Mixed Ability vs Ability Setting by @emma_rachels

This debate has been ongoing since anyone can remember: how will children progress best through being in a mixed ability set or ability sets? Many debates for mixed ability sets take the view that it enables children to learn that everyone is different and teachers have other children to teach.

The problems with this method include children being missed by teachers and end up falling through the gaps. It allows children to believe that others need teachers to help before them which is NOT a good view for children to take. The other side of the debate is for ability sets these people to take the view that a teacher will become able to gear lessons towards ALL children more allowing all of the children to learn at their level. A disadvantage of this is where is the cut-off?

I may be biased in the debate of mixed ability vs ability sets because I experienced it during my whole education lifetime but I still think it holds merits above that of mixed ability setting. Ability sets allow a teacher to gear a lesson towards the whole class as they are at the same level. A teacher can, therefore, become likeminded towards the children in the way that they learn and teach them in this way.

However, it does create a wholly negative feeling within children if they are told they are in a set they believe to be below their ability. This can induce self-fulfilling prophecy meaning these children perform far below what they expect of themselves nevermind what set they have been put in. Of course, a self- fulfilling prophecy may also work the other way; a child expecting to be in a low set may perform even better if put in a high set. Furthermore, everyone is unique therefore it’ll be very hard to set children efficiently in sets based upon ability without getting variance within the set. Therefore it becomes a smaller mixed ability set.

Mixed ability sets I feel have few positives with only one main one; this is that children learn that everyone is different and they can understand where they fit academically within the class to measure their performance too. Negatives of this grouping system include points that are far worse of effects from ability sets. Children may be left out due to the vast range of abilities and a teacher not being able to cope with such a variance and so only adhering to the ones who need the most help. These children may begin to feel that their ability can’t be changed no matter how hard they try because the teacher is not enabling them to push themselves by spending more time with children who ‘need them more’. Feeling worthless in such a big class is damaging towards a child’s education making them feel negative about their ability which in turn makes them try less which are very hard feelings to turn around.

Perhaps methods employed internationally such as ability setting but with different ages would initiate better results – this opposes our like age grouping system here in the UK. Perhaps it will enable more specific abilities to be grouped rather than trying to fit children to a mould. This will further enable teachers to gear lessons towards children but also decrease the negative self-fulfilling prophecies that can arise in children.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Emma Cree and published with kind permission. The article was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2020 by the UKEd Editorial team in accordance with website and policy updates.

The original post can be found here.

You can read other posts via Emma by clicking here,.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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