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Stirling gets to grips with underachievement

Underachievement in the first years of secondary school, which led the previous government to propose more setting of classes according to ability, is perceived by teachers as "mainly a level E problem", according to research in Stirling.

A study of the council's seven secondaries and some primaries suggests there is a "gut feeling" that the problem exists and that schools are already trying to tackle it.

Julie Allan, a lecturer in Stirling University's education department, which is undertaking the research, told a seminar for teachers last weekend that fewer pupils in the middle-ability range or with learning difficulties had been identified as underachievers compared with those who had reached level E in the 5-14 guidelines.

Dr Allan said that following the Inspectorate's publication of Achievement for All two schools were considering introducing setting in addition to three already using it. But principal teachers appeared to recognise, more than senior school managers, the danger of creating "sink" classes and alienating some pupils.

Brian Boyd, associate director of the Quality in Education Centre at Strathclyde University, said that some pupils still labelled themselves as "thick". The structure of the school day and the curriculum contributed to "discontinuity" for pupils entering secondary. They often felt like "non-persons".

A focus on learning strategies was more likely to improve exam performance than devising sophisticated forms of setting, Dr Boyd said.

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