Briefly unsettled by anti-setting research

27th September 1996 at 01:00
The report that setting in maths harms pupil performance and GCSE results worried me for as long as it took to reach the description of the actual research (TES, September 13).

Having set all my pupils in all the departments I have managed in the past 20 years after experiencing both forms of grouping in the early years, I had a vision of the thousands of children across the country whose futures I had unknowingly blighted. For a few terrible seconds it seemed that the only choice was between a quick and ignoble resignation or the honourable way out involving a loaded pistol. Luckily, I read on before taking any such precipitous actions.

A colleague's remark that the researcher could not be a mathematician I found to be no consolation. Our education system has failed if even a non-mathematician lacks the common sense needed to realise that a study based on one setted department and one mixed-ability department, for no matter how long, is no basis for any comprehensive statements about the relative merits of the two methods.

Statements such as "working-class children are in lower sets irrespective of their attainment level" and "children cannot cope with the pace of work in setted situations" may well be true in the context of that one school, but not even a politician would generalise from one school to all schools.

The researcher is welcome to visit my department, and then perhaps a school using mixed-ability maths teaching that has bored and demotivated pupils and low GCSE results. Three years on we will have an article, just as pointless as this one, claiming that questions have been raised about the effectiveness of mixed-ability maths teaching. Better still, let us base discussion of such an important issue on true statistical samples rather than look for singular instances that support our own prejudices.

R HOGAN 30A Grange Avenue Street, Somerset

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