Schools take practical approach;Briefing;Research Focus
A second research project we have conducted at the Institute of Education provides some answers.
This study, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, focused on six schools with very different policies on ability grouping.
At one extreme was a school adopting streaming in key stage 1 and setting in KS2. At the other was a school where no formal ability grouping was adopted at all.
Intermediate approaches included setting, ability grouping across year groups and within-class ability grouping.
The research, based on interviews with headteachers, governors, staff and pupils, revealed that many of the decisions on grouping practices were pragmatic.
The extent to which schools can adopt streaming or setting depends on resources, particularly space and staffing.
Where setting or streaming was being used it was perceived to have raised standards and schools could produce supporting evidence.
However, data from a much larger sample of schools would be required to allow for the many other factors which may have helped to improve performance.
The teachers working in schools which used setting or streaming believed that it made teaching easier and that it worked, although concern was expressed about the self-esteem of those children in lower sets or streams.
There was some evidence of pupils in lower streams or sets being teased and of these pupils wanting to be in higher sets. Some pupils in lower sets and streams were also concerned about being given work that was too easy.
But what seemed most important to the children was being with friends.
The interviews also highlighted the pressures placed on teachers and schools by parents who were worried that their child had been placed in the wrong group.
If setting is now to become established practice in primary schools, each school needs to develop ways of maximising the positive effects and minimising the negative.
The research teams working on these projects include Dr Sue Hallam, Dr Judith Ireson, Jane Davies, Indrani Andon Chaudhury and Veronica Lister. Professor Peter Mortimore has acted as consultant to both projects. Full reports on the research will be presented at the British Educational Research Association conference at the University of Sussex in September