Evidence mounts against streaming

4th December 1998 at 00:00
GROUPING PUPILS in sets or streams has no significant effect on the performance of primary or secondary schools, according to research south of the border that confirms recent Scottish evidence.

A new analysis of 20 research studies in the United Kingdom and the United States by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) shows even high-ability pupils do not appear to benefit. The study also reaffirms the negative effect on the attitudes, motivation and self-esteem of lower-ability pupils. Boys, pupils from working-class families, ethnic minorities and summer-born children are more likely to be disadvantaged.

The researchers, however, did find that within-class grouping in primaries can improve pupil attitudes, self-esteem and achievement, regardless of ability level.

Their overall findings broadly mirror those of a Scottish review published 18 months ago by Wynne Harlen and Heather Malcolm of the Scottish Council for Research in Education. This concluded there was no evidence that achievement in primary is raised either by streaming or setting and in secondary "no consistent and reliable evidence of positive effects of setting and streaming in any subjects or for students of particular ability levels".

The NFER analysis points out that few schools enable pupils to move between streams, sets and groups. "Different individuals react in different ways: some thrive within a competitive school environment whereas others prefer mixed-ability classes.

But some clear messages do emerge. Streaming and setting, compared with mixed-ability teaching, have had no overall impact on pupil achievement. They also reinforce social divisions", a researcher said.

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