Wrong set

22nd November 1996 at 00:00
In his introduction to the recent HMI report Achievement for All Douglas Osler warns against using evidence from studies into streaming and setting in other countries because of "inherent methodological problems and significant cultural and contextual differences in the systems involved".

Imagine my surprise then, when trawling through back numbers of The TES Scotland, I came across a report on research into setting in mathematics in England carried out by Jo Boaler of King's College, London.

The research showed that pupils were often disadvantaged by setting as "a significant number of setted pupils experienced difficulties working at the pace of the class, resulting in disaffection and underachievement". Girls responded badly to the competitive climate in the top set while pupils in the lower sets became disillusioned and demotivated. Moreover, "there was a tendency for working-class children to be allocated to low sets irrespective of their attainment".

What was particularly interesting in this study, which compared a school which put children in sets for maths with a school that did not, was that children in the non-setting school "achieved significantly more A to G grades even though they were of similar ability" to the children in the setting school.

I can't quite decide whether to be delighted that Mr Osler so formally recognises the cultural and contextual differences between the education systems in England and Scotland or to suspect that the research is being ignored because its results do not fit current prejudices.

JUDITH GILLESPIE 40 Findhom Place Edinburgh

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