Views on ability groups

(187 Posts)
averywoomummy Thu 21-Nov-13 12:37:11

Having just read the thread about summer borns and having done a bit of reasearch on the internet about ability groups I was just wondering what people's views were on them.

Personally I am quite worried about how they are used at DCs school and wonder if I am right to be so. The thing is I could understand if they sat at mixed tables and then went into separate groups for maths etc but in DCs class they sit in their ability group for the majority of the time - even doing crafts within their group. This seems to very much fix them in their ability band and they don't get the chance to work with children of different abilities and share knowledge.

This also means the groups are very obvious and as they use the same names year in year out parents instantly know what group their child and others are in.

It also concerns me that it is a small classroom with a fixed number on each table and so for a child to move up - another has to move down (and vice versa) this doesn't seem right as surely children's development is very fluid and just because one is ready to move up doesn't mean that at the same time another child is ready to move down. It also seems quite divisive as children could perceive their place has been "taken".

As DC is in a lower group I also worry about her learning being capped and I think that even if she is capable of a bit more she may not be encouraged to do it. I worry that the lower group will start to see themselves as not so capable and that it will become a self fulfilling prophesy.

I can understand differentiation of work but does it have to be so obvious?!

Really interested to hear others opinions of how this has worked for their DCs - also how does a class with no grouping work?

PastSellByDate Thu 21-Nov-13 13:44:39

Hi aveerywoomummy

Well this is a hot potato and there have been all sorts of long conversations about various points you've raised, so I suspect I'm just the first of many who will comment.

Teaching to ability - Nice idea in principle. Not completely sure differentiation works in practice, unless the teacher is highly organised and prepared to put in that extra work to target learning to individuals or small groups of similarly performing pupils.

I will say that intervention (so extra support/ teaching for low ability/ struggling pupils) is a different kettle of fish. I personally would like to see this happen sooner, not after years of raising concerns at Parent/ teacher meetings or indeed formally complaining. Shouldn't be necessary. Again if teachers are professional parents shouldn't have to virtually wage war to get help for their children. If a 9 year old can't take 1 from 10 that should be a problem and it shouldn't take the parent complaining to OFSTED to get their child help.

Our school has ability tables (usually funky names based on colours, shapes, gem stones, authors, etc....). At first DDs and I had no idea what was 'top' table but over the years the kids have twigged. Certainly by late Y3 they've known roughly where they stand vis a vis their friends. I think the tables thing if left stagnant does affect a child's view of themselves. My DD1 has moved up the tables and is very proud of that - so it's been a positive thing but DD2 is a veritable yo-yo because the school will only teach 5-6 high ability pupils at a higher level per class.

I think the fixed numbers of pupils on tables thing is awful. Our school follows this so therefore only 5-6 pupils can be in 'top group' and get higher ability work. Our school tends to handle 'fixed numbers on top table' by rotating the same 4-5 kids about between top and 2nd table (so part of the year they're on top table and part they're on a lower table). DD2 is often in this situation - frequently at start of school year - and being only 8 she finds being demoted to a table with obviously too easy work humiliating but faithfully believes the teacher must be right in doing so, so she must be stupid. The result is she's incredibly stressed by her 'position' on a table and constantly working her little heart out to please a teacher who frankly probably won't ever move her up.

What do you say as a parent. 'No darling, it's your teacher who's stupid'

I've had DD2 in floods of tears for demotions since Y1 (she's now Y4). Every year there some form of drama. I try to be positive and encourage her to work harder with me at home so that she will be moved up again (moving up dependent on optional SATs given 3 x a year by teachers at our school). Fortunately our cycle with this is moved down at start of year and moved back up by end of year. However, I now hate September/October (used to be autumn was my favourite time of year) because I live in dread for the evening when DD2 is demoted from maths, reading and/or literacy table.

All in all I really hate this fixed number on top table thing - I'd far rather see two top tables (Maybe Rubies 1 and Rubies 2) for the 9 children working at that similar level - instead of one Ruby table which is reading classic children's fiction and the rest are all reading Horrid Henry, Michael Morpurgo or Jacqueline Wilson (and I do not joke - that's been the reading diet on the lower tables since start KS2). The difference in quality of education resources is what I really object to.

Our solution has been to do more at home and I've just decided it's easier to have the view that school is 'day care'.

Yogurthoney Thu 21-Nov-13 13:48:57

i can't agree more now, PastSellByDate.

ReallyTired Thu 21-Nov-13 13:53:48

Schools are now pushed that every child has to show progress. Surely its OFSTED suicide to have a child being given work that is too easy or too hard. A school should strive that every child reaches their full potential.

Children should be given work that is suited to their next steps in learning. If there are too many children for the top table then there needs to be an overlow table. A good teacher will know where a child's strengths and weaknesses are in maths or English. For example a child might be excellent at reading but struggle with English. Or a child is really good at geometry but struggles with money questions.

Ironically my son's school which had an overflow top table still ended up failing its OFSTED inspection. Ds' year 6 teacher used to assign children to activites depending on whether they understood the concept in the last lesson. A child might find themselves sitting on table 4 to revise basic fractions and then moving to the top table to have more challenaging work on geometry.

Layl77 Thu 21-Nov-13 13:54:29

I didn't think my ds had ability groups but there are four or five groups which have been there since the start, do you think these are ability groups? Surely they didn't know the children's levels before they started?

cranberryorange Thu 21-Nov-13 14:16:13

Ds in Yr 1 remains on the lowest ability table which he stays on for a majority of the day.

My biggest concern with this system is that he isnt being exposed to the same information or education as those DC on the higher tables so will the gap just widen because he cant learn what he isnt being taught and it becomes a vicious circle from the age of 5 as he moves through the school years.

How will the school fill the gaps or dont they have to for slower childrenconfused

moldingsunbeams Thu 21-Nov-13 14:21:01

I have the same experience as cranberry I am afraid where dd has ended up in the bottom group and is not being taught work the better ability ones are so when it comes to non differentiated homework or tests she has not done it so cannot answer and therefore can never move up.

I am all for teaching to ability but I was shocked at a recent school open night for secondary in which I was told if a child was in bottom group or such in year 7 they would never get more than an E at gcse because the level of learning aimed at them just did not receive the same level of learning or teaching and therefore would never catch up.

Writing a child off at 11 as a failure before they have even started scared the life out of me because I know several children for who things clicked at secondary.

DeWe Thu 21-Nov-13 14:24:14

What I noticed at infant level was that generally the top two tables did very similar work, most of the time the same, but the top table was expected to be more independent. There was also usually extention work that they would expect the top table to get onto, but if someone on the second table finished, they would get to.
They also did ability tables for maths, literacy and guided reading separately, plus had a separate, non-ability- group for other things.

Interestingly, I did a questionaire once with children at secondary about half a term after they had been set for maths. This was about how they felt about being set, their confidence in how they were doing and that sort of thing.
The children that really appreciated being set were the bottom set. They felt that it really improved their confidence not to see others rushing through the work they found really hard, and they appreciated having work set more at their level.
Middle sets felt that in a more moderate way, and the top set was fairly indifferent about being set-with a few complaints that they were now expected to work harder as they couldn't hide.

PastSellByDate Thu 21-Nov-13 14:26:22

Hi Layl77:

If your DC is in Year R then there is a chance these are just groups (with no ability basis)


If your child has gone to nursery then most nurseries prepare a very detailed report for the school on where the child is at against EYFS learning outcomes - e.g.

They will also have assessed each child against EYFS skills during the first few weeks of school.

So yes, even from Year R, there is a likelihood that children will be placed into different ability groups. But, in some ways this makes a lot of sense, because there is a huge difference between a new 4 year old and someone already 5 years of age at this young age.

There is a strong likelihood that reading groups will reflect ability and the stage your child is at - and to be fair schools will have Year R pupils who can read some words and those who have never seen a book all in the same class.


MilkRunningOutAgain Thu 21-Nov-13 14:41:16

I don't think you'll like this but many lower table kids simply won't understand the work the top tables are getting. Yes, it does mean they will be exposed to less content and in less depth. This could be a good thing for many, to ensure they grasp the basics.

I do agree that the system is not as flexible as it should be nor well used by some teachers/ schools.

For my DS in yr 6 it works relatively well, he is borderline table 1 / 2 out of 5 tables. It upsets him when he goes down to table 2, but then he tends to work a bit harder to go back up. He is inclined to be lazy about school work, only really interested in sport.

For dd it is not working well. She was bottom table in yr 1. This had a horrible effect on her self esteem as she knew she was bottom table. She has since moved up, and in yr 3 is about in the middle of the class. But her self esteem and ability to work independently ( she was great at independent working in nursery) are both poor. She thinks she is stupid. I've not succeeded in changing her view, despite a lot of effort. Dd has covered much less than DS but to be honest, though it is irritating, it's probably a good thing, she was not ready to learn in yr r or yr 1 and DS was.

DS seems much more self assured and assumes he is clever, he has after all nearly always been on or next to the top table.

PastSellByDate Thu 21-Nov-13 14:50:36

Layl/Cranberry/ Molding:

Absolutely hear you in relation to worries that your children are not accessing the same teaching as other children.

several things:

1) Yes, they aren't getting taught about that (say adding fractions) at the same time, but they will be taught it (or at least introduced to it later).

2) I think the disadvantage of not learning at same time as top table is that top table (having two DDs on top table now in KS2 in maths) seem to be endlessly reviewing things in whole class sessions, but then given tricker problems to cope with in group work.

This has two advantages for top group (or conversely disadvantages for lower groups):

Top group get more practice/ review of concepts
Top group get more challenging work (which they also learn skills from)

3) I think that feeling of being excluded is problematic. It really upsets DD2 to be demoted. I personally find it very hard shoring up her confidence afterwards.

PastSellByDate Thu 21-Nov-13 14:51:27

sorry should have been

but then given trickier problems...

moldingsunbeams Thu 21-Nov-13 14:59:43

I had the opposite experience of a dd that started school in top groups in reception for reading and such.
Then for a variety of reasons when she hit year 4 it all went to pot, she is massively aware that she is now in the bottom groups, it has battered her confidence and self esteem and now she does not believe she can do it so even though she has caught up somewhat in most things she does not believe she can do it and therefore is still in bottom.

Bit of a vicious circle for us.

moldingsunbeams Thu 21-Nov-13 15:00:19

xpost thanks past.

LittleSiouxieSue Thu 21-Nov-13 15:03:22

All this shows is that children should be encouraged to do their best and not worry about what others are doing. Sitting next to a clever child will not make the less clever child suddenly become a top table child. Some children read books in Reception so these will probably accelerate their learning in comparison to a child who is struggling to recognise letters. I do however, think schools can rotate tables frequently so that the top table work with children a bit lower down the pecking order. The top ones , and indeed bottom ones, do not have to work together all the time. Some parents seem to expect a continual berth at the top table whereas there might be work where a mixed group could be beneficial. Parents can do a lot to fill in the gaps too. Lots of reading at home etc. Lower groups in year 7 may well include children who are level 2 at KS2 or a 3c. You would not expect them to get a C at GCSE.

LydiaLunches Thu 21-Nov-13 15:08:16

DD1 (yr 3) sits on a very mixed table (like a tiny form group) then is in ability groups for maths and English, seems to work well. The top maths group is 9 out of 30 children. I have noticed that the reading groups in DD2's class are all different sizes although was a bit hmm to see that the small top group has had a specifically female name given to it (all named after book titles)!

LifeIsBetterInFlipFlops Thu 21-Nov-13 15:14:30

I'm not sure, but wouldn't a more able child be held up in a mixed ability group, as they would have to wait for all the pupils to reach the current level?

LittleSiouxieSue Thu 21-Nov-13 15:22:21

A bright child would only be held up if they were not given extension work or had no other bright child on the table. They could be moved in a pair or a trio. My DDs never sat on a table that comprised the brightest only but did sit with the middle group children too. However they did have someone to work with who was roughly their level. This meant there was no elitism but to stop any child being held back, extension work was given to the brighter/quicker children. I felt this was fair and the lower/middle groups were mixed up a bit too.

LifeIsBetterInFlipFlops Thu 21-Nov-13 16:00:11

That sounds a sensible and fair way of doing it Little.

TheWomanTheyCallSarahJane Thu 21-Nov-13 16:04:26

And this is where I thank goodness ds3 goes to a small school and there is one table as there is only four of them in their year

ZooCheur Thu 21-Nov-13 16:11:03

DD's class R is streamed; the school aren't really shy about saying so. They're streamed separately for maths and english too - the groups are on the wall, althogh of course they aren't labelled as 'top set' to 'bottom set' or anything like that.

It makes sense to me - there is an english set for those that can already read, and sets for those that are at various stages on the way there. The groups are dynamic too, DD told me yesterday about people who had swapped groups, and wonders if she will. She sees it as a fun thing to do rather than as something positive or negative. I guess the maths groups are the same, although I don't know what the criteria are for that. In fact I don't know what it is for the english groups, I just know that only one group got reading books with words when books were first given out.

If the school thinks that teaching that way is the best way to get each child to access the curriculum at the right level for them, then I am happy.

cranberryorange Thu 21-Nov-13 16:16:16

I'm sure a good school could manage the different abilities without dividing them all up into groups at such a young age.

Ds has a TA doing most of his teaching because its her who spends most of the day sat with them doing something different whilst the teacher steams ahead with the majority.

I view this as my Ds is already clinging onto the tailcoats of his peers at the age of 5 and he is becoming more aware of it. If you throw in the amount of times his little group go off for 'small group' interventions then he might as well be in a different school. It also adds to massive chunks of the school curriculum that he's missing which must surely just add to the problemhmm

Its hard as a parent not to think that the expectations for my son are so low that the schools only interest is maintaining some sort of progress however small so that their paper trail is complete when OFSTED visit.

Maybe i'm just a cynical old bagsad

ZooCheur Thu 21-Nov-13 16:37:00

cranberryorange I'm sure a good school could manage the different abilities without dividing them all up into groups at such a young age."

Well maybe they could, and maybe they couldn't. What I do know is I'd find teaching a class containing a four year old with limited spoken english and a five year old who is a fluent reader in mixed ability groups to be a challenge.

The point is I think there is a perfectly valid case to say that setting is beneficial to all the children, regardless of whether or not the school could 'manage' without doing it.

cranberryorange Thu 21-Nov-13 16:53:26

The point is I think there is a perfectly valid case to say that setting is beneficial to all the children, regardless of whether or not the school could 'manage' without doing it

Thats my biggest worry because it certainly doesnt benefit my Ds, even if it does benefit the other 26. The school have managed to teach him that he is slower than the rest which in turn has knocked his confidence and self esteem and his enthusiasm for learning is about Zero now. They have also limited what he is able to learn so in effect have limited the level he can reach.

How does anyone know what a childs potential is at the age of 5.

I want him to access everything on the curicculum and have support in place to get him to a level where he can learn effectively and confidently.

There is a huge emphasis on early intervention being crucial to a childs education and success. It appears to be much easier for schools to put in the ability divide at the age of 4 and set the expectations at whatever level they have guessed at using EYFS.

There was a massive thread on here about how different schools interpreted achievement for EYFS which is frightening when you consider those at the bottom end like my Ds are now being educated to a level that test has set.

ZooCheur Thu 21-Nov-13 17:12:11

Obviously I don't know anything about your DS or the school he attends. It may be that the way they stream at the school has knocked his confidence and enthusiasm, but I'd say that if it has then it's a function of how they've streamed rather than streaming per se.

It shouldn't be about limiting what a child is able to learn, it is about making sure that the work presented is of a level that stretches the child without seeming incomprehensible to them - presenting them each day with something that's juuuuuust within reach.

That's easier to do if the children are in smaller groups. To teach a whole class that way you'd have to teach to the least able (so no-one was presented with something they couldn't do) and then add on extensions for the next (however many) levels. I think there are 6 groups in DDs class; it's be boring for the children if the teacher was having to present stuff to suit all of them as one big group.

I still think that, done properly, setting is best for all the children involved. It sounds like you think it's not done properly at your child's school.

PiqueABoo Thu 21-Nov-13 17:38:04

Hmm.. they're in rows now, but Y6 DD had table grouping for the "maths etc." but they mixed things around for other activities.

Table grouping everything sounds horrid and lazy. DD is one one the 'highers', but I really wouldn't like her stuck working with them all the time. She wouldn't either because she'd never get to do things in class with very-very best friend who struggles academically (dyslexic, but not stupid).

Iamnotminterested Thu 21-Nov-13 17:50:49

Mrz doesn't have ability groups. How do you do it, Mrz?

ZooCheur Thu 21-Nov-13 18:00:56

And more importantly, perhaps, what is the argument Mrz uses to suggest that not setting is more beneficial than setting?

WooWooOwl Thu 21-Nov-13 18:07:16

I'm sure a good school could manage the different abilities without dividing them all up into groups at such a young age.


The younger children are the more they need setting at primary school IMO. The ability range is often very broad in a Y1 class, and it really doesn't do either the brightest or the least able any favours to pretend their ability is the same.

When you think about things like guided reading, just how is a capable child going to benefit from reading a book that a much less capable child can read? How is a less able child going to benefit from being given a book that they are simply incapable of reading?

I know more able children can work on fluency, intonation, expression and things like that, but they can do that with books that they don't find extremely easy too.

I don't think it's fair to blame schools for children losing confidence if they aren't in the top group or can't do things that others can. Parents have said this at the school I work in, and we work really hard to let the children know that they are all valued, and that their effort is what matters. But we can't stop children noticing that some children can read signs easily when they can't, and we can't stop children noticing that their writing is neat compared to someone else's, or vice versa.

lougle Thu 21-Nov-13 18:13:09

It's interesting. We've just had a letter home about setting for maths:

"As you may be aware, we currently 'set' children in a year group for Maths in Years 2-6. The Institute of Economic and Social Research conducted a study involving 1200 children. This concluded that there is no support for the view that lower Key Stage 2 children learn more effectively in sets for mathematics at any attainment level.

Research suggests that generally mixed ability teaching does not disadvantage higher achieving children, and positively advantages lower attaining children. Therefore we believe setting should not disadvantage children in their class groups."


lougle Thu 21-Nov-13 18:15:19

Actually, I'm not sure that is the paper they are referring to, although interesting.

cranberryorange Thu 21-Nov-13 18:38:34

I dont want anyone to pretend my Ds has the same ability as all of the other Dc when i am very aware he struggles compared to his peers.

What i do want is a good teacher to recognise his strengths and weaknesses and to give him support when he needs it or ask for our help at home so that he can try and keep up.

I do hold the school entirely responsible for how he feels about attending everyday, its not the fact he isnt on the top table its the fact that he isnt part of the other 26 group and at the age of 5 is being taught that his position in life is lower than the majority around him.

He's 5 years old, not 15 and about to sit GCSEs.

WooWooOwl Thu 21-Nov-13 18:45:44

It's strange that your ds is getting the impression that he is lower than the majority cranberry, in my experience children tend to like working in smaller groups when they are in KS1.

I've know some of the brighter children to feel miffed that they never get to be the ones to go off to a smaller group and that it's the smaller group that are the special ones.

cranberryorange Thu 21-Nov-13 18:53:23

Its more the fact that hes no longer with the good friends he made in reception because hes on the lower ability table whereas before he was just one of the group.

The social impact has had a huge effect on him because his confidence has taken a knock and he doesnt venture away from the the familiarity of his group of 4.

elskovs Thu 21-Nov-13 18:57:50

I think streaming is a brilliant idea. I cant see any drawbacks. The bright ones aren't held back by the less able and the less able get extra help and don't feel stupid compared to the clever ones, because they aren't working side by side.

There are 4 in my 8 year olds school. They have form groups and but at 10am they go into their streamed lessons.

I assume my 8 year old will be in the top sets, but even if he was not bright I would welcome this idea.

mrz Thu 21-Nov-13 19:06:09

"Effective classroom organisation in primary schools concludes that there is no evidence that lower Key Stage 2 pupils learn more effectively in sets for mathematics at any level. In fact, the study tentatively suggests that children of all levels of attainment do better when taught in mixed ability classes. The author also recommends mixed ability teaching because of its social and equitable benefits, and suggests that setting is usually adopted in order to make the teacher’s job of whole class teaching more manageable."

"Students' experiences of ability grouping similarly suggests that setting in mathematics has a negative effect on both attainment and motivation, with the exception of slightly improved attainment for top set pupils. The authors conclude that setting promotes a more inflexible style of teaching than mixed ability classes, and creates unreasonably low or high expectations for the pupils in the lower and top sets."

In fact setting young children does them a great disservice

lougle Thu 21-Nov-13 19:06:57

The research disagrees with that view, though, elskovs. Also, it's very easy to say 'even if...' but you can't predict how you would feel if it were different. Besides which, it isn't about 'feelings', it's about what is most beneficial to the education of children.

Streaming closes doors for children before they've even begun. The high ability sets storm off into the sunset while the low ability sets plod on.

If there is no disadvantage to high ability children in removing sets, and an advantage to low ability children, then I can't see how continuing to set can be justified, IMVHO.

mrz Thu 21-Nov-13 19:16:15

^"Ofsted initially reported that the use of setting in primary schools led to impressive gains in national tests in setted subjects.
Later reports noted that there were fewer examples of very good teaching in lower sets and no overall trend for the quality of teaching to be better in setted classes."^

"Several overviews of research have found that there is little evidence that setting contributes to raising overall standards for all pupils. However, at the extremes of attainment, low-achieving pupils show more progress in mixed-ability classes, and high-ability pupils show more progress in setted classes.
This research also notes the detrimental effect of setting on the attitudes and self-esteem of pupils of lower ability. Low-ability pupils placed in sets, compared with low ability pupils taught in mixed-ability classes, were less likely to participate in school activities, experienced more disciplinary problems, and had a higher level of absenteeism."

"The evidence on pupil grouping is readably reviewed summarised in a book by Susan Hallam, Judith Ireson and Jane Davies from the Institute of Education. They conclude that ‘structured-ability grouping, of itself, does not raise standards. While teachers find planning and teaching easier when they are working with pupils of similar attainment, this does not always translate into better pupil performance. Ability grouping tends to lower expectations for pupils who are not in the highest set. They receive a different curriculum, taught differently, that teachers believe is matched to pupils’ needs but that pupils, all too often, perceive as too easy and lacking in challenges and interest. Grouping pupils by ability reduces access of the less able to parts of the curriculum, high-ability role-models and examples of high-quality work they might emulate.’"

WooWooOwl Thu 21-Nov-13 19:21:57

Cranberry, perhaps you explained the problem you have in your very first sentence. If your ds is only being allowed to work with the same few people day in day out in Y1, then I can understand why he is losing confidence.

Using ability groups surely doesn't need to be done all day long. It's not as if the school does literacy and numeracy and nothing else at all.

I haven't read the research, but if setting makes teaching more manageable, then surely teachers are able to do a better job, and therefore even indirectly, it must be better for children.

Students' experiences of ability grouping similarly suggests that setting in mathematics has a negative effect on both attainment and motivation, with the exception of slightly improved attainment for top set pupils.

This suggests that setting does have a benefit for the children who have a higher ability.

lougle Thu 21-Nov-13 19:23:19

What's that saying? 'Aim low and you'll never be disappointed.'

lougle Thu 21-Nov-13 19:24:44

"This suggests that setting does have a benefit for the children who have a higher ability."

But at great cost to middle and lower ability pupils.

mrz Thu 21-Nov-13 19:27:11

Setting doesn't enable teachers to do a "better job"

choccyp1g Thu 21-Nov-13 19:30:52

Setting might make it easier to teach, but mixed ability makes it easier to learn.

mrz Thu 21-Nov-13 19:31:45

well put choccyp1g

WooWooOwl Thu 21-Nov-13 19:34:35

Ok, I can accept that, but it doenst seem a huge leap to make to think that something being 'more manageable' will be less stressful, and therefore easier to do to the very best of your ability.

I'm only a TA, but I've heard a couple of teachers comment on how hard some classes are to differentiate when there is a particularly wide ability range.

WooWooOwl Thu 21-Nov-13 19:36:11

X posted - that makes some sense choccy.

Scrapping it seems unfair on the ones that benefit from it to me though. Brighter children aren't there to make it easier for other children to learn.

averywoomummy Thu 21-Nov-13 19:41:54

Thanks everyone - some very interesting comments.

I do feel that it is a shame that some children are unable to access the rest of the curriculum due to being deemed low ability. I actually really dislike the phrase "ability groups" as actually it is only ability in maths and Literature is being measured. Everyone is "able" at something surely!

Whilst I can see that there is a benefit to the higher ability pupils there don't actually seem to be any pro's for the middle/lower ability groups. I feel that also whilst DC might not be able to do everything the top group is doing she could actually do some of it and she might like to be given the chance to attempt it rather that be given no option.

I also wonder how lower/middle group children can ever catch up and prove themselves if they are not able to attempt slightly more challenging work?

Is it really true that bottom set in year 7 will only be taught to an E at GSCS?? I am amazed at this. From my understanding most employers will only take a C or above seriously so there seems very little point in even working if all you can get is an E (I know I wouldn't bother!). Also very hard to definitively predict at 11 who will do well at 16. As people have said sometimes it just takes something to "click" or a child to suddenly get motivated and for many this is when they are a bit older.

Our solution has been to do more at home and I've just decided it's easier to have the view that school is 'day care'.

Sadly the above is how I am starting to feel. Whilst I don't think DC is necessarily for the top table she can certainly do more than she is being given and I now feel that the only solution it to plug the gap at home and give her the extension work that she needs to be given an equal chance with the higher ability kids in her class.

I haven't read all the responses here but as a ks2 teacher I am of the belief that having set 'ability tables' is pretty poor teaching tbh. Work should be differentiated for each lesson, and this should be in response to the previous lesson. E.g. Five children who perhaps didn't 'get' the column addition on Tuesday would be given similar work and support on the Wednesday. It may be that the teacher groups them on the same table, maybe not.but certainly to have a 'top table' which remains the same day in day out ( or week in week out) is simply poor practice.

Meglet Thu 21-Nov-13 19:50:43

woomummy IIRC in my day (late 80's) we were told that middle / lower sets would only be able to achieve a maximum C at GCSE because they wouldn't be given the harder papers hmm. So it's not new. How demoralising for those kids though.

shebird Thu 21-Nov-13 19:54:04

So if OFSTED are so concerned about progress - how many students in mid/lower sets ever make progress to the top sets by the end of KS2? In my DDs class the majority of the same kids have been the top set since y1 with no one else moving up. It seems as if the top set will always be one step ahead and the lower/ mid groups do not progress beyond their 'expected level' this is my issue with setting.

averywoomummy Thu 21-Nov-13 19:58:21

meglet - yes I remember that to from my day and I remember thinking it was very unfair on people then. But at least a C is seen as more worthwhile. An E is not really worth kids working hard for 5 years for. No wonder teenagers are so demotivated!

Periwinkle007 Thu 21-Nov-13 19:59:56

I have always assumed ability groups change for lessons so a maths grouping, an english grouping, a guided reading grouping and other social groupings for art and creativity, history etc

averywoomummy Thu 21-Nov-13 20:01:54

Yes periwinkle007 that was how I thought it worked but I have been into DCs class and see that is not the case with her teacher. It seems very fixed and not much movement.

Periwinkle007 Thu 21-Nov-13 20:14:04

oh - well I wouldn't like that at all. My daughter's are different for different things from what she has told me, obviously there are a few children who may overlap but they do mix them up - she does activities in a whole range of groups.

cloutiedumpling Thu 21-Nov-13 20:21:30

I am also trying to give some extension work at home to fill in the gaps. It isn't easy to find the time though if you work full time. I can't help but wonder if early streaming is part of the reason that summer born children do less well in school - many are put in lower ability groups and never get moved out of them. If streaming didn't start until later then maybe they'd have more of a chance to catch up with their older classmates.

averywoomummy Thu 21-Nov-13 20:38:09

yes cloutiedumpling it is hard to find the time. I am a SAHM and still sometimes struggle to fit in some extension work. I also feel quite resentful about doing it as although of course I am happy to help my DC I feel that I am only having to do this amount of extra work due to the school failing to challenge my DC to a level I think appropriate.

I would far rather be baking cakes with the kids than doing phonics but if I don't then I feel my DC will fall further and further behind and just won't be able to catch up so what choice to I have.

Also whilst I am ranting I also struggle with the idea in the education system that current ability always equals future potential. Everyone always says that learning is not linear and children mature at different rates and yet the government decrees that unless they get a certain NC level at a certain age they therefore won't get a certain grade at GCSE - seems crazy to me.

At least I am thankful that I have the time, resources and ability to help my DC. What happens to the children in the lower groups that don't have any parental support - I guess it is very difficult for them to ever catch up.

Ladybud2013 Thu 21-Nov-13 20:50:25

Hi all

I have just attended a parent teacher meeting and I most say that it did not go too well. Aside from the fact that the teacher has mentioned that JJ is not progressing to the levels expected for his age group. JJ is 6 and has been in a fee paying school since he was 3. They have mentioned that they are not sure what else they can do for him. They have mentioned that he and 5 other pupils have been given a support teacher to provide extra help. However we need to provide extra support at home. The thing is when JJ is at home, he reads and writes well. Maths is still a bit of a struggle but he if we take our time he tends to get it right. I have also invested in extra tuition. The teachers at JJ's school do weekly maths test's which last 30 seconds and they have about 20 maths equations to complete. The teacher then mentioned that JJ is not the only and I quote here "lowly level child in the class". Note that this phase does not even begin to make sense. Then mentioned that he may never be a high achiever in fact he may only perform at a low standard. When I mentioned that my child would become a high achiever, the teacher mentioned that she was glad that I thought that. I am really annoyed as it appears that they have categorised JJ already. In addition JJ and the other children sit at a different table with the rest of the children that require extra support so it is very obvious. Whilst I understand that JJ may need extra support, I am thinking of making a complaint to the Head Teacher and the governing board as the teachers comments were very derogatory. JJ is very articulate but for some reason he does not seem to be doing well at the school. Please help!!

missinglalaland Thu 21-Nov-13 21:00:09

Reading through this thread- it's kind of depressing. I get the impression that school is a zero sum game between the "high achieves" and the "rest." The top group benefit from setting, the rest are hurt by it. sad

If that's what the research shows, I don't have any answers.

My personal observations are that yr2 Sats seem to set the curriculum and expectations for children for the rest of primary school. I believe that the good intention behind this is to make sure that kids don't get overlooked. In practice, it also seems to put a ceiling on what the dc achieve because it sets expectations that are difficult to change because children are taught to a pre-determined differentiated level. This seems tough on young children who are developing at different paces. Developmental milestones and educational targets seem conflated at times in KS1. As a parent it is frustrating. I can only imagine how teachers, especially the best ones, feel about it.

PiqueABoo Thu 21-Nov-13 21:59:41

"The top group benefit from setting, the rest are hurt by it."


No, no no! Mixed ability hurts the highers and benefits the lowers ;b

I don't think there is clear consensus. The various research isn't famously objective and tends to prove a prejudice in either direction. However despite the murkiness, it does appear to be a trade-off between the extremes i.e. the tyrannical majority in the middle are much the same in either scenario, but mixed-ability favours the lowest and setting the highest.

simpson Thu 21-Nov-13 22:14:39

My DC school have ability groups for most subjects and move around the tables. It is rarely the same kids in every top group.

When I went into DD's classroom, she told me where she sat for guided reading, numeracy and literacy.

They are streamed across the whole year group for phonics.

It seems to work well for her.

DS's year group ( yr4) is streamed for numeracy but ability tables for everything else.

Potcallingkettle Thu 21-Nov-13 22:25:33

There is a difference between setting and grouping in a mixed ability class. In a mixed ability class, the main teaching will happen with all the children then the children will be grouped appropriately for the task and the level of support required.
A new measure for schools is the number of children making more than expected progress (KS2) so teachers should actively be looking to develop those children capable of achieving more.
In my classroom, I move groups for each subject after every assessment point and often reconfigure for individual tasks to match the children's abilities or interests. With ability ranges from level 2 to level 6, if their activities were not differentiated, I would have a class of children who were either bored or intensely frustrated.

Ladybud2013 Thu 21-Nov-13 22:33:39

That's wonderful and I am glad that you do that Potcallingkettle, however I was told that the teacher did not have time to review all children so it was easier to place them on the same table.

ZooCheur Thu 21-Nov-13 22:46:31

"If there is no disadvantage to high ability children in removing sets, and an advantage to low ability children, then I can't see how continuing to set can be justified, IMVHO"

There are reception children at DDs school that are almost free readers, and some who cannot read (in English) at all.

I simply cannot imagine how teaching literacy to a small group of mixed ability over such a range would be beneficial to any child compared to teaching them according to their prior knowledge. Evidently that' a failure of my imagination.

mrz Fri 22-Nov-13 06:17:18

you seem to assume that they will all be doing the same work regardless of ability ZooCheur (which would be the case in ability groups) but in mixed ability grouping children are seen as individuals and work is set accordingly.

WooWooOwl Fri 22-Nov-13 08:30:49

Work can still be differentiated in ability groups surely?

I know it was in my ds's primary school. There were three maths groups across the year group, one for children that needed extra support, one for the middling majority, and one for the children that were capable of achieving good level 5's and and were being put in for the level 6 papers. I know for a fact that the children in the groups my dc were in were given different work.

They switched the groups around after SATs and did a lot of investigation projects in mixed ability groups. Best of both worlds IMO.

ZooCheur Fri 22-Nov-13 09:21:21

mrz "you seem to assume that they will all be doing the same work regardless of ability ZooCheur (which would be the case in ability groups) but in mixed ability grouping children are seen as individuals and work is set accordingly."

Not at all - the work the ability groups do at DDs school is differentiated within the groups. I presume the staff there find it the best way to teach such a broad ability range. They're only grouped for numeracy and literacy, so the rest of the time they are free to sit with / work with / play with whoever they want (reception age so not very 'formal')

My point was that setting, say, numeracy work for a class containing a child who can't count past 10 and a child who can do mental arithmetic with numbers over 100 would be very tricky, especially in reception when children have shorter attention spans. Teaching them in groups where the ability range is smaller seems much more sensible to me.

ZooCheur Fri 22-Nov-13 09:35:38

I presume you are a teacher, mrz?

Imagine if as part of your CPD (continuous professional development) you has to do a two day course about things you already know, with some extra bits tacked on the end.

Do you think you might get bored at some point during the two days?

vkyyu Fri 22-Nov-13 12:58:26

Mrz - where do you work I wish my dc2 could be in you school before further labelled as a low ability kid.
Dc2 is a highly self motivated child (at the moment and i hope dc2 can keep it up). Dc2 sometimes says to me "mummy I will get to the middle and then the top one day." And she works really hard and voluntarily do extra work by herself sometimes even without me knowing until she got a certificate, bless her little heart. My concern is if her school is able to meet her expectation. Or will she get demoralised at some point before year 6.
Despite dc already knows all her tables up 12x inside out and shapes but in her set kids are only expected to work on 5x, 2x and 10x while the top set are working on 7x, 8x and 9x.
Now at home dc even volunteer to practice 13x and 25x and other things. I don't disbelieve that dc is lower ability in some areas but I am sure dc is more capable in some other topics to a higher level but she doesn't have assess to them because of teacher's expectations.
In recent parents evening I told the teacher that too but the teacher doesn't want to know as far as she is concerned all bottom children need to work on 2x 5x 10x. Then the teacher start saying to me but sometimes dc cannot concentrate. But then in my opinion it is a common thing in very young children or maybe she s bored.
What annoyed me the most is that at Ks1 if the children achieved 2cs then their yr 6 targets are 4cs and so on for those managed to achieve higher they will be given higher targets. Parent can choose to stream their dcs outside school hours but then in the end their school will get the credit for being higher up on the league table. Our school is high in the league table however many kids in the upper school have or had private tuitions across all sets either to catch up or to keep up.

ReallyTired Fri 22-Nov-13 13:19:44

"That's wonderful and I am glad that you do that Potcallingkettle, however I was told that the teacher did not have time to review all children so it was easier to place them on the same table."

Ladybud2013 surely you arent' paying for such shitty teaching. State school teachers aren't allowed to get away with such laziness and they have a class of 30, often with disinterested parents.

"Despite dc already knows all her tables up 12x inside out and shapes but in her set kids are only expected to work on 5x, 2x and 10x while the top set are working on 7x, 8x and 9x. "

Its great she knows her tables, but she needs to work on problem solving skills to get good results in tests. nrich is a brilliant website for developing such thinking.

PastSellByDate Fri 22-Nov-13 13:21:59

Just responding to vkyyu's comment that 'Our school is high in the league table however many kids in the upper school have or had private tuitions across all sets either to catch up or to keep up'

This is very much my impression at our school. In fact I'd go so far as to say that the school relies on parents getting involved and supporting learning at home. It's clear where children don't have that kind of support (for whatever reason) they just seem to be falling further and further behind.

averywoomummy Fri 22-Nov-13 13:31:39

Yes vkyyu and pastsellbydate I agree about the school relying on parents supporting the children deemed lower ability at home. Although I'm doing a lot myself I am pretty sure that if DC has not been moved up to a higher ability group then we will end up paying for tutoring just to keep her up to speed with the other kids - this seems really wrong that we have to do this as surely this shows that the school is not actually meeting these children's needs.

I do feel sorry for the children who will not get the home support.

It all seems so arbitrary. I mean DC's set do 4 spellings a week and the higher group does 5 spellings a week (4 the same + one extra). DD gets all her 4 right each week and yet is not "allowed" by the syllabus to learn the extra one word each week due to the group that she is in. Crazy!

kesstrel Fri 22-Nov-13 14:02:22

Here's a heretical thought: maybe children in Year 3 upwards should be sitting at desks, rather than tables? I noticed that the secondary pupils in Educating Yorkshire all have two-seater desks. Advantages: more flexibility, no table label trauma, no one has to have their back to the teacher, everyone has sufficient space to write and spread out their books, teacher can see everyone and see if someone is being bullied ...

spanish11 Fri 22-Nov-13 14:07:42

My son was falling behind in math (level 3 in year 2, and level 3a in year 4), I decided to start tutoring him by myself, ( in math only, because in English I can't,). He went from a level 3a to a level 5c, and then in year 6 he got the level 6 in math. I don't understand why I have to support my children learning at home.

ZooCheur Fri 22-Nov-13 14:20:06

"I don't understand why I have to support my children learning at home"

Really? You don't see it as part of your role as a parent to teach your kid things? Wow.

averywoomummy Fri 22-Nov-13 14:27:23

zoocheur I think there is a difference between supporting your child's learning and actually having to be a teacher to them.

I see supporting them as being aware of what they are learning, talking to them about it, helping them with homework, daily reading and any enrichment activities linked with class work i.e. trip to a museum if they are studying Romans, trip to theatre to link in with book they are reading etc.

But, what parents here are saying they have to do is to actually do the work that the teacher should be doing because their children have been placed in low ability groups. Therefore they are doing formal teaching and tutoring to try to bring their child up to the level of the other children and to allow the full access to the curriculum.

For example I have just purchased the full range of phonics ranges teaching material which I will go through with my DC as they are way behind this at school.

mrz Fri 22-Nov-13 17:15:17

ZooCheur that's exactly why I dislike ability groups ... because the group is the top group it doesn't mean that every child in that group is at the same point in their learning ... I prefer to see children as individuals with individual needs not as members of "spurious groups"

mrz Fri 22-Nov-13 17:18:54

"Not at all - the work the ability groups do at DDs school is differentiated within the groups." perhaps you would explain why that can't happen if children are in mixed ability "groups"

ZooCheur Fri 22-Nov-13 17:28:22

Spanish11 didn't say her son was falling behind because he was in the wrong group, averywoomummy

Also, the fact that some schools aren't implementing it very well isn't an argument against the principle.

mrz Fri 22-Nov-13 17:29:27

kesstrel my Y1s sit at 2 person tables does that count? and they don't have a static seat in the class moving around lesson by lesson day by day.

ZooCheur Fri 22-Nov-13 17:34:12

mrz assuming reception age children are generally not taught as a whole class:

you suggest it's best to have mixed ability small groups, in which the teacher will differentiate.

I suggest it's best to have ability groups in which the teacher will differentiate.

The differentiation required is less if the kids are roughly at the same place, surely - and thus the extension work will be of interest to those not doing it as it seems feasible they could do it, plus the higher ability kids are not listening to lots of things they already know.

I fail to see why you would prefer to teach a group with a huge range of abilities rather than a more narrow range - surely it's more efficient to do one set of work with one set of kids rather than explaining it to those kids one at a time as differentiated activities when they are in mixed groups?

mrz Fri 22-Nov-13 17:50:41

big assumption ZooCheur ...there are times in the day reception children will be taught as a whole class and times when they will work with adults in small groups and times when they will work independently. Speaking as someone who taught reception until recently it is NOT best to have ability groups. Your argument seems to be that it is easier for the teacher rather than it is the most beneficial for the child.

ZooCheur Fri 22-Nov-13 17:56:16

There is a child in my DDs reception group that reads with the high ability reading group from the year above. How would it be beneficial to him or the others in his class if he was reading with them, given he clearly has the ability to read to a much higher level?

lougle Fri 22-Nov-13 17:59:54

I think there's some confusion between 'ability groups' and 'working to your ability'.

The former is a rigid construct - a set of children are identified as being of a certain ability and are taught together.

The latter is identifying the needs of each child in each learning opportunity and teaching to their ability in that instance.

ZooCheur Fri 22-Nov-13 18:01:15

It doesn't have to be rigid though, The groups at DDs school have changed twice already I think

mrz Fri 22-Nov-13 18:03:51

Why do you suppose he would be reading with other children ZooCheur?

mrz Fri 22-Nov-13 18:05:55

I've taught reception children with reading ages of 9+ in mixed ability classes without any ability groups

ZooCheur Fri 22-Nov-13 19:05:29

If he isn't reading with other children, he's being taught in an ability group that happens to only have one person in it ...

mrz Fri 22-Nov-13 19:32:53

Why do you think children should read in groups ...they all should read individually ... it's good practice and nothing to do with ability

WooWooOwl Fri 22-Nov-13 19:58:49

If they all waited for their turn to read individually with the teacher at my school, they wouldn't read every day unless their parents do it with them.

Doing both guided reading and individual reading is a good thing IMO. As are ability groups.

mrz Fri 22-Nov-13 20:06:45

How often does each group do guided reading WooWooOwl? In most schools it's once a week!

ZooCheur Fri 22-Nov-13 20:08:24

The reception age child I am talking about does guided reading with the year above - I think that means they all read the same book and then talk about it - a book group with one member is dull.

I presume the child in question reads on his own too.

WooWooOwl Fri 22-Nov-13 20:10:56

Every day unless there's something special going on.

mrz Fri 22-Nov-13 20:18:06

Yes ZooCheur they all get to read one page of the same book ...often once a week unlike WooWooOwls child (av of 5 groups of 6 children x 1/2hr = 1/2 of each day spent doing guided reading and you haven't even started on the other subjects hmm )

vkyyu Fri 22-Nov-13 20:34:44

Spanish11 - my dc1 also never caught up in maths relying on school alone. Dc1 got 2c for ks1 so dc's target was 4c in yr 6 so 3c at the end of yr 4 was acceptable for school. But it was not acceptable to me or to the wider world. So I made her do maths with me for 15 minutes a day with some text books from various bookshops. Thank god within five months dc1 skipped two sublevels to 3a. School did not alert me that she needed extra support or advise me how best to help dc. I had a very long meeting with the teacher re my dc learning. To be fair the teacher was very understanding but then I think in the end of the day she has to work in the way according to the school's policy.

As well as being her mum now I am also her life coacher and cheer leader in maths.

spanish11 Fri 22-Nov-13 20:54:42

One of the reason why I started tutoring my son is because in year 4 the teacher didn't allow him to do the level 3-5 test, he did level 3 and got level 3a. In this school there is 3 group for math,top, middle and bottom. And in English another 3,the middle and the top are mixed, and the bottom.
In each group, there is the top table, second top table...
My son was in the top group, but he was not progressing, because the teacher did not let him try to do the top table things.

WooWooOwl Fri 22-Nov-13 21:09:41

I wasn't talking about my own child, nor was I talking about one teacher having to cover 5 groups of 6 children. hmm

Not all schools have the same number of children, and not all schools do things in the same way. Bizarre, I know!

lljkk Fri 22-Nov-13 21:11:45

What ZooCheur said ^

mrz Fri 22-Nov-13 21:28:48

True WooWooOwl many schools have combined reception classes of 90 or 120 children!

teacherwith2kids Fri 22-Nov-13 21:55:40

As I have said on here before - I move children around A LOT. In theory, I teach a maths set (big school, unlike my previous smal one), in which there are often 3 variants of work going on, a class english group, with up to 4 variants, guided reading - 5 groups - and mixed ability tables for other things.

In practice, the work a particular child experiences will vary from day to day. Today, for example, in English, the children reinforcing yesterday's learning consisted of children from across the 3 groups set up the previous day. Equally, the genuinely hard extension task was attempted by children from across yesterday's groups, because it was set based on what they achieved yesterday and therefore what they needed to do next today. Similarly in Maths, the groups were re-formed today based on yesterday's work, and will be re-formed again on Monday based on today's. I do physically sit groups in different areas of the classroom each day, for simple logistics of adults and resources, but children move around all the time. Eqwually, on 1 day 18 children might be doing the 'easiest' task and 2 the hardest, on another day it might be 2 on the easy one, 10 on the medium and the other 18 on the hardest. It will vary all the time.

Yes, proper differentiation requires work. It's my job.

[We do guided reading for an hour once a week, btw, but every child reads aloud at some point every day. Basically, I never read anything execpt occasionally an end of day story or poem, the children do it all - even just the task for the lesson is read out by a child. They don't realise that i am continually observing and assessing them using that]

teacherwith2kids Fri 22-Nov-13 21:56:33

I can spell, btw. Just not on Fridays. It's been a LONG week

WooWooOwl Fri 22-Nov-13 21:59:03

And some only have 15 reception children who don't yet do guided reading anyway.

anitasmall Fri 22-Nov-13 22:11:21


I dislike ability groups, too. The top rated education systems do not teach based on ability groups, all the class does the same work. It was mentioned on this topic that the top set children gain from ability groups. That's not true at all. At international mats, science competitions UK children underachieve.

However I have that feeling that in an average UK class there are wilder differences that in any Eastern European, Scandinavian, Fare East countries. In my daughter's class (Y2) there are children who are struggling to add 1 digit numbers while some others can multiply a full number with a fraction, add 3 digit numbers...

lougle Fri 22-Nov-13 22:11:49

DD3 is in Reception and does guided reading. The books don't have words but the children are being encouraged to tell stories from the pictures with a teacher.

Huitre Fri 22-Nov-13 22:43:50

I have to say, I am not sure my high ability DD is gaining much from her ability-grouped tables. Having helped a lot in school, I know she is a long way ahead of her peers in some areas but I don't see a lot of individual work headed her way. What I do see is lip service - we have five groups! How can you say your kid isn't catered for?! Fortunately, she's a self-starter and doesn't need anyone else to get her going. I do wonder what happens to really high ability children who don't have anyone who can help them at home, though.

simpson Fri 22-Nov-13 23:13:50

DD was in a reception class of 90 last year which worked really well.

They were in ability groups for phonics only in reception but in yr1 is in ability groups for pretty much everything.

I do remember DS in yr1 (now yr4) being most upset as he was put into ability groups for learning how to knit! (Which actually I thought was a great thing to bring into the classroom- but he was on the bottom table and NOT happy).

vkyyu Sat 23-Nov-13 00:33:10

Spanish11- my dc caught up so moved up set only since then dc has chances to taste the level 5 questions and realises her potential to reach a higher level of attainment. I keep reminding her that in ks1 she s too young to be able to do much about her attainment level etc however just work harder this year so she can have a better fresh start in year 7. Sometimes I feel I am trying repair the damages that school left her with. I believe some people streamed their dcs even before they set foot in the reception door.

mrz Sat 23-Nov-13 07:55:15

anitasmall have you considered that there is such a wide range of abilities in UK classes because of ability groupings? Yes you will have high flyers who will need to be challenged and extended but would there still be children who are left miles behind if they weren't labelled low ability and given less challenge

vkyyu Sat 23-Nov-13 09:25:25

Anitasmall - do you believe that those yr 2 kids who can multiply a full number with fraction and add 3 digits learn all that in their school. Maths is a subject that really need formal input unlike literacy.

teacherwith2kids Sat 23-Nov-13 13:13:50

Mrz, I have been thinking about whether I do 'ability groupings' or 'differentiation', lesson by lesson.

The point is that in virtually every lesson, everone gets the same 'teaching' (there are a few occasions in which I set an independent challenge for those who it is clear from the last lesson have 'got it', and teach the remainder of the class). However, I differentiate their response to that input, day by day and lesson by lesson, on the basis of assessment from the previous lesson and from questioning during the teaching. I happen to send them to particular areas of the classroom to do that response work - because in one area there will be specific equipment or a different piece of work or an adult or whatever - but it is not an 'ability group' as others on here mean it, because it will be a wholly different grouping tomorrow. And children commonly 'move between' those parts of the classroom in mid-lesson: either to access support as i find that they were not as secure in the 'next step' as it seemed they might be, or because their first few minutes of work show that they are secure and need more challenge.

My only 'reasonably fixed' groupings are guided reading groups - more for practicality and convenience [number of books] than from sinister intent. They sometimes all have slightly different texts (Shakespeare in the original, and in several children's versions, at the moment, but from different plays and at different lengths) but very similar objectives - laddered, it's easy for a child working in a 'lower'group to quickly emonstrate a 'higher' skill in response to a question - or sometimes texts in rotation, with the same obectives for different texts but with the texts being used by different groups in turn [I do a simultaneous 50 minute guided reading session for all groups, with an adult per group, adults rotated every few weeks]

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Sat 23-Nov-13 17:21:35

I absolutely believe in ability-grouping.

All children should be taught at a level and speed which constantly stretches them slightly. No child should be held back...neither should a child be left behind.

As regards sharing what they know - my DDs aren't trained teachers, neither are they unpaid TAs. If my DDs have competently grasped an idea, and want to run with it/move's not for them to have to show or share with other children what they have already learned.

mrz Sat 23-Nov-13 17:29:07

"No child should be held back...neither should a child be left behind." which is exactly what happens in ability grouping of young children according to research!

WooWooOwl Sat 23-Nov-13 17:47:40

The research you posted showed that there was a disadvantage to the higher ability children Mrz.

I'm very thankful my children were not and are still not placed in mixed ability groups. I don't believe it would have been better for them.

mrz Sat 23-Nov-13 18:19:29

Perhaps you should read it again WooWooOwl
""The evidence on pupil grouping is readably reviewed summarised in a book by Susan Hallam, Judith Ireson and Jane Davies from the Institute of Education. They conclude that ‘structured-ability grouping, of itself, does not raise standards. While teachers find planning and teaching easier when they are working with pupils of similar attainment, this does not always translate into better pupil performance. Ability grouping tends to lower expectations for pupils who are not in the highest set. They receive a different curriculum, taught differently, that teachers believe is matched to pupils’ needs but that pupils, all too often, perceive as too easy and lacking in challenges and interest. Grouping pupils by ability reduces access of the less able to parts of the curriculum, high-ability role-models and examples of high-quality work they might emulate. ’"

How much actual experience do you have of ability grouping & the alternative ways of organising classes?

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Sat 23-Nov-13 18:30:34

mrz all very interesting, but I'm too tired and too old to pretend that all children are of nearly equal ability, and if they only shared more with each other, then they could all happily skip down the yellow brick road, toward a better educational future, with everyone doing really, really well at GCSE [hmm

shebird Sat 23-Nov-13 18:34:26

What every parent wants is for their child to reach their full potential but it seems that not every child is given this opportunity.

mrz Sat 23-Nov-13 18:38:25

If you read what I've written you will see that I'm not suggesting any such thing. I'm saying children are very different and spurious grouping by ability doesn't acknowledge that!

lougle Sat 23-Nov-13 19:07:51

It's all a nonsense when you think of it in terms of individual children. Take my DD2 - right now, she can't seem to even follow a basic task such as 'copy the title from the white board' without support. Yet, at home, she is asking me why there is no gravity in space if there is gravity on Earth. The school are supporting and involving other professionals.

However, for those who advocate ability streaming, would you place her in a high ability group (as she's clearly able) or a low ability group (because she's demonstrating a lower ability)?

I think she had been placed in a lower ability group, as the teacher could only go on what she saw. It was only when I showed her a video of DD2's response to unplanned difference in some homework, and explanations of the sorts of things DD2 is saying at home, that has given the teacher a different impression.

There are lots of children who may not be demonstrating their ability for various reasons. Ability grouping gives an opportunity to ignore children's underperformance and instead view it as 'just how they are.'

WooWooOwl Sat 23-Nov-13 19:38:32

Mrz, I read what you posted

"Students' experiences of ability grouping similarly suggests that setting in mathematics has a negative effect on both attainment and motivation, with the exception of slightly improved attainment for top set pupils.

My children are top set pupils, so selfishly, I want what is best for them. They are not at school to be role models or provide examples of high quality work, they are there to learn as much as they possibly can.

I have only worked in one school, and the teachers there use sets for literacy but not maths in KS1. From what I can see, there is no way in the world that our most intelligent child in Y1 will benefit from being taught at the same level as least able child needs.

The least able child is struggling with sounds that are made up of more than one letter, the most able child can read really well. It will take a hell of a lot of research to convince me that these two children will benefit from doing literacy in the same class.

The more able one needs to keep moving on and being taught new things as soon as they have grasped one thing. The least able one needs more focused attention and a lot of time to reinforce each thing they have learned.

How exactly do they both benefit from being taught together?

lougle Sat 23-Nov-13 19:42:13

Well I've seen literacy taught in a whole class then the work following differentiated to where the children are at.

So, for instance, looking at story telling. The children are taught in a whole class group. Then, the children who are most advanced are expected to write a page long story. The children who are most behind are expected to order pictures in sequence.

Crucially, though, the children who are most behind have had the benefit of hearing the contributions of the children who are most advanced during the whole class group time.

WooWooOwl Sat 23-Nov-13 19:42:22

Lougle, I posted about a similar problem my ds once had on another thread yesterday. He was getting annoyed at not being given harder work because he wasn't demonstrating what he could do properly. That was a problem with him, that he needed to learn to get over.

He had to be convinced to show his ability in the way the school required, and as he eventually learned that he had to do so, he remained in the top group. Ability isn't worth much if you don't use it properly.

mrz Sat 23-Nov-13 19:45:51

Then I suggest you read what you wrote

* WooWooOwl Sat 23-Nov-13 17:47:40*

"The research you posted showed that there was a disadvantage to the higher ability children Mrz."

you seem to be contradicting yourself hmm

and who knows if your children are taught as individuals rather than members of a group the slightly improved attainment ...

"with the exception of slightly improved attainment for top set pupils."

could be significantly improved attainment!

WooWooOwl Sat 23-Nov-13 19:53:19

If there could be significantly improved attainment, then great. I'd appreciate an explanation of how and why that would occur.

I'm open to being wrong, bit at the moment I just don't understand what the benefit it and how that would translate to individuals.

It seems wrong anyway to me to say definitively that there is one superior way of teaching, it makes more sense to think that different methods suit different children.

Apologies if I made a mistake earlier. I'm confusing myself!

mrz Sat 23-Nov-13 19:58:56

because your child would be educated to his ability rather than to the ability of the group he has been assigned ...even in a high ability group there can be a huge spread. If I grouped my class that way I have one child who has a reading age 5 year above the next high ability child a spelling age 3+ years above and working a full NC level above others ...

WooWooOwl Sat 23-Nov-13 20:05:58

Lougle, in the example you gave, I'm sure there would be benefits to doing it that way, but I can also see pitfalls if the teacher were to do that in our classroom.

In the high ability group we have, children are either allowed to look in the library or read a book when they have finished their work until the lesson is over. Children in the lower ability group would struggle to use the library alone, and would not sit and look at a book for long enough to allow the other children to finish their much longer task in peace.

They would finish their task, then the teacher might go through the pictures with them and have a chat if they'd ordered any wrong. At the same time she would need to be supporting the higher ability ones with their writing, reminding them about full stops and capital letters and the like as they go along, and I can see that it would be difficult for the teacher to effectively teach and support two things at the same time. Just the fact that we are only human suggests to me that if the teacher is at least supporting similar, albeit different, tasks, then he/she will be able to do that more effectively if they aren't talking about something completely different at the same time.

If children are in groups where the ability range isn't so wide, then everything the children hear the teacher say while they are working is relevant to their stage of learning.

WooWooOwl Sat 23-Nov-13 20:09:42

Why can't a child be taught to their individual ability when they are being taught alongside children with a similar ability?

What difference does it make?

mrz Sat 23-Nov-13 20:25:06

because the whole idea of ability grouping is to create a "group" of similar ability children to be taught as a "group" not as "individuals"

mrz Sat 23-Nov-13 20:27:31

Try reading the complaints on MN from parents whose child is reading books below their reading ability in their guided reading groups.

cupcake80 Sat 23-Nov-13 20:32:42

I would think it would be virtually impossible for a teacher to teach each child to their individual level even within an ability group. Say they have the average phonic group which could potentially have up to 30 children in (if there are 3 classes in the year group) it would mean them differentiating potentially 30 different ways and having 30 different pieces of work to give out beacuse every piece of work would be individualised. You would need some kind of super human who does not need to eat or sleep to be able to prepare that much work and that would just be for one subject!

WooWooOwl Sat 23-Nov-13 20:35:04

I suppose I don't equate ability grouping with the automatic loss of differentiation.

mrz Sat 23-Nov-13 20:50:47

cupcake it depends if you think work means "worksheet"

mrz Sat 23-Nov-13 20:52:03

How much experience do you have of classroom organisation WooWooOwl?

WooWooOwl Sat 23-Nov-13 20:54:39

I don't organise it, I fit in with it!

mrz Sat 23-Nov-13 20:56:25

I'll take that as a zero then

Huitre Sat 23-Nov-13 21:07:55

My child is not being catered for in her assigned ability groups. As it happens, it doesn't matter that much because she is a child who comes home from school and reads/writes/thinks without stopping and I am capable of supporting her and have the time and inclination to do so. But actually, I can't see what difference it makes if she is in a higher group or not if the work is still not actually pitched at what she is capable of (and demonstrating at school as well). Maybe if there wasn't a group as such, it would be more obvious that she wasn't really getting work that's particularly well-suited to what kind of level she's learning at.

mrz Sat 23-Nov-13 21:18:18

or perhaps she would get work that meets her needs and not that of "the group"

Huitre Sat 23-Nov-13 21:33:28

Yes. That's what I meant. Apologies if I wasn't very clear. I suppose I mean that if it was more obvious someone would have to do something about it! As I say, for her it doesn't matter that much. But I bet there are children with less parental support at home or not such good access to a wide range of books or whatever for whom it would make a big difference. And my daughter is very very enthusiastic about learning, both at school and home and I think it's partly down to the fact that even if she's doing easier stuff at school she is being given a lot of interesting things to think about at home so she is keeping her interest levels up. For a child who didn't have the home input that mine is lucky enough to have it might swing the other way entirely and they could really be put off learning in a big way.

vkyyu Sun 24-Nov-13 10:07:13

My dcs also often complain they find the work too easy in their groups but they cannot have access to more challenging work until they move up. In our school many parents do do a lot with their dcs at home of course some are more able to select the resources and engage with children better than others. So some can do it more effectively. What annoys me is also the school knows that so why not just simply give homework to children so parents can use the school materials rather making up the extension work ourselves. But than again you often read even in MN alone many teachers don't believe in homework help support learning?! As well as in MN endless parents inc myself stated they pay or want advices for books, tuitions ie online, support centre, one to one or free online educational games........So what s going on?

teacherwith2kids Sun 24-Nov-13 11:34:03

Returning to this one.

I think there is a big difference in how 'good/bad' ability groupings are depending on the type, and there is a kind of grey area as to when 'getting work that meets their needs in a particular lesson' shades into 'flexible ability grouping'.

So at one extreme you have 'sets' - classes / large groups, taught in separate rooms by separate teachers, to which children have been assigned by some measure of their ability. The teaching each group receives will be different, and the tasks attempted may be wholly different. Movement is rare, and may be only based on the results of formal tests. I can see no argument for this for young children, For older children - say upper juniors - there is perhaps an advantange for those at 'the extremes', but set against that must come the disadvantage for those who work at the top of 1 group / bottom of the next, and for those who have very different abilities in different aspects of the subject (e.g. a child who excels at calculation but finds shape very difficult).

Then there are 'fixed table groups', where input AND tasks assigned may be different, and again movement between tables is rare. Because all groups will be in the same classroom, there is more possibility for flexibility, and for children accessing whole-class teaching, and being extended / supported using materials from other groups. The benefit / harm of such an arrangement will depend very much on how rigidly it is applied - as reported elsewhere on this thread, sometimes the barriers between table groups can be as high as the physical walls separating sets [seems daft to me, but I know it does happen].

Then there is the 'lesson by lesson grouping according to personal next steps', which is where I would say the grey area lies. If it allows every child to access what they need to make the next steps in their learning, and as long as no child is denied the opportunity to access higher-level tasks / teaching 'because it's not for your group' or because 'group 3 always goes out with a TA at this point, missing the teacher's input', then the fact that children are, for that lesson, seated with a group of children who have similar next steps, does not seem to me to be a big issue.

Finally there is 'whole class teaching, mixed ability seating, children given individual support / challenge as needed within that structure' - the difference from the previous type being only that children stay in the same seat and do not move to join others supported / extended during that lesson in similar ways.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Sun 24-Nov-13 12:24:26

"My children are top set pupils, so selfishly, I want what is best for them. They are not at school to be role models or provide examples of high quality work, they are there to learn as much as they possibly can."

Yes, I feel exactly the same was Woo. Maybe it's selfish of me...but I really don't care that much.

And, to be honest I'm pretty meh about whether my DDs' top set is each taught completely individually? For me, it's sufficient that they can learn and absorb what is being taught to them within their top set environment.

For me, I think that a far better learning environment, than them getting more indvidual attention - and really, how much is that really going to be in a class of 30 kids, anyway - and yet having to work on the same table as much slower children, to whom my DDs are encouraged to work with as unpaid TAs.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Sun 24-Nov-13 12:30:20

"I'm saying children are very different and spurious grouping by ability doesn't acknowledge that!"

Of course they're all very different. But some children are more intelligent, quicker to process and faster to absorb than other children in the same class.

And, twist and turn as people might...and deliberately try to obfuscate as they do...and try to gloss over...and infer that learning well and quickly isn't what school is really all about (FFS) can't get away from that fact.

So, they can be taught, and can learn at a faster, more challenging pace than other children. And, so they should be.

teacherwith2kids Sun 24-Nov-13 12:39:35


I have 2 very able children, who have been through a primary school that does not set for any lesson (it has table groupings that are somewhat flexible but not changed lesson by lesson), and teach in a school with a very able intake that does set for Maths.

Interestingly, the very able children do much better in Maths in my children's school - or rather, more children fall into the 'very able' group by the end of primary in my children's school despite the cohort as a whole being less able on entry. So 20%+ L6 in Maths in my children's school, over twice the L6 rate in the school with sets.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Sun 24-Nov-13 12:45:34

teacher I'm sure they have done very well smile

But, my personal preference, for my DDs is that they work on the top table for maths/literacy because I don't think it fair, or right, that they be used as unpaid TAs, on occasion.

I'm not hugely bothered by their final levels, because I know they will be very good regardless of whther they do/don't sit. Plus, their grammar isn't really remotely interested in what their SATs/Levels are at the end of Yr 6...all girls sit the CAT tests in the first 3 weeks of Yr 7 at the grammar, and the grammar only refers to these results.

mrz Sun 24-Nov-13 13:05:59

"Of course they're all very different. But some children are more intelligent, quicker to process and faster to absorb than other children in the same class."

Do you honestly believe it is possible to find a "group" of children who are all identical in ability to work together ? hmm

lougle Sun 24-Nov-13 13:12:10

So do you hold the opinion that intelligence is an innate, fixed, natural thing, then LaQueen?

How do you know that other children can't become as intelligent as their peers?

Do you believe that the massive hike in struggling children in the summer born cohort is because those children were genetically less able?

teacherwith2kids Sun 24-Nov-13 13:37:11

LaQ, the point I am making is not primarily about levels. The point I am making is that NOT setting does not, IME, have a detrimental effect on the most able, and has a very positive effect on the rest of the class.

The difference in results between the 2 schools is, as far as I can deterine, predominantly that in the mixed ability classes the 'not originally measured as most able' are exposed to the teaching that will move them forward at a rate that allows them to achieve those levels, and by having no fixed 'top set' mentaility, that most able cohort can accommodate an increasing number of children.

In the school that is set, the 'set below the top' is not exposed to the teaching that will gain them very high levels, and also come to see themselves as 'not as good at Maths' and this not aspire to those levels either.

As i said in my earlier post, I do not have the same objection to a 'roughly ability based seating plan' [recognising that no group of children is homogenous] as I have to a rigid 'setting' arrangement, AS LONG AS groups are fleiible in terms of size and composition and there is no barrier to any child accessing the highest (or lowest) level of work if that is what they need for that lesson.

elskovs Sun 24-Nov-13 15:02:48

"I don't think it fair, or right, that they be used as unpaid TAs, on occasion"

This happens often. Sometimes they are asked to work in pairs of clever/slow. And sometimes the bright children finish a piece of work quickly and instead of being given more are asked to help the others out. I think its awful that they are treated like that.

teacherwith2kids Sun 24-Nov-13 15:08:12

Elskos, I have never experienced that as a parent or teacher, tbh. I do set all children tasks that involve explaining a task to a partner, as that is a really key skill [and how many times do we find that we don't REALLY understand something when we have to explain it to someone else??].

Some parents may choose to interpret that as 'their child being used as an unpaid TA', but what they don't see is that in the tasks I set, EVERY child has to explain their thinking, not just the 'bright' ones. It may be that when parents hear 'I had to eplain my idea to Mary', they assume that Mary is a lower ability and that Mary didn't then have to explain her idea back....

I am not saying that what you describe NEVER happens - I do know that my nephews' old school used to do this - but it is not 'normal practice' in my experience.

mrz Sun 24-Nov-13 15:26:54

"For thousands of years, people have known that the best way to understand a concept is to explain it to someone else. “While we teach, we learn,” said the Roman philosopher Seneca. Now scientists are bringing this ancient wisdom up to date, documenting exactly why teaching is such a fruitful way to learn — and designing innovative ways for young people to engage in instruction."

teacherwith2kids Sun 24-Nov-13 15:34:06

Yes, mrz, but only if it reciprocal and an experience that all children have - NOT a one-way 'able to less able' transmission.

lougle Sun 24-Nov-13 15:34:52

I remember vividly storming through my maths work and then helping other children. I also remember listening to other children read in the library because I was a free reader and they were still on scheme. I remember doing 'investigations' instead of the maths tests because I got 100% all the time and they didn't want me to move too far ahead.

I also remember being made to work on a class art project when I would much rather be doing maths. Luckily the teacher was wise enough to know I needed a rounded education.

mrz Sun 24-Nov-13 15:38:56

It isn't something I do in Y1 teacherwith2kids but I imagine that in order to teach someone else you need to understand what it is you are teaching

teacherwith2kids Sun 24-Nov-13 15:55:23

I teach Y5 these days, and I use that type of 'didactic conversation' task not infrequently, perhaps when revising a partcular method in Maths, or between pairs who have attempted a problem solving exercise in very different ways. Or following research about a topic, where I have shared the research areas across the class so that each 'expert' then has to report back to a wider group. But the key thing is that all children get to share their expertise, it's not 'oh, you've finished, go and help that child over there'.

averywoomummy Sun 24-Nov-13 19:23:44

I think another danger of ability grouping in a very fixed way is the risk of putting children into a group that is simply a "best fit" for them rather than one which really suits their individual ability.

For example DC's class has 5 tables with 6 places each, for a child to move up or down a child on the next table has to move too. I doubt that the children came conveniently packaged into 5 groups with totally similar abilities, and if the teacher really wanted to truly work to ability then shouldn't the groups be more flexible? You might end up with 7 in one group, 3 in another and 15 in another.

As it is it seems as though the teacher has simply graded the children from 1 - 30 and then placed them on the tables in descending order. In practice this probably means that there is not a huge gulf of difference between the top child on one table and the bottom child on the next table up and yet there will be a difference in how they are taught and how they can access education. This doesn't seem right to me.

laqueen you are right that there is nothing wrong with you wanting what is best for your child but parents with children placed on lower ability tables also want what is best for their child. The trouble is that at the moment those things seem to be mutually exclusive. What pleases the parents with DC on the top table doesn't please those with DC on the bottom table and vice versa - I don't know what the answer is to that?

ZooCheur Sun 24-Nov-13 20:03:58

mrz "For thousands of years, people have known that the best way to understand a concept is to explain it to someone else. “While we teach, we learn,” said the Roman philosopher Seneca. Now scientists are bringing this ancient wisdom up to date, documenting exactly why teaching is such a fruitful way to learn — and designing innovative ways for young people to engage in instruction."

And thousands of years ago, my teacher used to 'differentiate' by getting me to teach maths to those who needed it - I was, essentially, a 9 year-old classroom assistant come maths lessons.

Explaining things to others can be a useful exercise, and it taught me a lot about how to present ideas. I didn't learn any maths though; I went over a year at primary school without learning anything at all in maths in fact, because I'd been allowed to work ahead one year and then ended up doing literally the same work again the following year (and teaching the others)

mrz Sun 24-Nov-13 20:24:20

I'm sorry you had a teacher who didn't know how to challenge you in class.

Huitre Sun 24-Nov-13 21:04:15

I don't think that explaining ideas to others is necessarily teaching my DD more maths. But FWIW, she really enjoys it when she has finished her work and goes to work on a different table or pairs up with another child who has finished so they can both explain what they've done to each other. She is not a TA, unpaid or otherwise! She is 7 and hasn't got the skills to perform that task. I do know that she has often volunteered to go onto a different table after finishing her work instead of going off to do junk modelling or whatever because she likes working and she likes talking about her work. I am the recipient of much talking about her work at home and quite honestly sometimes I think it's an excellent thing that she gets an opportunity to do so at school and maybe gets a bit of it out of her system because sometimes quite often I don't really want to talk about the 22 times table and number patterns for hours.

I do think that her teacher is sometimes at a loss to challenge her much and I do think maybe if she wasn't in the 'top' group and her teachers weren't assuming that she was sufficiently challenged by virtue of doing the hardest task, they might be more inclined to give her a bit more to do. However, she likes school, she loves learning, she is doing just fine and really, there isn't much wrong with being a bit bored on occasion. It's not a bad thing to learn to cope with and if her way of coping with it is to spray her love of maths or writing or whatever all over the classroom to whoever will listen, then that's kind of OK (I hope her enthusiasm might be at least amusing for others). I think it might get harder as the year goes on (Y2). She's already working at a high level 3 in reading, writing and maths and I think maybe that having achieved all that is really hoped for in this year so early might prove difficult as time goes on. I also hope I'm wrong about that.

CloverkissSparklecheeks Mon 25-Nov-13 12:37:22

I absolutely agree with having ability groups from early on, I have 2 DCs who would have been poles apart if were in the same class so it would not have benefitted either of them to be given the same work.

However, to have fixed number groups etc is ridiculous, at DS1s infant school and now at his junior school they have very 'moveable' groups. The children, even in Y1 and 2, are fully aware roughly where their group sits as it was pointed out to me by a couple of Y2 children that they know which is the top group (even though it is a colour or shape) as it has the clever children in.

At his current junior school there are 4 in the top group, 8 in the middle (split into 2 sub groups) and 6 in the lower group. The names are on blu tack and can/do move. This was the same at the infant school (totally separate school).

A mum at DS2s school insists it is disgraceful her DD was in a bottom group and got additional help for reading, she said her DD hated it as she was with the thick children (I was livid as that is plain nasty and DS2 was also in that group early on and he was just not very confident so needed to be in that group). She said they should just be in one big group and do exactly the same, my arguement to her was that how was that beneficial to our DCs or to DSs friend who was reading Roald Dahl books at that point in reception. Both of the children have actually moved up several groups so I think it must have worked for them.

I understand not everyone agrees with it of course and if it is too rigid then it can't possibly work.

CloverkissSparklecheeks Mon 25-Nov-13 12:41:31

I should also say that the ability groups at DS1s school do not necessarily mean they all do the same work, in DSs group they often split into 2 x 2, it is more a general grouping where they may have harder spellings, tests, tables and so on, also they would get the same homework.

Also it has just come to mind that DS1s last teacher at infant school did not differenciate within ability groups which caused lots of issues also, it must go hand in hand still IMO.

robbierotton Mon 25-Nov-13 18:49:05

My DD (now year 8 -secondary school) was in top sets all through primary. From what I understand they were not very fluid and children rarely moved up or down.

I have friends from the school who were unhappy because they felt no matter how well their children worked they never progressed and moved up sets.

Some of my friends children seem to have now flourished at secondary school.

My DD who is still in top sets at secondary has commented many times how quite a few of the "very clever children" were moved down sets as early as the first term in year 7 and other children from the lower sets at primary have moved up.

My summer born DD is in the lower sets now. I would have been worried but not so much as they will be assessed at secondary school.

From my experience setting in primary is not always an accurate measure of ability.

Also my friend's DS is in the same year group (primary) as my DD. He is in top set. She showed me his homework the other day as he was very upset and could not understand it.

My DD knew how to do it. However she is very quiet and shy at school so blends into the background.

PastSellByDate Tue 26-Nov-13 10:44:11

I think the last few pages of this discussion beautifully illustrate the problem.

For the teacher - teaching as much as 30 pupils - getting to know individuals in the kind of detail we might as parents is difficult. It's what 12 weeks into the first term and realistically for reading, for example, they've had 60 hours with all 30 children - so in theory 2 hours per child - but we know that individual reading with the teacher is probably more limited.

The solution seems to be optional SATs at the end of term (at least at our school) - and the result is that the performance on these tests is what determines which table my DDs are assigned to.

I'm now in the situation of DD2 (2nd table for reading) having come home and said she had a difficult test - a reading about a Liverpool Lad - but she didn't understand what Liverpool meant and there was a question asking what two boys thought of the Liverpool Lad - and she couldn't work out who he was. (DD2 is 8 by the way).

I said sweetie did one of the boys say things in the story a bit differently from you?

Yes, Mummy - there was one who said funny words like 'nowt'.

Sweetie it's kind of like Hagrid in Harry Potter - you know how he sounds different from everybody else or Mrs. McGonaggal - and how she sounds different. They're speaking with a Scottish accent and using words from there - which is called dialect.

DH picked up on this conversation - and asked how many questions were on this paper sweetie? Maybe 10 she responded. How many did you answer? Not many because I couldn't work out who the Liverpool Lad was and kept reading the story over and over. 'They just didn't use those words anywhere in the story Daddy' - and then bursting into tears.

I said never mind sweetie. You go upstairs and have a play with your sister. DH & I discussed all this and I've bet DH £50 (because I'm certain) DD2 is moved down a group having been tested on something she doesn't understand - most likely taught to the class on the days she was away on an approved absence. (and missed material, although requested, was not supplied by her teachers).

For which I read: This is the school making the point that missing class results in 'loss of learning'.

And that sums up my problem with the school - most new concepts are taught miraculously whilst DD2 is out of class. New maths concepts are introduced mid-week whilst out at violin lessons, she comes in mid-lesson and has no idea what's going on and nobody explains it to her and clearly learning about dialects within England/ Britain was taught whilst we were away.

Again, if teachers were truly 'professionals' - they should be more than able to photocopy a text provide a few notes saying we're introducing the concept of dialect now Mrs. PSBD - could you go through this in your nightly reading with DD2 - and I would have. Instead - it's far better to say nothing & punish the child - both educationally and emotionally.

And this - in a nutshell - is my problem with our primary school.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Tue 26-Nov-13 14:39:50

"So do you hold the opinion that intelligence is an innate, fixed, natural thing, then LaQueen?"

Yes, I do believe it is fairly fixed to a large extent.

I think a baby is born with its IQ largely inherited, and then its inheritance is massively further compounded by being raised by intelligent parents, and within the environment that their intelligent parents create for them.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Tue 26-Nov-13 14:49:18

I don't see that getting a naturally gifted child mathematician to explain how they have worked out XYZ, to a less able child is going to be that beneficial to either child?

It isn't beneficial to my DD2,because she has already demonstrated she completely grasps the concept, and can do it - so why have to waste time repeating herself?

And, I very much doubt it would benefit the child she had a crack at explaining it to...just becuse she can easily do it it doesn't necessarily follow that she can expertly explain what she does, in a useful way the other child can understand and follow.

And, she's impatient. Very impatient. Not ideal when someone is explaining to you.

On many occasions I have overheard DD2 explaining something she has done...she skips bits and misses them out (because she assumes others will automatically already know how to do them)'s rarely a nice, logical, clearly understood progression of thought.

mrz Tue 26-Nov-13 14:54:43

The point is that to explain it in a way that the other child can understand it's called "The Protégé Effect"

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Tue 26-Nov-13 15:06:01

But why does she have to explain it to another child mrsz ?

If she can easily do the task, and understands it completely within her own head, then why does she have to stop, pause and try and explain it to someone else?

If she already knows it, has it clear in her own head, and has demonstrated she can do it to the nth degree...then how does it benefit her, to have to re-calibrate in order to explain it to another child who doesn't understand it?

mrz Tue 26-Nov-13 15:17:05

because expaining it to another person is known to greatly increase your understanding. When this happens, you’ll recall the information more accurately and apply it more effectively.

lougle Tue 26-Nov-13 15:19:35

We all know that 1 add 1 equals 2, but I believe the actual mathematical justification of it spans several pages. There is a difference between being able to reliably follow a sequence of steps and actually understanding why you do what you do.

Huitre Tue 26-Nov-13 15:20:50

I understand lots of things a lot better than my daughter, many of which I have never before had to explain to someone else. I have often noticed rules or similarities or ways that I do things that make it easier when I am explaining something to my daughter. They are rules that I apply subconsciously but explaining makes them explicit in my mind because I have to stop and unpick them in order to show her what I'm doing. I think it actually does make me understand what I'm doing more fully.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Tue 26-Nov-13 15:23:36

But if the child has already easily grasped the concept, and has demonstarted they have grasped it (a lot) ... then how can their understanding increase ? They already know it. How much more is there to know and understand for goodness sake?

We are talking primary maths here...are there really that many hidden levels, and depths to it?

They can already quickly recall the information, and apply it very effectively. In maths, they're getting it right, spot on, every time already...

So how does explaining it help them more?

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Tue 26-Nov-13 15:25:33

There is a difference between being able to reliably follow a sequence of steps and actually understanding why you do what you do.

Of course there is lougle.

But, plenty of children can easily manage both ...especially in something like maths.

mrz Tue 26-Nov-13 15:36:47

you said it yourself ... she knows it in her own head but "On many occasions I have overheard DD2 explaining something she has done...she skips bits and misses them out (because she assumes others will automatically already know how to do them)'s rarely a nice, logical, clearly understood progression of thought." the effort of clearly explaining it to others focuses effort on logical thoughts and how to effectively communicating and one of the best ways to show that you truely understand something.

intitgrand Tue 26-Nov-13 16:06:23

LaQueen MrZ is right and the skill of being able to identify and record (or in this case relate) your methods are essential as you progress in maths.

cloutiedumpling Tue 26-Nov-13 16:24:33

I am not completely against children being put into sets. My main objection is that kids are put into sets when they are still very, very young and that there is often little flexibility between sets, putting the younger kids in a school year at a disadvantage because they are more likely to be more immature / less developed.

teacherwith2kids Tue 26-Nov-13 17:55:31

Interestingly, in primary maths, I had an example of this today.

We have just been learning the traditional 'short' method of written division, which most of the class can perform accurately.

So I asked 'can you create a series of instructions for 'the division machine' to enable it to carry out short division, and test your instructions on a partner' - which made them really stop and think about each step [the most common error they have been making is small slips in one of the steps, and this really focused them on it].

My extension task, for the more able in division (not necessarily the 'more able' in general, but those who had demonstrated that they had an accurate method for division) was 'explain how short division works to someone who is good at maths but doesn't know this method yet. Your listener and isn't sure why it produces the right answers. Use any other method of division that you already know to support you'. It was a genuinely hard preocess - yes, only primary maths, but unpicking each step and explaining what is happening in terms of grouping or sharing or number lines or partitioning or informal chunking was a) worthwhile and b) really challenged the more able to think of maths as a process, not as a 'black box machine'....

anitasmall Tue 26-Nov-13 19:25:56

My daughter is in year 2. In year 1 they had 6-6 groups at Maths and English. Some children were in top gropups let's say at Maths but in middle groups at English. It sent a positive message to the children: everybody is good at something. In year 2 the same children are sitting at the top-mid-LA tables.

PastSellByDate Wed 27-Nov-13 11:05:50


Can I just ask what year your teaching short division to?

I ask because our school say that 'short division' - or bus stop method is really just introduced in Year 6 and will be taught thoroughly in Y7, at senior school.

I have been scolded by teachers and a deputy Head at our school for teaching my children this method confused.

columngollum Wed 27-Nov-13 11:45:54

What does a scolding for teaching children to divide sound like? (I've got a funny feeling that I'd be reminding said staff about business, minding and their own.)

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Wed 27-Nov-13 13:42:16

"the effort of clearly explaining it to others focuses effort on logical thoughts and how to effectively communicating and one of the best ways to show that you truely understand something."

But, surely if she can do the maths very easily, and demonstrates that over and over, she is showing that she truly understands it?

Just because, when she's verbally explaining the method to another child it may come out disjointed and skipping bits, it doesn't mean to say that it doesn't make perfect, beautifully streamlined sense inside her head?

I suspect it must do, else she wouldn't excel at it? However, she thinks about maths, or fathoms it, or works it out, clearly works brilliantly for her.

And, even if there are deeper, more hidden levels to the theoretical concept they're studying...I doubt it's necessary for her to understand them as yet (she's only 9)...and I would think it even less necessary for her to understand them and attempt explaining them to her companion, when they're struggling with just the initial basic concept.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Wed 27-Nov-13 13:46:54

Just wanted to add I am all for flexibility between ability groups, and movement when it's deserved.

There are quite a few reasons why not much movement might happen, I know.

But, I do think that one of the major reasons is that teachers are actually rather good at knowing their children, and recognising what their abilities are, and that these abilities very often only progress at the predicted rate.

mrz Wed 27-Nov-13 19:04:15

no she is demonstrating she has mastered the mechanics which is great but not the whole picture

teacherwith2kids Wed 27-Nov-13 19:34:15


It's probably easily illustrated by a child in my class - she can perform the 'mechanical' process of short division flawlessly, again and again.

She has absolutely no understanding of how and why it works , so or her it is a 'black box'. That means that when she moves on to long division, she will have to learn a 'new process'. She can give 'step by step instructions', but cannot explain anything any deeper about the true maths that is going on.

On the other hand, I have a pupil who makes occasional mistakes BUT has a really secure understanding of what is really happening, of the place value of each digit, of how the process is a much longer one condensed. as a result, she has a knack for explaining exactly what to do in a way that conveys understanding, not a mechanical process, to others.

lougle Wed 27-Nov-13 19:57:26

It's a bit like me with direction: I am useless at direction. Genuinely. I think that if the medical world knew exactly what part of the brain was responsible for each function in our lives, then MRI'd me, that 'bit' would be missing.

I can do left and right. I can do North, South, East and West as long as the map is lined up neatly with North at the top. Beyond that, no.

I have to learn routes by rote. Even if several routes share the same stretch of road, I have to learn the routes individually.

I used to travel from beyond Fareham to Chichester. I learned the route. Then I needed to go to Brighton. I had to actually say to myself "Go to Chichester but don't turn off - carry on going."

That's because no matter how much I learn routes, I don't have that basic knowledge of direction. I have to pause every time I approach a motorway to assess whether I need 'East or West'. To work out where abouts I am in relation to where I want to go.

It's the same with mathematics. You can know the methods. You can know that they work every time. But to really understand you have to know why it works, and what other ways you can work out the same problem, and why they give the same answer, etc.

Huitre Wed 27-Nov-13 20:47:28

I am totally with you on the direction thing. I am awful. I am so bad that if I am walking down an unfamiliar street and stop to go into a shop, I can come out again ten minutes later and be completely unable to work out which way I was walking down the street and how to carry on.

Huitre Wed 27-Nov-13 20:47:48

Strangely, I score well on the spatial component of IQ tests.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Wed 27-Nov-13 21:58:20

teacher I think with DD2 she does actually understand perfectly, on all the necessary levels, the why and not just the how ...and it's not the 'black box' example you use.

But, that doesn't necessarily follow that she can explain it very well, and thoroughly in a way another child will easily understand.

To be honest, I have known professional teachers who actually aren't that great at explaining things.

simpson Wed 27-Nov-13 23:53:01

DS's problem is that he finds it hard to write down how he understands a (numeracy) concept...he just does.

I know he does understand it as he can explain it well to me (tip his yr3 teacher told me to get him to do) he just finds it a waste of time to show his workings out on an assessment when he already knows the answer.

lougle Thu 28-Nov-13 07:01:34

I used to be like that, Simpson, but it really is essential to get in to the habit, because when you are doing A-level maths, for example, the workings are the most important part of the exams. You can get every single answer wrong and still get quite a good grade if your method was sound and workings shown.

anitasmall Thu 28-Nov-13 09:45:33

In addition at exams some tasks can be only proving theories, like drawing squares around a triangle and explain the theory behind Pythagoras' theorem. Another example is to choose from possible answers the valid one (like x=8 and x=-8 but the labor can't be negative, so the only valid answer is x=8).

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