Teens have sets on the brain

Secondary pupils would rather be put into sets by ability than taught in mixed-ability groups, according to research.

A study of more than 5,000 pupils showed that 62 per cent indicated a preference for setting, while 24 per cent opted for mixed- ability classes.

Two per cent said they were in favour of streaming or banding, while 7 per cent did not know, the study from London university's Institute of Education found.

Researchers looked at attitudes of pupils in 45 mixed secondaries, in various parts of the country.

Schools were grouped into three categories: those favouring mixed-ability teaching; partially set schools where pupils were taught by ability in no more than two subjects; and those who used streaming or banding in at least four subjects - to reflect the experiences of pupils.

They found that preferences varied depending on where children were taught.

Those in mixed-ability groups were more likely to favour this form of teaching. Setting was the preference of more than seven out of 10 pupils in set and partially-set schools and 47 per cent of those in mixed-ability schools.

Pupils with high attainment levels and higher socio-economic status tended to prefer setting. However, those who favoured mixed-ability teaching tended to like school better and had higher levels of self-esteem, researchers Susan Hallam and Judith Ireson found.

The report, Secondary school pupils' preferences for different types of structured grouping practices, published in the British Educational Research Journal, said it was not surprising that those in the bottom sets preferred mixed-ability grouping.

"Being in a low set limits educational opportunities, offers a more restricted range of learning experiences and carries with it the stigma of being labelled 'thick'."

Almost half of pupils who liked setting said it enabled teachers to match work to pupils' needs.

But the authors believed that where streaming or setting was used, pupils should be able to move to another group if their achievements changed.

"The evidence shows it is not uncommon for pupils to be allocated to groups inappropriate for their learning needs," the study said.

"Initial group placement can have serious consequences for a child's life chances unless there are systems in place to facilitate relocation."


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