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To think that ablity tables in school can do more harm than good

(45 Posts)
ReallyTired Tue 11-Mar-14 10:50:52

I think it must be demoralising for a child to be stuck on bottom table. They caught in a cycle of low expectations with no chance ever to try the harder work. Sometimes people assume a child on bottom table is stupid and the child can come to believe that they are stupid.

Consversely think that that some of the brighter children on the top table can become swollen headed and believe that there is no need for them to work. This happened to my son who has had a huge culture shock when he is not in any of the top sets at secondary.

Surely there must be a better way of managing differentiation, so that children are unaware of where they are in the class. I believe that Finland doesn't have top or bottom tables. It would be interesting to know how Finland manage to stretch the brightest children and support the weakest.

HolidayCriminal Tue 11-Mar-14 10:53:17

Not rigid groups ime of DC primary or secondary schools. Very porous & overlapping sets.
I think you've said many times how shit your son's primary was, RT.

MaryPoppinsBag Tue 11-Mar-14 10:54:19

They know though anyway, my son knew in reception what book bands everyone in the class was on.

angelos02 Tue 11-Mar-14 11:00:27

Kids would quickly work out which set they were in. They know who the bright and less-bright children are themselves.

HighwayRat Tue 11-Mar-14 11:03:48

Ability grouping has always happened. They group in ability even at preschool I'm fine with this, dd would be bored and be misbehaving if she was forced to sit with kids learning stuff she's known for a year.

Goblinchild Tue 11-Mar-14 11:04:52

RT, the groups are fluid and change with the subjects if the school does use them. It can be more demoralising to be sat next to someone who knows all the answers and who doesn't understand why you find it hard.
Better for everyone to know what their own strengths and weaknesses are and to be aware of the range. Everyone is good at something, everyone has areas that need work. It's why individual targets that change on a regular basis are useful.
I once asked a child with SN what they could teach X who was very confident of her ability. 'How to write neatly' was the answer.

WorraLiberty Tue 11-Mar-14 11:05:09

A good school with good teachers will always have high expectations of children. They'll work hard to raise their attainment, no matter what table they're on.

Kids move about from set to set anyway, depending on how well they're doing.

WorraLiberty Tue 11-Mar-14 11:06:06

Posted too soon...

So YABU really because I think this system works well.

Goblinchild Tue 11-Mar-14 11:07:26

I had groupings in art and craft sessions. Then they'd split up in later sessions and be the expert on other tables. Not every time, but it recognised ability that wasn't in the core subjects.

treaclesoda Tue 11-Mar-14 11:12:55

I think children always know where they are in relation to the rest of the class. They are pretty smart. Even at five years old they look around and see that child A gets reading and written homework, whereas child B only gets a picture book. And they know that Child A gets twice as many sums to do in class than child B because they find them easier.

My child's teacher doesn't seat them according to their ability, they are randomly placed around the room, but when it comes to reading groups, they all have to move round a bit when they are reading aloud to the teacher, because they are reading different books. I don't see any way of getting round that tbh, because surely its just not possible to have them all reading the same books?

funnyossity Tue 11-Mar-14 11:21:13

I think parents have the bigger role to play in not allowing their kids to be "swollen headed". I would rather my child was taught at an appropriate level in school.

GhoulWithADragonTattoo Tue 11-Mar-14 11:35:56

I think it would be tricker to differentiate work appropriately if children weren't sitting in ability groups. Also it would be more obvious is people are working on different things if they glance across the same table and see Jim has more or less sums to do than they do. At least on the ability tables the children will have more similar work.

I agree that kids pick up pretty quickly who's better at which subjects.

Goblinchild Tue 11-Mar-14 11:38:52

The other problem you have is with more able children being helpful and telling another chld the answers so that they get the right with no understanding. Yes, the children and the teacher know exactly how able different children are in differet areas, but part of teaching is to raise someone's self-esteem and confidence, and to find ways of doing that.

Nocomet Tue 11-Mar-14 11:59:11

"part of teaching is to raise someone's self-esteem and confidence, and to find ways of doing that."

And very ridged ability groups don't do that for DCs in the middle, especially the top, second table if you like DCs.

DD2's class had only 4 of them on top table for maths. DD2 as 4th best and she knew it and moaned that she'd never be as good as the boys. Other DCs on the next table felt demoralised that they would never get in to that group.

A bigger more flexible top table would have been better.

OwlCapone Tue 11-Mar-14 12:02:47

so that children are unaware of where they are in the class.

[snort] that's never going to happen. They all know.

Interestingly, DDs y3 class doesn't have set groups. There are different worksheets for the different abilities and the children choose the one they want to do - obviously the teacher will have some input in ensuring they don't just pick the easiest one each time and to make sure they challenge themselves.

Normalisavariantofcrazy Tue 11-Mar-14 12:03:22

YABU ability grouping works well IMO

My children are in split year classes and always have been and the bright kids from the lower years benefit from being sat with the upper years as much as the less able kids from the upper years benefit from being able to repeat subjects to cement the ideas.

In my experience the kids don't mind and the bright ones from the upper year are the only ones who suffer really because they're not stretched enough but otherwise peer support is fantastic

WipsGlitter Tue 11-Mar-14 12:21:22

My son (age 6) has been in the lowest book band until recently when he moved up one. He was saying yesterday how he went and sat with the wrong group and his teacher told him he was 'too clever' for that group and to go to his new group. He then started talking about another child being cleverer than him. This is the first time he has really noticed this.

In his class there is a U shape of tables and then inside the U two smaller tables. These are the children who are in the 'bottom third' as the teacher told me confused

I'm hoping that the next teacher doesn't use this system as I think they will really notice it next year.

At the last teacher meeting she told me that he was now in the middle of the class (not in the bottom third as she told me at our first meeting) but he still sits with the same children, presumably because there is no scope to move them.

Normalisavariantofcrazy Tue 11-Mar-14 12:23:19

At our school the children get moved around every half term if they need to be moved. They also move dependent on what's being taught - so for maths they may be top table but for literacy they may be middle table. The children all know where they are in the class and tbh they like that they know where they are and they like to know which children they can go to for help

BumpyGrindy Tue 11-Mar-14 12:24:12

She was U to say that to him! In our school we don't seat by ability...we have a mix on each table. A high achieving child, a middle one and two who don't find academics as easy. This is meant to support all DC and in practice it works. My DD1 is a high achiever and she likes helping her younger DD is not as far ahead as some of her classmates and she feels that she can get support as she needs it.

CrohnicallyChanging Tue 11-Mar-14 12:58:56

We have children in ability groups most of the time, this means that as well as differentiating work appropriately the teacher can make sure those that need it get TA support- sometimes this is supporting lower ability pupils, sometimes stretching the higher ability, sometimes ensuring the middles consolidate their knowledge.

As mentioned, we revisit the groups every half term and move them round. We also move children for different lessons, sometimes into mixed ability groups (this works well for subjects like science or history).

The children are praised according to effort, not just achievement, so that ensures the lower ability children are never demoralised and the higher ability children don't get swollen heads. It's not unusual to praise child A for writing one word on their own, while telling child B to get a move in because they've only completed 1 sentence. If the children ask (though they don't very often) we simply tell them that different people are good at different things and point out something that they are good at/not so good at.

cory Tue 11-Mar-14 13:31:07

For my son it was far more demoralising to be stuck next to the cleverest boy in the class who kept comparing the work they were doing and pointing out to ds that he was doing baby work.

It was a great boost for ds' confidence when they introduced ability tables and he realised there were other children in the class who were working at a more or less similar level to himself.

And even more of a boost when he was shown that he could move up tables by improving in certain areas.

I can't answer for how Finland does it, but I did attend a Swedish school at a time when Sweden had a very similar system to the current Finnish one and was top of international league tables.

The answer is that no attempt was ever made to provide me with work suited to my ability. I sat at the back of the class and read a book I had smuggled in whilst listening with half an ear to the teacher. What a system like that does very well is to bring the majority of children up to a reasonably high standard- which is why they do well in international league tables; their average is high. But it doesn't encourage the really able children to stretch themselves.

As for the children who are really struggling, my experience was that they were also inadequately supported.

iamsoannoyed Tue 11-Mar-14 14:45:23


Children know where they are reasonably quickly- my DD is in form 1 and all the children know who the academically able ones, whose good a sport or music. I don't think they're old enough to be upset by it, and just accept it. I don't think you could create a system where children have no idea where they are in relation to their peers.

I think grouping by ability can work if done properly.

It sounds like the teachers in your DSs school weren't doing a good job of stretching or motivating your son. That is not the fault of the system, it's a fault in the implementation of the system by the school/teachers.

Impatientismymiddlename Tue 11-Mar-14 14:49:21

It would be pretty demoralising for the child sat on a table doing work well below the level of everyone else on his table.
It would be more difficult for the teacher to differentiate according to ability.
The children would still know who are most able and who are the least able, so you would solve nothing but create additional problems by not grouping children according to ability.

DesiderataDisciple Tue 11-Mar-14 15:07:48

Surely it is better to have kids working with their peers ability wise so that know they are not alone in finding this tricky, can possibly/sometimes have a TA sat at the table with them to provide additional support and have that support pitched at an appropriate level.

There is less chance of the brighter children becoming "swollen headed" if they too are sat with others of a closer ability and can talk about their learning at a similar level of understanding/terminology push each other on with mild competition within the group.

By Christmas in reception class, dc1 had worked out who was who ability wise. Dc2 ditto.

One of my dc works with a higher year group for some work most days. The teachers said this was best as the child needs to be able to discuss the learning they are doing with their peers ability wise and just giving them harder work in their own year group class each day won't give them that opportunity which it is felt is necessary to support the learning process.

Mumoftwoyoungkids Tue 11-Mar-14 15:44:45

Not convinced Op.

If you have one child in the class who is easily doing 146 * 754 and one who is struggling with 4 * 9 then is it better for the 4 * 9 child's confidence to sit by the 146 child or to know they are on the bottom table but to be next to another child who can just about manage 4 * 9.

As the 146 child I knew I was the best either way but as a natural collaborator I was much happier sitting next to a nearly 146 child and working together on it - even though we both knew .i was better.

I was also able to help the nearly 146 child as I could explain exactly how I got the answer I did. Trying to explain how I worked out 4 * 9, for me, was like trying to explain how I breathed - I didn't know - I just did it!

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