Setting up ideal setting

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Dr Lorna Hamilton's report on organisation of learning in Scottish schools (TESS, last week) shows that, in some schools, setting or broadbanding practices had been initiated since the mid-1980s and that since then, schools using such approaches have been increasing in number. A quiet revolution among the profession of something that was supposed to have been laid to rest with the non-PC "streaming" of the 1960s?

Although the report indicated that a small number of headteachers expressed some reservations regarding the possible impact on pupil self-esteem, it also indicated that headteachers were careful to ensure that such perceptions, among pupils, were minimised. Perhaps the pressures of target setting have encouraged some headteachers to use whatever strategies are available in order to satisfy the requirements of quality development officers to the perceived detriment of their pupils' self-esteem?

The report shows that in this ointment of success there are a couple of flies. Setting-broadbanding is labour intensive, requiring extra accommodation and personnel. Problems occur at times of staff absence when it is often impossible to find replacement teachers.

These problems can mostly be overcome in larger schools where there is more flexibility with larger numbers of staff. In smaller schools, absence often disrupts the setting timetable as the SMT, often sole headteacher, is required to provide absence cover because of the lack of supply staff.

The report only focused on schools with rolls in excess of 100 pupils, mainly urban. It would be interesting to see further research carried out in order to assess the impact of setting within our rural and smaller schools.

Personal learning planning (PLP) is acknowledged as being of significance to the process of monitoring and evaluating and the report shows that "a few schools highlighted the increasing use of self-evaluation and personal learning plans as a way of encouraging individual progress".

Not all schools have embarked upon the PLP route and unless the Scottish Executive Education Department fully resources the proper implementation of PLP in our schools, this process will not be available to support the positive view of setting-broadbanding.

I am sure our colleagues in the secondary sector will take notice of the report and the benefits of catering adequately for such groups as the higher attaining pupils as well as for those requiring the extra support.

There are some secondary schools where liaison is good and the rate of attainment is continued, particularly with higher achieving groups.

Perhaps with the proposals to have primary teachers working in the early years of secondary, setting will achieve a firmer foothold and eventually become the norm?

Providing the climate is right in any school - ethos, staff in agreement and fully signed up, pupils chosen using careful assessment, adequate resources and parents on board - then setting or broadbanding undoubtedly has many benefits.

Of course, the schools that have been doing this since the mid-1980s know that anyway.

Tom Burnett

Vice-president

Association of Headteachers in Scotland

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