Not "setting" in GCSE class

(76 Posts)
Rufus43 Fri 06-Sep-13 14:35:20

My son has just gone into year 10. He is in ability set classes for a few subjects but not for history (hasn't had all his lessons yet so maybe more)

To me there is a huge difference between a potential A* child and one that may work really hard for an E, it feels like the ones in the middle may get lost a little.

I appreciate that it may be down to logistics but is this usual? State school if that makes any difference

Takver Fri 06-Sep-13 15:07:13

I suspect it will depend on the size of the school and the number of pupils choosing a subject? Presumably if only say 25 are doing X subject then they won't be able to set . . .

HmmAnOxfordComma Fri 06-Sep-13 15:37:15

Yep, pretty usual for a normal sized comp - 6 form entry, say - to only have one class worth of pupils taking history etc, so impossible to set.

However, I would say it is reasonably unlikely for anyone aiming for lower than a C to be 'allowed' to take History, iyswim.

I took one really, really unacademic choice for GCSE and the standard of behaviour in those lessons was shocking after all my other lessons in 'top' sets.

BackforGood Fri 06-Sep-13 15:39:39

As others have said. The school will only support dc who are likely to be able to achieve a GCSE, to actually enter a subject like history (an option, rather than core subject), so it's not such a big problem, plus, of course there won't always be that many taking that as an option.

Rufus43 Fri 06-Sep-13 16:06:51

I think it is two or three classes of 27 or so, the school has about 240 children per year.

Thanks for all your comments it's been so long since I took any exams!!!!

cricketballs Fri 06-Sep-13 16:09:50

Every school I have worked in have never stopped a child choosing an option because they are not likely to achieve higher than a C. (It's usually the other way round, i.e. high ability students 'talked out' of a subject/qualification).

I have groups every yearwith targets ranging from A* -'s hard work to ensure that work is differentiated but that's what we have been trained to do grin

creamteas Fri 06-Sep-13 16:31:34

My DCs school (state comp) only has one GCSE history class for the last couple of year despite a 200 entry. They have no barrier to entry, but in practice the kids choosing it were a pretty selective group grin.

Rufus43 Fri 06-Sep-13 18:11:59

Thanks cricketball don't doubt the teachers ability but it seemed really odd, thought he might have the wrong end of the stick....just me grin

creamteas from what he said it doesn't sound that selective but he has no patience!!

coco27 Fri 06-Sep-13 19:09:10

I am not sure, it is mainly learning facts isn't it? I am not sure how you would differentiate teaching

Rufus43 Fri 06-Sep-13 19:24:00

I know it's a different subject but for English in year 9 the top set read a gothic novel and wrote a review and the 3rd set (I think it was) watched a gothic film and wrote about it.

Just not sure how an approach like that would work with history. Plus I have just found out that in science they are split into a boys class and a girls class, again not by ability.

Waferthinmint Fri 06-Sep-13 19:32:02

Quite usual for a history class to be like this. Option choices often mean there is only one group having a lesson at a particular time. I have regularly taught classes from a*-e and it can and does work. Takes a lot of planning on the part of the teacher.

Nothing stopping you emailing the teacher to ask further

Phineyj Fri 06-Sep-13 19:32:08

You may want to consider a tutor later if he gets bored and hacked off? I taught some wide ability humanities classes during my training and it is hard not to teach to the middle. I am in awe of teachers who can do what cricketballs can do but I think it takes a lot of experience and a school that cares about students who can do more than get a C or who will never reach a C. Hopefully that is true of your son's school.

Phineyj Fri 06-Sep-13 19:35:05

wafer and cricket how do you manage to plan for a class ranging from A* to E in detail? Am genuinely interested. I was given little guidance on this. Sorry OP, it is an interesting question!

Maisycat Fri 06-Sep-13 19:57:28

Phineyj, a huge amount of planning and tweaking resources! I am a head of history, we have between 65 and 80 students per year taking GCSE history but due to timetable restrictions we cannot set, so all classes are mixed ability. Luckily I have a great team an we manage to get most students a C or above. But, we use a lot of after school and lunchtimes and near exams Saturday mornings running differentiated groups; so A and A star pupils get work and help to get them a very high grade and lower grade students get appropriate help too, usually they achieve higher then their predicted grades. Enthusiasm helps a lot in history, which is not about learning facts but researching, analysing and forming opinions.

Rufus43 Fri 06-Sep-13 20:03:14

No problemphineyj the more information I have the better

waferthinmint I will definately email in a few weeks and see how the land lies. I have asked ds1 to ask as well. If its the way it's done then fair enough

Phineyj Fri 06-Sep-13 21:32:34

That is interesting - so in essence you are setting the students but doing it in addition to the mixed lessons. That makes sense (they are lucky you give up your evenings and weekends) -- I just never understood how we were supposed to teach several levels of lessons simultaneously.

Sorry OP, will stop derailing now!

mumslife Fri 06-Sep-13 21:49:46

My dd took gcse history two mixed ability sets but most taking it were fairly academic quite an academic subject most but not all were in topset english if you take a non academic subject then you do have lower ability students in these subjects and there is more messing about

Rufus43 Fri 06-Sep-13 22:27:30

Think you're right mumslife most of his subjects are academic, the only two I'm unsure of is citizenship and business studies as they are both new this year

SlowlorisIncognito Fri 06-Sep-13 22:37:56

I think, logistically, it can be very hard for schools to set optional GCSEs. Even if there are 2-3 classes, they can be split across different option blocks, so that as many students as possible get their subject choices. This means not all history classes happen at the same time.

Does your son actually know all the targets of the children in his class?

Sammy3 Sat 07-Sep-13 01:23:05

Similar situation to DS' school. He's in top set for other subjects but has been told throughout his schooling that he's especially good at history. However at his high school, there are 2 GCSE history classes & we were told they're not set. He's found the last year extremely boring, even though we raised concerns early in the year when he noticed that he & another student were miles ahead of the others, half of whom he said weren't actually interested in history. The school does the EBacc so I think that means some kids take history or geography because they have to, so no self-selecting group there. Even though we spoke to the teacher about his interest in history, he doesn't try to push DS.

Sammy3 Sat 07-Sep-13 01:29:15

They're not set for geography either so DS is experiencing the same thing there, but that's just served to extinguish his interest in doing geography at A level. He still wants to do history at A level since he wants to study it at uni, though he's getting fed up there too, so I'm having to find ways of keeping his interest going in that by buying some books on Ancient Greece.

frogspoon Sat 07-Sep-13 08:29:42

I think your situation is pretty common.

It's not an ideal situation, as you have said teaching a lesson which will stretch the most able A* students whilst supporting the weakest E students is extremely difficult.

It's probably just a timetabling issue. Most students will choose 3-5 options depending on what the school offers and their ability, and the school then has to try and organise a timetable that meets as many of the students choices as possible. It is hard enough to do this without creating a few sets/ bands as well.

The splitting science by gender but not set is a bit unusual. However statistically girls who are taught in a single sex environment are more likely to continue studying science, especially physics, beyond GCSE, so maybe this is what the school is aiming for.

Rufus43 Sat 07-Sep-13 09:41:46

slower he doesn't know the targets of the other children, I just assumed that it would be set like his other subjects and how it was in the dark ages when I took history. People are quite right on this thread, children who picked history probably have an interest in it.

frogspoon I understand what you are saying, but in his case he would be much better off in a girls class! May consider changing his appearance and smuggling him in!

Thanks for all your help, I will probably still query it but at least I have more of an understanding of why it might be the case

JenaiMorris Sat 07-Sep-13 09:52:47

I would have thought History was one subject that doesn't need setting, although it must be a lot easier to teach if it is. You could set a Y6, a Y9, a Y12, an undergrad and Eric Hobsbawm the same question about the same topic quite easily, assuming they'd all learnt about it.

I'm not a teacher though. And I think Eric Hobsbawm might be dead.

At ds's school history, geography and RE are set in Y8 and Y9, but not at GCSE (nor in Y7).

Rufus43 Sat 07-Sep-13 10:37:00

jenai you are probably right, I just spoke to him about maths and we agreed that you couldn't put a non academic child into top set maths so it wouldn't happen

As you said history is probably an easier subject to teach to a variety of interested students

cricketballs Sat 07-Sep-13 10:50:49

in answer to your question on how we manage the differentiation I can only answer from my subject's perspective (all topics have to be covered no matter the grade level which is different from maths for example).

I have my SoW which states what topic needs to be taught in each lesson. From this I prepare my lesson for the majority of the class. From this I then differentiate it to stretch the brighter pupils and to support the lower ability pupils; therefore I usually have 3-4 different sets of resources for each lesson.
In the main, the brighter pupils are asked to evaluate more deeply, apply the knowledge to more difficult circumstances, encouraged to consider more variables than the initial problem. The lower ability students are given writing frames, key words that they can use to aid their understanding of the topic in question.

Rufus43 Sat 07-Sep-13 17:10:28

Thanks cricketballs

BackforGood Sat 07-Sep-13 18:06:50

Rufus - sadly they do at my dd's school.
Head of maths is convinced that mixed ability teaching is the best way sad.

pixelchick10 Sat 07-Sep-13 19:09:11

At my dd's school they don't set for History and Geography ... nor for science which surprised me (I think they have one top set, and the rest are mixed sets). Last year DD was in one of two top science sets, but now they've made it smaller and reduced it to one so there are less spaces and I am fairly sure she was in the middle of the top set ... so she's moved down. I'd obviously prefer her to be in the top set but she says she prefers it this year, as it doesn't go at such a lightning pace (and I'm sure she's right) ...

Rufus43 Sat 07-Sep-13 19:16:23

backforgood don't know how some people can still think like that! It probably works in some subjects but I can't see how in subjects like maths

Talkinpeace Sat 07-Sep-13 20:17:24

One of DDs MFL classes is very mixed ability (she is year 11) but the teachers know it and have a folder of extension work for the brightest kids to chew on every lesson ....

JenaiMorris Sat 07-Sep-13 21:05:25

Just had a look at ds's school website and all the options are mixed at KS4. Core (maths, English and science) are set.

Almost everything is set in Y8 and 9, nothing at all set in Y7.

sunshine75 Sun 08-Sep-13 07:47:25

I'm a history teacher and have always managed to get good results from mixed ability classes. Usually, only bright..ish students choose history so I teach to the top end,regardless, and pull the B and C grade students up with them. In addition, no tiered papers for GCSE so they will have to do a fairly hard exam at the end, so no point dumbing it down. Unless, the school has encouraged less able students to take history then I sure it will be fine

Rufus43 Sun 08-Sep-13 10:21:41

Thanks sunshine

TheFourMarys Sun 08-Sep-13 13:35:09

While I can understand the concept of differentiation in terms of the work that is set for the different ability bands, I am at a loss to see how during lesson times the teacher can TEACH to differing ability levels.

It seems to me that in mixed ability classes those in the highest ability range will never get the kind of teaching which inspires, instructs, coaches them - they will only ever get handed sheets of things to do on their own.

I hope I'm wrong about this, and I would love to hear from teachers, particularly of humanities subjects, whether, and how often, they manage to spend time in class actually teaching the brightest students (say top 5%) to a higher level than they are at already.

elliepac Sun 08-Sep-13 14:02:51

I am speaking here as a Head of History in a large comprehensive school.

The problem with History setting is that in the vast majority of schools is that Options are 'blocked'. This basically means that all pupils in each 'block' (we have 3) who have chosen History will be in the same group, unless there are enough to have 2 groups. We currently have 5 groups in yr 10 and 11. 4 we have managed to set but 1 is mixed ability. Every year there is at least one if not 2 mixed ability groups.

It can be disconcerting and worrying for pupils and parents who are used to being in top sets for everything to find themselves in a class with less academic pupils and this worry is natural. I have answered many parental queries on this subject in my time.

As has already been said, we are used to teaching mixed ability and have been trained to do so. It is not ideal, I grant you that, but it is perfectly possible and can be done very well. Sometimes it can actually improve performance, particularly from those who may be C/D borderline. They 'work up' if you see what I mean.

To give you an idea of how it is done, I currently teach a class with targets of everything from A*- F. They are all taught the same subject content but to differing depths. I have them sat in groups according to ability some of the time so brightest together, weakest together with TA, middle togethet, although quite often I will mix the middle up with the bright.

Each lesson they will have slightly different tasks/success criteria according to their VA. They choose which task they do. For example if we are evaluating sources, the weakest will be asked to describe what they see, the middle to explain and the brightest to evaluate for utility and interpretation. Same task different expectations.

The key to success is good, clear differentiation as explained above. I also use questions which are labelled according to grade and pupils can choose which questions to answer.

A good History department is used to this type of situation and will teach accordingly.

I must also say, as the topic has been mentioned, that I would never discourage a child from choosing History because they are not 'academic'. That is wrong in my opinion. If a pupil has a keen interest in the subject they should be encouraged to choose it and supported all the way. I am a firm believer that history is, and should be, for all.

I attend local Heads of History meetings. And some schools boast of stunning 90% results but they don't say that they only allow pupils to take the subject if predicted and A or a B. it makes me very angry to see that attitude.

Speak to the History Department and you will be reassured.

Talkinpeace Sun 08-Sep-13 15:45:49

Hear hear to Elliepac : she knows more than thefourmarys

consolidated knowledge often involves being able to explain what you know - something that good teachers of mixed ability classes use as a bonus.
The 'daft' questions from the 'thick' kids can often push the A* brigade into levels of analysis that are otherwise unreachable

DD certainly benefited from trying to explain WHY she found a part of grammar logical and the other kid did not - she can now apply that principle in ANY language, not just the one that lesson covered.

THAT is how you stretch the top 5%

TheFourMarys Sun 08-Sep-13 17:20:55

Thank you for the insight, Elliepac, you do indeed know more than me! I am grateful for the reassurance.

Talkinpeace, I take your point, and I do agree that even the very brightest will be learning from the contributions of every child in the class, from every ability group.

My question was really, will a child in the top 5%, ever be taught, in order to reach the next level or will it always be dependent on them having the self motivation and energy to strive for it themselves?

Perhaps I am not explaining myself very well, but I mean from Elliepac's example above, does she spend time with this group showing them how to evaluate for utility and interpretation, showing them what is meant by it and what they should be aiming for, and then critiquing where their work is lacking? Or are they set the work and the results are accepted whatever they are because these children are already achieving good grades? That was really what was on my mind when I posted.

Talkinpeace Sun 08-Sep-13 17:30:54

If the experience of my DCs at their comp is anything to go by, the teachers LOVE bouncing off the bright kids - it makes their job more fun.
Bucket loads of devils advocate, current affairs, revisionism etc and the rest of the class get on with the bit they spotted

its a bit like watching the Simpsons with kids
they get the slapstick
you get the political nuance

wordfactory Sun 08-Sep-13 17:35:42

I am not a fan of mixed abilty classes.

However, I can see that history would be one subject where it could be adequately resolved, actually.

MFL, not so much.

Talkinpeace Sun 08-Sep-13 17:38:39

how much experience of them in the last 15 years do you have upon which to base your opinion?
(you, your children, your siblings, your DH)

volestair Sun 08-Sep-13 17:47:12

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MrsMongoose Sun 08-Sep-13 17:48:57

Was usual when I was at school. I got my A*s despite the kids around me aiming for Ds. My teachers were very good at adapting the subject matter to fit different standards of kids. Ask the school - they will have had to support kids of all standards for years - there will be provisions in place.

Talkinpeace Sun 08-Sep-13 17:51:08

Some of the trouble here seems to be unambitious teachers treating an A* as the best you can expect of the bright kids
DCs school stops at 16.
Where would you expect them to aim at if not an A*

And if you start the A Level course early, do you send them to Uni too young to cope with it socially and emotionally

or do you hold them back slightly in some subjects and stretch them sideways (as recommended by Richard Feynmann)

more haste less speed

Rufus43 Sun 08-Sep-13 17:54:36

elliepac thank you very much for that, very helpful and it will stop me going to school all guns blazing and looking like a twat!! I will speak to the history dept and ask for advice on how to help him achieve at school and home

I do see what thefourmarys is saying, my boy is a bit of a coaster and also is quite shy\has self esteem issues so would probably not ask for extra work so I will work on that a bit more on that with him and get him to take control of his education

Rufus43 Sun 08-Sep-13 17:55:47

Thanks mrsmongoose

Anthracite Sun 08-Sep-13 17:56:15

If the school runs multiple classes of options subjects, it will be because they are in different option blocks. If you tried to set some subjects, this would mean restricting the options choices. Do you want your child to have a free reign over her option choices, or have her only mix with students of a similar ability? It's a trade-off.

TheFourMarys Sun 08-Sep-13 18:19:06

Volestair I think you have got to the root of my worry about mixed ability classes. I can see that the highest ability children can get their A stars at GCSE but what happens at A level?

Just reading the discussions on here is enough to understand that there can be a real problem with the jump between GCSE and A level. Perhaps not so much with History, but definitely in subjects like MFL, Maths and Sciences.

This is why I worry about the failure to stretch the brightest to achieve their potential. I fear that teachers will think achieving the A star is enough - but if the child is aiming at these harder A levels with the goal of studying them at a top university, he or she will have their work cut out. Certainly the ones who are easily discouraged will not be aiming as high as they might have done had they been challenged and developed all the way through KS3 and KS4.

Rufus43 Sun 08-Sep-13 18:20:50

anthracite I did my exams nearly 30 years ago and chose most of my options. I understand the block system now its been explained up thread but this is my first GCSE child and I didn't realise that he would no longer be set for a lot of his subjects

A lot of fab info in here and you are quite right If I have to choose I would rather it was this way round

Phineyj Sun 08-Sep-13 18:21:04

I can see <how> a mixed ability class might be made to work effectively now (although my goodness - making four sets of resources for each lesson sad). What I don't quite get is <why> it's thought desirable to work like this, unless it's unavoidable because of timetabling issues. Is the idea that students will benefit from realising others have different abilities? I'm sure they learnt that in primary school! Why would a bright child want to stretch themselves when they are already uncomfortably aware of the gap between themselves and those who are struggling, and vice versa. A to C I can see would work, but A* to E?

When I read threads like this I always wonder if people would advocate mixed ability sport or music teaching (for exams, as opposed to playing).

volestair Sun 08-Sep-13 18:30:49

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

elliepac Sun 08-Sep-13 18:34:39

FourStars All children, regardless of ability, are taught how to evaluate interpretation and reliability. They are key historical skills and i would not be doing my job properly if I did not do that. The initial method of delivery will be to the whole class on a simple entry level ( to give an example, i often use the x-factor to show how you can get 4 different interpretations of the same event, biased judges etc.) At that point, then they will be stretched within their different groups.

And how is achieving an A* not stretching the brightest. Despite Mr Gove's assumptions the levels of knowledge and skill needed makes History one of the most academically challenging GCSE's. An A* cannot be gained by a bright pupil working hard. That teaching has to have taken place.

Mixed ability, I would agree, is not the ideal but not many subjects have true setting apart from Maths, English and Science. Even my top set has a range from A* to C and my bottom set from C-F.

wordfactory Sun 08-Sep-13 18:37:37

talkin I have experinced being in mixed ability setting every week for the last eight years as part of my voluntary work.

I'm also a governor at a school with mixed ability setting.

And my DC have expereinced some limited mixed ability setting.


volestair Sun 08-Sep-13 18:45:44

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

elliepac Sun 08-Sep-13 18:48:28

Whoops, posting whilst trying to bathr DC's never worksblushgrin.

I think I meant fourMarys and you voilestar. Got it hopelessly wrong....and they let me teach childrenwinkgrin.

elliepac Sun 08-Sep-13 18:49:01

And i still got it wrong volestair <triple checks>blush.

volestair Sun 08-Sep-13 18:59:50

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

elliepac Sun 08-Sep-13 19:04:27

Now you see volestair, we teach tedious Medicine through Time and I can assure you, having taught the war stuff in another school that the source analysis is every bit as rigorous as other specifications.

It is hard to transfer with History because even within our local authority all schools do different combinations.

volestair Sun 08-Sep-13 19:09:25

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

volestair Sun 08-Sep-13 19:12:58

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

elliepac Sun 08-Sep-13 19:15:03

All the exam boards do it volestair so that may explain the differencesmile.

I think your point about stretching the brightest is a valid one although I do think that getting an A* is stretching enough for anything other than the top 1%. I have just said goodbye to my brightest group of pupils ever. They achieved 60% A/A*. They all found History very difficult. There were only 2 however i would say were truly gifted and they did extra reading around the subject matter.

elliepac Sun 08-Sep-13 19:16:39

gringrin volestair not in teacher mode at the moment. Too busy refereeing the dc's over who's got the biggest portion of apple crumble. Sublime to ridiculouswinkgrin.

SlowlorisIncognito Sun 08-Sep-13 23:38:37

If it helps, I got an A in a fairly mixed ability group for history. I could have probably got an A* if I hadn't discovered boys about halfway through year 11.

I found 'medicine through the ages' much more interesting to study than the holocaust, but then I am much more interested in biology than history.

volestair Mon 09-Sep-13 00:14:10

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Rufus43 Mon 09-Sep-13 08:55:21

Thanks slower

I said that to my son yesterday, the grades you get are down to the work you do.....unless you get a girlfriend in which case all bets are off!

BackforGood Mon 09-Sep-13 09:59:53

It was the fact they were studying 'the history of medicine' for GCSE that put my dd right off - she's not picked history as an option because of that.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Mon 09-Sep-13 10:03:23

God, we did 'history of medicine' in 1994, am surprised it's still the same! Theory of the 4 humours is the main thing I remember.

OP, this was the same with us to an extent after options, because with all the other variables in option blocks, setting becomes more complex and not always possible. I think they did some tweaking so that one half of the year was higher ability than the other, but languages and humanities were 'less' set than science, maths and english. I think it is fairly common.

Rufus43 Mon 09-Sep-13 10:35:28

Think you are right original through I don't think he is set for science either!

I was a bit confused when I read that he would be studying the American prohibition! Do we not have any history! Although its probably really interesting grin

TheOriginalSteamingNit Mon 09-Sep-13 10:36:36

ha, we did prohibition too! grin

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 09-Sep-13 12:16:26

DD1 did medicine through the ages and 'the American west'. I was a bit cat'sbummouth about it, because (old gimmer alert) any fule kno that you study the industrial revolution at O level. grin But she loved it.

choccyp1g Mon 09-Sep-13 14:04:38

Elliepac Given that you have both setted and unsetted classes for history, I assume that your school compares the results and progress against targets for each class.

Do you find that there is a noticeable difference betwen the setted and unsetted classes?

What parents really want to know, is will my child achieve the best they can? or would they do better in a set/unset class.

Talkinpeace Mon 09-Sep-13 17:04:05

Prohibition is studied because it is such a well documented case study of unintended consequences that is historic and foreign enough for English curriculum setters to be happy with

elliepac Mon 09-Sep-13 17:23:35

choccy i taught both a setted and unsetted class this year. Results in comparison to target were pretty similar. The non-setted class were, overall, lower ability as the setted class were a top set. But in the non-setted class it is worth noting that there were several children predicted a D who got a C and pupils predicted a C who got a B. my one very bright student who was predicted an A got an A*. Even in my top set there was a range of targets from A* - C. Those who worked hard got what they were capable of and more in some cases.

If I had my choice i would have sets every time but high achievement is possible in any class with good teaching and a motivated student no matter what their ability.

As for the medicine debate, I have taught both the more common world wars and nazis and the medicine and I prefer the medicine and American West is awesome.grin

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 09-Sep-13 17:31:17

ellie I'm not sure whether DD1 would describe it as awesome - but she got an A* (with maximum marks on that paper) so perhaps she would! grin

elliepac Mon 09-Sep-13 17:33:44

She may not think it awesome but she is clearly awesome at itgrin.

Rufus43 Mon 09-Sep-13 18:48:10

Thanks talkinpeace I knew there had to be a good reason, just finished the film lawless set in the same period...pity it's an 18. Have to stick with Bugsy Malone!

That's very interesting ellie thanks

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