Ability Setting: No Longer ‘Best Practice’

First published in the February 2017 UKEdMagazine

For a long time, it was popular to put children into ability groups/sets in Primary schools (especially maths) – the theory being that you can provide a challenge for the highest ability groups whilst allowing the least able to work at a pace which suited them whilst enabling them to ‘catch up’ where necessary.

The most recent research, however, tends to show that it has no long term benefits for the lower attaining pupils and that it can cause teachers to form early perceptions of children which can result in children not being challenged and potentially not achieving their full potential.

88% of children placed in sets or streams at age 4 remain in the same groupings until they leave school (Annabelle Dixon, Forum 2002)

Previously, when working with the ‘old curriculum’, it was deemed ‘acceptable’ that a child didn’t reach the expected year 6 standard (Level 4) as long as they had made 2 sub-levels of progress in each year of their primary school career – this meant that ability setting was viable as the least able children in the classroom could work at their own pace and on aspects of a previous year group’s curriculum as long as they made progress. The children never had to work at the current year group’s standard.

The ‘new curriculum’ is age, not level, based meaning that ALL children are to work at the expected year group level – children must not be allowed to fall behind. Ability setting simply doesn’t work if all children are to work on the same curriculum, at the same pace – the key to success is differentiation through the level of support and challenge enabling the least able to keep up whilst the ablest pupils are stretched.

What methods do you use to encourage a mixed ability approach in your classroom/school?

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 Edition of UKEdMagazine

@BloggingAP Assistant Principal – Northamptonshire

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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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