In India, children in the age group of 6-14 years have the right to free and compulsory elementary education in a neighbourhood school under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009.  This covers primary (classes 1-5) and upper primary (classes 6-8) levels, which collectively constitute elementary education.

Amongst several provisions focused on elementary education, the Act provides for the No Detention Policy.  Under this, no child will be detained till the completion of elementary education in class 8.  The RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017, introduced recently, revisits the No Detention Policy.  In light of this, we discuss the No Detention Policy and issues affecting the implementation of RTE.

What is ‘No-Detention’ policy?

The rationale for the No Detention Policy or automatic promotion to the next class is minimising dropouts, making learning joyful, and removing the fear of failure in exams.  The evaluation mechanism under the Policy is the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) for holistic assessments (e.g., paper-pencil test, drawing and reading pictures, and expressing orally) as opposed to the traditional system of examinations.  CCE does not mean no evaluation, but it means an evaluation of a different kind from the traditional system of examinations.

The Right to Education (RTE) Act

While earlier the The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 simply stated:

“16. No child admitted in school shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education”

The current amendment of 2017 brings nuances to the same policy statement as below:

“16. (1) There shall be a regular examination in the fifth class and in the eighth class at the end of every academic year.

(2) If a child fails in the examination referred to in sub-section (1), he shall be given additional instruction and granted opportunity for re-examination within a period of two months from the date of declaration of the result

(3) The appropriate Government may allow schools to hold back a child in the fifth class or in the eighth class or in both classes, in such manner and subject to such conditions as may be prescribed, if he fails in the re-examination referred to in sub-section (2): Provided that the appropriate Government may decide not to hold back a child in any class till the completion of elementary education.

(4) No child shall be expelled from a school till the completion of elementary education.”

This basically removes the blanket denial of detention of a child during their primary education years and puts in place a conditional approach. This says that the school may conduct regular examinations at the class 5 and class 8 level and a child on failing such an exam will be given additional instruction and allowed a re-examination. On failing the re-examination it will be the central or state government’s prerogative to detain or not detain the child in either or both classes.

The RTE Act provides for:

  • Every child in the age group of 6-14 has the right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school, till the completion of elementary education.
  • Private schools will have to take 25% of their class strength from the weaker section and the disadvantaged group of the society through a random selection process. The government will fund the education of these children.
  • Donation and capitation fees are not allowed.
  • No admission test or interview either for child or parents is allowed.
  • No child can be held back, expelled and required to pass the board examination till the completion of elementary education. (subsequently revised)
  • There is provision for commissions to be established to supervise the implementation of the act.
  • Fixed student and teacher ratios are to be maintained.
  • All schools have to adhere to rules and regulations laid down in this act, for which a three years moratorium period has been provided to school to implement all that is required of them. If they fail to adhere to the Act after the moratorium period, they will not be allowed to function.
  • Norms for teachers training and qualifications have been clarified in the act.
  • All schools except private unaided schools are to be managed by School Management Committees with 75% of parents and guardians as members.

Why is the No-Detention Policy being revisited?

  • According to a few states, including Delhi, the no-detention policy is the reason behind high failure and dropouts in classes 9 and 10.
  • Additional concern is that students don’t focus on their studies if they already have a guarantee of getting promoted to the next class.

What is the new proposal?

An expert committee headed by T S R Subramanian set up to formulate the new National Education Policy had last year recommended that the ‘No-Detention Policy’ be reviewed and exams are held from Class VI. Recently, Union Cabinet has approved the scrapping of the no-detention policy in schools till Class VIII.

Reasons why ‘no-detention policy’ is criticized

  1. Negatively impacted the standard of education: it is alleged that without the infrastructure of teachers and faculty across India, the no detention policy will simply erode the standards of the Indian education system.
  2. No reward for hard work: it is also pointed out that by removing the “punishment”(that is failing) for not studying, the students will become callous about their studies and with no process to differentiate between bad and good students, the educational model will suffer.
  3. Disinterest from teachers: another point of discussion is that since there’s no way to measure the progress or achievement of students, both the teachers and the education system will fail to self improvise and create a better learning environment.
  4. Bleak future of students: Students from the lower strata of the society continue facing bad quality education without any way to get past it as the system degenerates under no detention policy.
  5. Will affect the women empowerment programs: the weaker genders are thought to be the worst affected as it is they who are first stopped from going to school.
  6. Poor academic outcomes: since the idea of working hard and studying hard will not be instilled from an early age, it will lead to overall poorer academic results.

Reasons why ‘no-detention policy’ is supported

The main reason the Right to Education Act included the no-detention provision was to stop or reduce dropouts from the schools due to peer pressure. If it is reversed, many students would stop going to schools when they fail like they did earlier.

  1. The section 29 (2) (h) of the RTE Act makes a comprehensive and continuous evaluation (CCE) mandatory, wherein schools are expected to use test results to improve teaching and learning of the child. Unlike traditional board examinations, the CCE visualises evaluation as a diagnostic tool to improve learning. So scrapping the policy is not a solution, in fact, it should be modified and corrected. (Reference: Wikipedia)
  2. A child will not drop out of school because of a failure at least till class 8
  3. There’s no research that supports the theory that a child performs better on repeating a grade
  4. A child is allowed to enjoy learning and not treat it as a burden when the final examinations and their repercussions ate removed.
  5. The policy should be modified to include suggestions to schools to conduct tests to help them teach the child better and make learning fun for the child.

Conversation around the No Detention Policy

Following the implementation of the No Detention Policy, experts have recommended rolling it back partially or fully.  The reasons for this reconsideration include: (i) the lack of preparedness of the education system to support the Policy, (ii) automatic promotion disincentivising children from working hard, (iii) low accountability of teachers, (iv) low learning outcomes, and (iii) the lack of proper implementation of CCE and its integration with teacher training.

In 2015, all the states were asked to share their views on the No Detention Policy. 28 States have shared their views on the No Detention policy out of which 23 States have suggested a modification to the No Detention policy.

What is the stand of various states in this regard?

In Favour Against
Maharashtra: The policy has reduced school dropout rates and helps in building self esteem. States should be given freedom to decide whichever policy to follow. Kerala: There is no harm in allowing a student one more year to re-cope rather than allowing her to pass to the next stage in an unbaked condition.
Telangana: Enables a child to learn better without the fear of failure, detention and stigma. CCE should be strengthened… doesn’t focus on rote learning. Haryana: Decreased commitment levels of stakeholders… Test / exam provide students with competitive spirit, besides motivating them to study.
Karnataka: Is important to sustain students’ interest in education… Year – end evaluation should be conducted and students with low scores should be helped. Delhi: Results in unreasonable, undisciplined behavior of students or their dropping out of school. No – detention policy may be restricted up to Class III

Will scrapping the no-detention policy solve all problems?

  • Only scrapping the no detention policy will not solve the problems in the Indian Education system. Lack of training for teachers, their standing in society and pay scale and the quality of teachers in small towns and villages all are symptomatic of a failing education system.
  • The policy was wrongly interpreted to mean that tests were done away with without paying heed to the idea of Continuous Comprehensive Education which was never taken up by most schools. This aimed to understand a child’s learning progress through periodical exams rather than penalizing the child for not learning once a year.
  • The teachers were not trained to understand or implement the policy with regard to what had to be evaluated or how. Many schools interpreted CCE as project work which became a bane for parents.
  • Almost no schools took up the suggestion of the RTE to upgrade school infrastructure or improve teacher – student ratios.

Way forward

  • In India poor learning is not a sudden phenomenon but rather a sustained problem arising out of various problems starting with policy, infrastructure, social understanding of education and the social value of true education and educators. Just one policy is not the be all and end all solution. The policy in itself is forward looking and attempts to rectify the problem of dropouts and pressure on students. Going forward a few things can be done to improve the overall education system.
    • Measuring learning outcomes periodically and regularly.
    • Using the tests as a tool to improve teaching and learning rather than as a tool to punish and pressurize children.
    • Promoting a culture of positive reinforcement by rewarding performances.
    • Changing the mindset of parents so that they are fully involved in the overall development of their children.
  • One could also suggest implementation of the policy in a phased manner so that the infrastructural support is ready at every level before carrying the implementation to the next level.


We are seeing a dangerous trend of blame game happening where a single policy is becoming the centre of discussions and the scapegoat for the failure of the education system in India. We will need to realign our focus towards the right issues of educational infrastructure, quality of education and the value of education in the Indian Education System rather than try to pin the blame of it all on a single policy. However, given that the policy has already garnered a lot of criticism we would suggest a balanced and modified policy that will not only be idealistic but be driven by practicality and be a step by step directive on setting up a better system of education that can be the pride of India in the days to come.

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About the Author

Payal Ghosh

Payal is an FRM and an XLRI Jamshedpur alumnus interested in things as diverse as Waste Management and photography. She has over 16 years of work experience and is passionate about writing, teaching and sustainable living. Helping students and seeing them succeed makes gives her motivation to push herself further.

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