Setting is no longer a sin

20th May 2005 at 01:00
It will not come as much of a surprise to teachers that most primary schools set groups of pupils by ability (page one). But what are the consequences? Two are rather depressing. First, after all the years of experience of setting and streaming in schools in previous decades, it still seems there is a "hierarchy of failure" from which some youngsters find it difficult to escape. Setting was found to be a motivating factor in most schools, the parliamentary education which is investigating pupil motivation will be happy to learn. But those who are well aware of being in the bottom group do not quite have the same sense of achievement.

The second depressing factor is the attitude of secondary schools where the study found little evidence they made much use of the additional data from primaries, despite the view from headteachers that it was more "accurate, specific and reliable" than national test results. The debate over the "fresh start" in S1 remains alive and well.

Of course, more time needs to elapse before we can finalise judgments on whether setting makes a significant contribution to learning. Signs so far are encouraging, but the sins of the past need to be eliminated.

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