Teachers believe that teaching a narrow ability range helps them to pitch their teaching at the right standard, a study of six primary schools found.
However, some teachers were reluctant to teach lower-ability groups, saying it was demoralising, Professor Susan Hallam, of Oxford Brookes University, told the BERA conference. Pupils in these groups often felt de-motivated as a result and missed out on support from their more able peers. Top sets were also more likely to be taught by a subject specialist.
Setting and streaming led to more whole-class "chalk and talk" teaching, the study concluded. Abler pupils were given harder work to do in shorter times; less able children were given mor time to complete and repeat tasks, and were asked less demanding questions.
All the schools in the survey claimed that pupils could move between groups and classes, but the extent to which this happened varied between schools.
Setting was often introduced to overcome some of the perceived disadvantages of mixed-age classes, formed at three of the schools in response to an imbalance in pupil numbers.
Most pupils were aware of how they had been grouped and generally felt it was effective. A few complained about the repetitive work in some sets and about missing out on more interesting work in the top sets.
"Ability grouping practices in the primary school: pedagogic practices", by Susan Hallam, Oxford Brookes University. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org