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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?

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.

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