates repeating third grade because, among other things, it involves a repeat of the science museum sleepover field trip he loathed; in another, he admits that his insecurities over being held back a grade led him to become a bully.
    • In "Buster Makes the Grade," Mr. Ratburn tells Buster he'll have to repeat 3rd grade if he doesn't get at least a B on the next big test. Buster dreams of being held back for so long that Arthur has become the principal while Buster is still a student, and offers to send him back to preschool. (In a school where, in reality, the other 3rd grade classes are practically at that level, anyway.)
    • The Brain's deep dark secret is that he was held back in kindergarten. Though it was due to emotional immaturity rather than being Book Dumb.
  • Beavis and Butt-Head: In the episode "Held Back", the boys are continuously demoted due to both stupidity and poor social skills. They end up back in high school because the kindergarten teacher refuses to put up with them any longer.
  • In Clerks: The Animated Series, Jay is 26 and still in fourth grade.
  • In the Cow and Chicken episode "The Bad News Plastic Surgeons", Chicken is chosen to help his school win plastic surgery events. When faced against the champions of plastic surgery (who are clearly full-grown adults), Chicken asks how they could be so good at plastic surgery and still be in elementary school. The Red Guy explains that while the plastic surgeons are great at plastic surgery, they're terrible at math.
  • Daria:
  • One of the cliques in Detentionaire is labeled "The 15th Graders" because they all suffer from this trope. They're also the toughest, meanest kids in school and very territorial, which means they end up causing trouble for Lee when he tries to access a locker in "their" hallway.
  • 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.
  • The Emperor's New School: One episode has it discovered that Kuzco did not complete his requirements for Kuzcogarten, and he's sent back there to complete them.
  • The Fairly Oddparents: Francis, the menacing grey kid who bullies Timmy Turner, is mentioned to be 12 years old, but he's still in 5th grade — depending on when his birthday is, he probably got held back at least once.
  • 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: Congratulations, you've passed the fourth grade, Mr. Griffin.
      Peter: Aw, great! Listen, I gotta leave though, I'm going hunting with my son.
    • In another episode, Peter Griffin has to repeat the 3rd grade in order to receive a promotion.
  • Fanboy and Chum Chum:
    • Mr. Mufflin implies in the first episode that both Fanboy and Chum Chum were held back in his class at least a year.
      Mr. Mufflin: If they hold these two back another year, I'm puttin' in for an early retirement.
    • In "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha", it's revealed that after Fanboy sneezed on another student's placement exam, rendering it illegible, she was sent back to kindergarten.
  • Fish Hooks: This happened to Milo, Bea, and Oscar's old friend Kevin, rendering him forgotten by them. Milo's goal in "Fail Fish" is to study for his final exam so the same does not happen to him.
  • Trina Riffin from Grojband has been held back for three years, despite her intelligence.
  • Hey Arnold!:
    • Harold has a bar mitzvah (the ceremony happens at 13) despite being in fourth grade. It's never stated outright how many years he's been held back, but it's either three or four.
    • Torvald is also 13 and in the same 4th grade class as the other main kids. He starts off as a bully but after Arnold helps tutor him at math with positive results, he becomes a lot nicer. In a later episode, he joins the kids' football team against the 5th graders because he's technically a 4th grader despite Wolfgang's protests.
    • A rare female example is "Big" Patty, who is 14 and in the sixth grade. She and Harold even bond over both being held back a few years at one point.
  • Kaeloo: Stumpy has been held back in school so many times that he's still in kindergarten despite being a 10-year-old.
  • Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil faced the possibility of being held back in one episode. The horror of this possibility results in him having an Imagine Spot where he sees himself as a senior citizen still in elementary school.
  • Kim Possible:
    • Implied in the case of Brick Flagg, 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 that Brick had finally graduated after seven years—this would mean the Brick must've been held back at least three...or it took him seven times to graduate.
    • Bonnie (Brick's on/off-girlfriend for most of the second and third seasons) ends up having to go to summer school in order to get her high school diploma, because (due to blowing off all her classes during the last week of school) she had missed some important exams, which left her short on the number of credits required to graduate.
  • In the My Life as a Teenage Robot episode "I Was a Preschool Dropout", Jenny's sent to kindergarten because despite being, well, a teenage robot, she was built only five years previously. She eventually gets out of it on a technicality when her mom, Dr. Nora Wakeman, explains that while Jenny may (chronologically speaking) be only five years old, the robot had been designed as a teenager.
  • 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.
  • Oh Yeah! Cartoons: The Dan Danger short "Danger 101" has Dan going back to his old school to make up for a day of gym class he missed, where he runs into his bully Robert. Robert is still at Dan's old school in spite of being a grown man because he hasn't been able to pass the seventh grade, and the current gym coach is humorously revealed to be his son at the end of the short.
  • In a TV-era 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.
  • Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja: Mac Antfee, the Ninja of 1985, was held back at least twice on account of being the Ninja for six years. This later works to Randy's disadvantage, as for all that Mac was a violent jerk, he was still a capable Ninja and far more experienced than Randy.
  • Robotomy: "No Child Left Benign": Failure to complete the No Child Left Benign standardized test is punished with, besides enslavement in the Tygerian acid mines, being forced to repeat the ninth grade. The students find the second issue to be far more intimidating than the enslavement.
  • The Simpsons:
    • The episode "Bart Gets An F" revolves around Bart attempting to pass a history test to avoid being held back a year. He fails, but Mrs. Krabapple takes pity on him when he proves to her that he had indeed studied by rattling off an obscure fact that hadn't been on the test.
    • "Bart vs. Lisa vs. 3rd Grade" had Lisa promoted from 2nd grade to the 3rd, and Bart demoted from the 4th to the 3rd. Of course, since Status Quo Is God, in the end, Bart goes back to 4th grade and Lisa chooses to go back to the 2nd grade.
    • In "You Only Move Twice", Bart's busted down to the remedial class because he never learned cursive. note 
    • When Sideshow Bob was elected mayor, Bart was demoted to Kindergarten as revenge for getting him sent to prison in the first place.
    • Kearny's actually an adult in elementary school. In real life, he would have gotten a social promotion, but Rule of Funny.
    • Similarly, Nelson appears to be a case of this, being in fourth grade with Bart:
      Nelson: Yup, I've been held back more times than I can count. Which is probably why I've been held back so much.
  • In the Teacher's Pet Halloween Episode "Costume Pity Party", the bully Dutch Calenza is implied to be an adult who has been held back in school, considering how much bigger he is than the other students at school, his gruff voice provided by Brad Garrett and his revelation that he was picked on for dressing as a disco dancer.
  • Parodied in the What A Cartoon! Show short Larry & Steve. At one point, Larry mentions that he spent 12 years in kindergarten, but he insists it wasn't because he was stupid. He simply got his foot stuck in a radiator.
  • The Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones? episode "Scantron Love" had a scene where several students at Polyneux Middle School complained about how hard the Scantron tests are. Among them is a grown man claiming that he had to retake the test 137 times.