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Group work still defies critics

Group work tends to dominate in infant schools, despite recent criticism that such classroom organisation can be ineffective, writes Geraldine Hackett.

Research based on primary schools in four London boroughs suggests that seven and eight-year-olds spend half their time being taught in groups, with only 30 per cent of time being taught as a class. The remainder was devoted to teaching children individually.

Around a third of schools reported that three activities might be taking place at the same time, and more than a fifth indicated that four or more activities could be taking place simultaneously.

The 1991 Alexander report on Leeds suggested that schools should concentrate on a manageable number of groups and learning activities. The other indication that primary schools have not radically changed practices is the finding that most still teach through topic work.

However, the London study - led by Dr Anne West of the Centre for Educational Research - also suggests that schools are increasingly grouping pupils by ability, particularly for maths. Around 90 per cent of schools reported that children were sometimes grouped by ability, and more than half usually did this for maths. In nearly two-fifths of schools, children were grouped by ability for maths, creative writing and science.

Dr West believes the greater shift to grouping by ability may reflect the impact of the national curriculum and assessment. "It does suggest that there are attempts to offer work graded according to the range ability within a class."

The research also shows that infant schools use a mixture of methods to teach reading. Around 80 per cent use a combination of reading schemes; "real books" and graded "real books". Children are taught both to learn new whole words and to sound letters. Most schools encouraged parents to read to their children every day.

Teaching and learning processes in inner city infant schools by Dr Anne West, Jean Hailes and Pam Sammons, at the Centre for Educational Research of the London School of Economics.

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