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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?

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.

jenniferturkington Thu 21-Nov-13 19:46:29

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.

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