Can we have a heated debate about ability setting in schools?

(498 Posts)
pinksquidgy Thu 04-Sep-14 09:36:02

New education minister Nicky Morgan was rumoured to be considering making setting by ability a compulsory part of getting an 'outstanding' Ofsted classification. Caused a bit of a storm and now looks like she's rowing back.

<Deep breath> When I heard this I thought 'I wish she bloody would'.

I know whole-class teaching/mixed groups are better for children who are struggling (for whatever reason) and I do get that that's important.

But I have two very bright DCs (i know, i know) and I cannot tell you how bloody sick I am of them being given things to colour in while the teacher gives most of her time to those who are at the lower end of the attainment range.

I'm guessing this is a result of the target culture - it seems to result in schools desperately scrabbling to get the 'D' student up to a 'C'. Students who were always going to be a B or an A just get left to stew and it's starting to drive me potty. (I do also realise this is partly a function of bad teaching and poor management - but that, unfortunately, is what our local primary is like.)

Don't clever kids matter too? Would it be so wrong to prioritise them just for once - maybe just for core subjects like numeracy and literacy?

My older DC has just gone up to secondary. EVERY single one of the 'clever' kids he started out with in infants (those who were getting similar SATS scores) has gone into the private sector or free schools, by hook or by crook. He is the ONLY one of his academic peers who has gone into a state comprehensive. This is the flipside of schools failing to look after clever kids: their parents simply opt out of the state system altogether - which is no good for anyone, surely?

I'm deeply committed to the ideal of comprehensive education in my heart (and in my wallet tbh) but once, just once, I'd like someone to think about what might work best for the children at the top end of the attainment range.

please don't kill me

StillWishihadabs Thu 04-Sep-14 09:39:56

Surely he will be set in secondary though ? What were his year 6 SATs ?

pinksquidgy Thu 04-Sep-14 09:44:43

6 for maths and 5s for the others. I know these are good scores but tbh there was no good reason why he couldn't have got 6s for the others IMO. Yes I blooming well hope there will be setting at the secondary - they seem to be in mixed groups at the moment but I'm hoping that's just until things shake down a bit, obviously he's only just started.

SantasLittleMonkeyButler Thu 04-Sep-14 09:47:17

His secondary school will have taken pupils from a number of primary schools won't they?

So I'm sure there will be plenty of other very bright children in his year group, just probably from different primaries.

Are you sure he won't be put into sets at his new school? DS2 was taught in mixed ability groups at primary school but was put in to sets for maths & English within weeks of starting Year 7. He is top set for everything bar PE & drama, so being taught in a mixed class previously doesn't seem to have done him any harm.

P.S. your thread title made me read your entire post in the style of Mrs Merton blush.

Heels99 Thu 04-Sep-14 09:49:19

I agree with you about setting, didn't realise it wasn't happening? Have you been into school to discuss it with them? Provision for more able children is key for all schools. Ask for their policy, meet with the teacher responsible for that group or the head and find out what provision they have for the more able and how it is working in practice. Be pushy. At my dcs primary the more able are taken out as a group to work separately the same as the strugglers are. Go and find out what is happening

frogsinapond Thu 04-Sep-14 09:49:44

they don't do ability setting at all in Finland and it seems to work ok.

niminypiminy Thu 04-Sep-14 09:51:59

As I understand it setting was only going to be made compulsory at secondary level (and, in fact, she has now denied the story). No-one is suggesting that setting for ability should be compulsory at primary. Most secondary schools do set by ability for at least certain subjects.

To be considered outstanding, any school should be differentiating -- that is, giving children work that will stretch them, whatever level they are at. If they are very bright they should be getting extension activities.

pinksquidgy Thu 04-Sep-14 09:52:34

That's OK, it was a Mrs Merton reference grin

I guess my point is - why not set across core subjects in primaries too? It's not that clever kids don't do OK once they get to secondary: it's that they could do better.

I know Gove is anathema on here but in all honesty, my experience of a bloody mediocre primary school - mired in 'oh that'll do' thinking and endlessly telling kids that the things that really matter in life are whether you're in the school play and the ruddy Street Dance squad - is that he has a point when he talks about poverty of expectations in some state schools. Not once in his entire time there was my older DC publicly acknowledged for just ^being clever^; a million different certificates and badges and celebration assembles and mentions in the school newsletter for every other damn thing though. (And yes, he did mind and he did find it demotivating.)

I realise I'm ranting, obviously I'd never say this stuff out loud in RL grin

Hakluyt Thu 04-Sep-14 09:53:42

Right. Well. For a start, if your school really was leaving the higher ability to stew, then they will categorically fail their next OFSTED.

Secondly- what do you mean by "free schools"?

Thirdly, what makes you think that your son will not come across others of his academic ability at secondary school?

Fourthly- and I speak as the mother of clever children- if you think it's tough being the parent of a clever child, then try being the parent of a lower ability one , or a child with learning difficulties. I know which I'd choose.

niminypiminy Thu 04-Sep-14 09:55:08

"if you think it's tough being the parent of a clever child, then try being the parent of a lower ability one , or a child with learning difficulties. I know which I'd choose."

hear, hear

exexpat Thu 04-Sep-14 09:55:53

I think all (or nearly all) secondaries set for maths, usually a term or so into year 7 once they have made their own assessments of abilities. But other subjects are usually set later or sometimes not at all.

I have heard a lot of grumbles from friends with DC at schools where they don't set for science or English until year 10, for example, and the more able children are getting fed up with working at a much slower pace than they would like, or not getting challenging enough work, or are dealing with constant disruption etc.

pinksquidgy Thu 04-Sep-14 09:57:12

Thanks heels. I've made myself a right PITA at the school, believe me! They did no G&T activity at all when my DCs first got there, but they do now. It's pretty cursory though - a lunchtime club once a week.

niminy - I get that about the outstanding classification. Our primary is 'satisfactory' (although actually of course it's not satisfying me at all!) and tbh seems quite content to bump along in a mindless sort of way. I'd actually rather it were failing - at least it would get some focussed attention then.

pinksquidgy Thu 04-Sep-14 09:58:37

I know you've got a point Hakluyt and I am grateful that my kids are clever. I'm just so utterly fed up with the culture in our school.

ApocalypseNowt Thu 04-Sep-14 09:59:58

"if you think it's tough being the parent of a clever child, then try being the parent of a lower ability one , or a child with learning difficulties. I know which I'd choose."

I agree with this absolutely but it doesn't negate the fact that the more academically able children are sometimes left to their own devices because they'll be ok/get good grades anyway.

Every child should be encouraged to reach their full potential. Are sets the way to do this? In core subject as a minimum i think the answer is yes.

Hakluyt Thu 04-Sep-14 10:01:28

Take comfort from the fact that "satisfactory" doesn't exist any more- so next time they won't get away with it!

pinksquidgy Thu 04-Sep-14 10:02:11

Free schools - you know, the Toby Young excrescences. There's one that's just opened up locally and it's hoovered up a lot of the clever kids whose parents didn't want to go full private for whatever reason.

I don't know that my DC won't meet other clever/cleverer children in secondary - I hope he does. But as I said, all I know is that every single on of his academic peers from his primary has left the state system, so if that pattern is repeated across other feeder primaries... the secondary is also satisfactory (and therefore a bit ropey) so there's no much incentive to send kids there unless, like me, you think comprehensive schools are important in themselves. (And £££ of course)

pinksquidgy Thu 04-Sep-14 10:03:26

oh have they got rid of satisfactory? I didn't know that! What have they replaced it with?

Missunreasonable Thu 04-Sep-14 10:03:34

they don't do ability setting at all in Finland and it seems to work ok.

They also have class sizes of 20 or fewer so it isn't comparable to the UK. It is much easier to teach mixed ability classes when those classes are small.

I support setting in mixed ability schools. There is less need for it in academically selective schools but even then setting benefits the most able in maths.

Hakluyt Thu 04-Sep-14 10:04:10

What are the admissions criteria for the free school? What particular method of covert selection is your one using?

clary Thu 04-Sep-14 10:05:34

"if you think it's tough being the parent of a clever child, then try being the parent of a lower ability one , or a child with learning difficulties. I know which I'd choose."

You said it there Hakluyt. I have both here and I can tell you right now which one requires more effort and attention.

IME most primaries set to some extent - ours had differentiated groups for literacy and maths, and in yr 6, booster sessions every week for those who were aiming for a L6.

FWIW OP L6 in reading was almost impossible - I think I read that just a few hundred across the country children achieved it this year. So yr DC has done well, and yes they are almost certain to be set at secondary. I would go and ask at school tbh.

pinksquidgy Thu 04-Sep-14 10:06:46

I dunno Hakluyt I'll have a look... I didn't even consider it, I can't be associated with anything that's associated with Toby Young grin (not that this is one of his)

Missunreasonable Thu 04-Sep-14 10:07:03

if you think it's tough being the parent of a clever child, then try being the parent of a lower ability one , or a child with learning difficulties. I know which I'd choose.

Do I get a special badge for having one of each? I have one with severe LD who attends a special school (teenager with developmental age of a 2 year old and no verbal language). And I have one who is within the top 2% for academic ability.
It's tough being the parent of both as they both have very different needs and I have had to fight and spend money to ensure that both of them get the education that they need to learn at a rate that is appropriate for them.

pinksquidgy Thu 04-Sep-14 10:08:50

Thanks clary, that's interesting about L6 reading. He reads all sorts at home so I was a bit sad about it.

Preciousbane Thu 04-Sep-14 10:08:59

I read the story about this yesterday, they were only talking about secondary level.I thought all secondaries set by ability level anyway. My DS primary school did set Maths and English classes by ability and then within that class also had tables that further divided the class to a finer level of ability.

His first primary school was closed, it had an outstanding OFSTED report, there were too many free school places overall in the system so the council shut the two smallest primary schools. One of my friends refused to send her DS to this primary because they did set, so just goes to show the strength of feeling.

Now six years later the local primaries are overflowing, its a huge problem.

I suppose my DS is just like yours, he is very clever but I think your actually angry because you would have liked him to attend a fee paying school and feel hard done by. I send my DS to a local comp but could have paid private fees, honestly parental attitude is just as important as actual schooling.

Hakluyt Thu 04-Sep-14 10:09:15

Worth looking- it's fascinating how they find ways round having a properly comprehensive intake. Which they are supposed to do!

<makes special badge for misunreqsonable>

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