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Blind to setting

From John Kerr

Brian Boyd's passion (TESS, October 18) for mixed-ability teaching is clear. It perhaps blinds him to the advantages of the alternative of setting. The experiences of this school are instructive. In 1993, setting was introduced in S2 classes in English, maths and foreign languages. It was done in full consultation with the staff involved and with the following safeguards.

The top sets in each subject were grouped in classes of 30-plus, the bottom sets comprised 8-12 pupils. Learning support was targeted on the bottom sets. Movement between sets was an integral feature of the system. Most importantly, high demands were made on all sets.

The outcome as manifested in SCE results is not only a marked increase in the number of pupils gaining five or more Credit awards at Standard grade, but also a substantial reduction in the number of sixes and sevens in the same exam.

Setting by itself is, however, no panacea. Nor, despite the zealotry of its advocates, is mixed ability. Whether a system works depends in large degree on the skill and commitment of teachers. It has been through their efforts that mixed ability is able to function. But it is, especially in S2, of questionable effectiveness.

It is surely worth, in the interests of diversity, allowing schools that wish to do so to introduce setting even in S1.

Parents, mention of whom is noticeably missing from Dr Boyd's letter, would be able to judge for themselves the relative merits of each system.

JOHN KERR Assistant headteacher, Lanark Grammar School.

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