Setting is not the real issue

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
I may have missed some significant research over the past year or so, but I have to confess that I am puzzled by your leader comment (TESS, May 20) that "more time needs to elapse before we can finalise judgments on whether setting makes a significant contribution to learning" and Tom Burnett's letter in response last week saying that "providing the climate is right I setting or broad-banding undoubtedly has many benefits."

As far as I am aware, the conclusions of Wynne Harlen's and Heather Malcolm's 1997 research review on setting and streaming have not been seriously challenged in the intervening years.

These were that "there is no consistent and reliable evidence of positive effects of setting and streaming I Indeed, the clearest finding I is that heterogeneous groups are an advantage in social subjects."

The real problem is that structural "solutions" like setting, streaming or broad-banding are palliatives for problems that stem from inappropriate teaching approaches.

Pupils will inevitably misbehave and underachieve if their learning experiences are inappropriate to their learning needs.

By contrast, when teachers are able to develop the knowledge and skills to create collaborative learning communities in their classrooms and to design learning activities that motivate and encourage pupils to use their different learning strengths, issues such as setting and broad-banding become entirely peripheral to the real issueof finding a classroom methodology that respects individual learners' needs and abilities.

No doubt this will seem like pie in the sky to some. Five years ago, I might have agreed.

But there is now ample evidence through the critical skills programme to show that this is an achievable ambition.

Colin Weatherley Critical Skills Programme Manager (Scotland)

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