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Why do we set in maths when all the evidence tells us not to?

Most schools single out maths students for ability grouping, even though setting is often deemed unnecessary for other subjects. Lucy Rycroft-Smith examines the research and finds some worrying effects

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“Often with a psychological brutality that nothing can attenuate, the school institution lays down its final judgements and its verdicts, from which there is no appeal, ranking all students in a unique hierarchy of all forms of excellence, nowadays dominated by a single discipline, maths.”

Pierre Bourdieu was not, as you might guess from this quote, a fan of ability grouping. But the practice of setting students by attainment is currently commonplace in maths classrooms in England, both primary and secondary.

One of the catalysts for this was a 1997 government White Paper that encouraged ...

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