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Setting is still the exception

Mixed-ability teaching continues in most schools throughout Standard grade, a Scottish Office statistical bulletin shows. Almost two-thirds of classes in the third and fourth year of secondary are described as full mixed ability, although the percentage fell from 67.8 per cent in 1991 to 63.5 per cent in 1995.

The last government was keen to persuade schools to adopt setting by ability in individual subjects in the first two years, but figures for 1991, 1993 and 1995 show how faithful teachers have been to mixed-ability arrangements. In 1995, 95.7 per cent of S1 and S2 classes contained pupils of all abilities, barely down on the figures for 1993 and 1991.

As ministers ponder how to improve standards, especially in the lower secondary, they will be advised that a dramatic change in school organisation will be needed if setting is to become the norm.

The continuing high percentage of mixed-ability classes after second year may indicate the restricted number of pupils in some subjects and the need to teach from Foundation to Credit level at the same time. Almost 70 per cent of fifth and sixth-year classes are regarded as mixed ability.

The bulletin, compiled from the annual September census in schools, shows an increase in the number of lower secondary classes where the teacher was assisted by a colleague specialising in learning difficulties. In 1995, a quarter of all teaching was on that basis compared with only a fifth in 1991.

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