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Setting in the classroom

(24 Posts)
bettycat81 Wed 08-Feb-17 18:58:02

I have quite a few questions regarding experiences of setting...

Is it normal? even in ks1?

How fluid is it? Do children move up and down throughout their school career? How often is their ability assessed?

How do schools protect children from a lower setting becoming a self fulfilling? prophecy?

Just interested as DS has recently become aware of being set by tables in class for certain lessons.

Boiled7Up Wed 08-Feb-17 19:07:23

Yes, it is normal.

Unfortunately, when there are such varied abilities within one classroom, one adult and limited time there is only so much full-class teaching one can do (e.g. some children multiplying and dividing mentally, some still working on the most basic concept of numbers). Recently it has become fashionable to allow the children to choose their own level of difficulty.

I try to use a combination of everything. Some things just need to be targeted at specific children.

Ideally there should be lots of ongoing assessment and the chance for the children to all work together too.

For example, I have one little one who is still working on addition to 10. She really enjoys (and is good at!) data handling and shape. So some topics/days/weeks she'll be working with the Elephants, other days she'll be a Tiger.

That's a bit of a on-the-fence answer, isn't it?

FabulouslyGlamourousFerret Wed 08-Feb-17 19:08:31

IME it's quite fluid and if a teacher feels a child is in the wrong 'set' then they will be moved whenever really.

Lots of schools are using a method called 'mastery' now which doesn't tend to be ability streamed instead children are given the opportunity to choose the work they feel is appropriate to them - for example they may have grasped the concept of time fantastically but struggle with money so Mastery allows for that so a 'high ability' child may choose the medium ability money work whilst choosing the HA time with the next lesson ( that's a very simplistic view anyway!)

Campfiresmoke Thu 09-Feb-17 00:29:23

Yes it's normal, even in Reception. Some children pick up things at different paces and work is differentiated to their ability. We have children who don't recognise letters yet (SEN), some who have only just learnt letters and others that can write great stories. They work in small groups of differing ability and the groups are very fluid.

irvineoneohone Thu 09-Feb-17 06:36:27

Ds' school has, from reception. They even have the chart on the wall for all to see. All the children are aware where they stand in the class. And it is fluid, but to move up, somebody need to move down. I don't think it's a very nice system. Why do they do that?

RebelRogue Thu 09-Feb-17 07:46:54

We tables by ability in our school. They have different work and challenges depending on what they can do. Some will be independent,some TA assisted,some teacher assisted. It is very fluid,and groups can change from english to maths for example. Also if a child really struggles,he or she can be moved to a different table for that lesson so they get the basics.
I don't think it's mean. When you have kids that can barely hold a pencil,and writing 3 sentences is a real achievement (that is celebrated and encouraged),i think it would be meaner to have them sit next to kids that write 2 pages and still have time to mess about. Or kids that struggle to count in 3's sat to kids that do mental maths and fly through their work.

irvineoneohone Thu 09-Feb-17 08:04:34

What I mean is, (that I think it's ok to set tables according to ability, but) I think it's not nice they put names with tables on the wall.

Ginmummy1 Thu 09-Feb-17 08:48:16

In DD's class (Y1) they have ability tables, but according to DD they are the same for phonics and maths. I'd be surprised if there were no kids that were significantly better at one than the other!

While they don't have lists on the wall, moving up or down a table seems to be significant event. They have had two 'switches', and both times DD came home saying that child A has been moved down off top table because he's messing around and not concentrating, and later that child B had been moved down because she was writing too slowly. Also that child C has been moved up from the bottom table because she's getting really clever now. Etc.

There is also a sense of 'aspiration'. My DD's friend is on one of the 'lower' tables but attempted the 'hard' sentence option the other day because she wants to move 'up'. I guess that's good in some ways, but only if the aspirations are realistic.

While I am generally comfortable with the idea of my child sitting with children of a similar ability, it feels wrong for positions in class to be so obvious at such a young age.

Ginmummy1 Thu 09-Feb-17 08:52:44

I have another story. At the very start of Y5 a boy who has 'always' been on top table for maths was moved down very publicly, based on his score on a single mental maths test. He was mortified and came home in a panic about being a failure of maths (he's very good at maths generally, but doesn't enjoy the pressure of the timed mental maths tests). The timing was unfortunate as he's preparing for 11+. It has really knocked his confidence.

insan1tyscartching Thu 09-Feb-17 09:17:10

Dd's primary had mixed ability tables but numeracy and literacy and phonics were streamed. So the two classes would be split into four groups across the two classes for numeracy and literacy and into even smaller groups for phonics. School employed teachers besides class teachers specifically for numeracy and literacy so that the whole school was streamed throughout. They had single gender groups as well at times. It was very fluid though with children moving between groups as necessary.

cantkeepawayforever Thu 09-Feb-17 09:34:03

IME fixed 'ability based' tables are now rather old-fashioned, though i imagine [see all the posts about how schools aren't teaching phonics properly, years after it becoming the recommended way to teach reading] there will be many places that still stick to the approach.

A more flexible 'needs for this specific lesson' is becoming more common, again IME - so for example children might be seated in a completely mixed ability way, or a few children who need specific help based on the previous lesson might be grouped together to enable additional adult support for part or all of the lesson (but may sit somewhere completely other the following day), or it might be that e.g. the half of the class who completely 'got' yesterday's teaching are seated so that they can work independently on the next step, while the other half may be seated with the teacher for revisiting and re-teaching and consolidating what they found hard.

I suppose what I would now expect to see as 'the norm' is flexible mixed ability seating, with support available for specific children (e.g. equipment, 1:1 adult, additional resources) in those places, but that convenient and flexible alternative seating arrangements may well be used for particular lessons on particular days, usually to enable specific teaching or specific support.

Just 'needing different work' wouldn't be a reason to sit somewhere different - we might well have 6 children sitting at a table doing 6 slightly different levels of an independent task. and moving themselves on to the next level when each one is complete. Different seating would usually be to allow adult support or input in a convenient way - and that could be for a further extension, or for specific support, or to address a specific mistake that those children may all have made, whatever their 'overall general level of ability', if that makes sense.

bettycat81 Thu 09-Feb-17 09:44:07

Thank you for your responses so far. I really like the idea of mastery that seems to be a great idea for younger children.

My Son sees it as quite an injustice as the things that he can measure by (reading levels, times tables levels) he is quite high in the class, higher than some on the top table. Each childs level isn't published and they are encouraged not to ask each other... but they know, they are quite a competitive class. But there are areas he has trouble with... for example he coukd work out 3×4 but if given a question like John has 3 bags of 4 apples, how many apples does he have? he occasionally struggles to work out what
Its asking. In other words he has great basic skills but can sometimes struggle to apply them.

Unfortunately, due to a mix of circumstances, he fell behind last year. He has done well to catch up this year though so I hope I can maintain the positive attitude he has shown so far.

irvineoneohone Thu 09-Feb-17 09:59:35

My ds struggled with word problems at first.
Use RUCSAC method.
1:Read the question
3:Choose the operation

Also drawing diagram would help visualise.( In this case, draw 3 bags with 4 apples in it.)

cantkeepawayforever Thu 09-Feb-17 10:00:49

Just to clarify, the approach I describe is very much aligned to the 'mastery' approach, but I was avoiding using that word, because it has so many definitions within education as to be rapidly becoming meaningless! Simply choosing your own level of work is not 'mastery' - though some schools do use the term that way.

irvineoneohone Thu 09-Feb-17 10:09:55

Agree, cantkeepaway. If it was used well, mastery may be great. Not so much if used with school's own definition with dreadful approach.

bettycat81 Thu 09-Feb-17 10:24:02

Thank you irvine

Prettyfrog Thu 09-Feb-17 17:37:08

Prettyfrog Thu 09-Feb-17 16:58:09
Sets are rigid in my experience. It's extremely hard in practice to move up a set as the work hasn't been covered, and yes it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fixed ability tables also throughout my DC school. When classrooms are grouped by ability tables, the lower table doesn't have the same opportunities as the rest of the class to bounce off ideas, learn from peers etc, making it harder to move up too.

It must vary a lot in different schools and I'd love to know how able children move up the sets in flexible schools if the work hasn't been covered? Also, do the LSA's move around the class if the lower performing children aren't grouped together on a table? I don't understand why my DC school aren't able to overcome these issues when it appears from these replies other schools can.

cantkeepawayforever Thu 09-Feb-17 18:17:44


I can only describe what we do - and what has come to seem the norm, though perhaps it is even less widespread than i thought.

We start each series of lessons with the thought 'how do children NEED to be arranged today in order to learn', and also do a lot of whole class teaching, at least initially. Sop a series of English lessons might start with reading and discssing a book (all mixed ability), maybe acting out key parts of it (all mixed ability), maybe then some grammar work based on it (usually start off with a quick informal 'what do we already know' assessment, which might result in some on-the-fly grouping either for support or extension), then maybe another lesson based on sentence / short pieces of writing incorporating that grammar (grouped for support or extension based on the previous day's work), then perhaps planning our own version of the story (back to mixed again, because the range of ideas will be best in a mixed ability grouping), then writing it (independent work which can be in 'standard' mixed ability seats, perhaps with 1:1 or small group support for SEN children, or specific resources being available to them). During that independent writing, teacher may collect together a group of children who might have made similar errors (e.g. comma splicing) or who need additional challenge based on work on that unit or previously. The sequence may obviously be longer than this, but you get the idea. Then it's back to fully mixed again for the start of the next plan.

Similar process in Maths - whole class teaching, starting with fully mixed ability seating at the start of a new topic, lots of informal assessment opportunities enabling support / extension / grouping in the course of a lesson, lots of responding to the previous day's marking to accelerate some children and maybe keep others for consolidation, and also the design of each lesson to focus on 1 area, then get children to apply or problem solve or explore that area, rather than move on to completely new content - this is what allows the whole class teaching to continue throughout the teaching sequence, the fact that Monday's lesson is about Monday's lesson, nobody moves on to what Tuesday will cover.

cantkeepawayforever Thu 09-Feb-17 18:24:21

(One of the things which gives me absolutely enormous satisfaction, as a teacher, is when I look around the room and see those labelled in years past as 'bad at Maths' flying through the hardest work in that lesson, while someone who thinks of themselves as 'the best' is gamely struggling through a nominally slightly easier task .. and they're sitting next to each other, pretty much oblivious of anything except the fact that they're doing 'their work' for that lesson, and they know what they have to work on next)

Biking007 Thu 09-Feb-17 18:25:57

My oldest DD was "setted" in foundation and bumped along the bottom of the mid set for maths until year5 where they have now scraped the 3 sets and associated moving to different classrooms for maths and it's so much better. They test the whole class at the end of each 6wk block and move around tables within the class and by weekly topic based on their "mastery" of that weeks topic. It's really boosted my DD self esteem as she sat on the "harder" table for some topics she whizzes through and back with her old "mid set" palls for other topics. My younger DD hasn't been setted outside her class group in yr1 just moved around the tables and a range of work sheet levels available. So she isn't as aware yet of who is brighter etc which I think is a lot better.

Prettyfrog Thu 09-Feb-17 18:58:26

These sound fantastic systems, thank you. How do headteachers get to find out about this? I don't know if our head doesn't know about this stuff or just doesn't agree with it.

Prettyfrog Thu 09-Feb-17 19:13:35

OP, I'm glad your son is catching up well.

cantkeepawayforever Thu 09-Feb-17 19:40:50

For the Maths, probably the Maths Hubs might be a place to start.

cantkeepawayforever Thu 09-Feb-17 19:47:32

The only thing i will say is that, initially at least, maths lessons take more planning for this method. Acceleration onto new content is 'easy extension' in terms of planning / thinking. Really working out how to challenge higher abilities based on a single day's learning objective is harder initially.

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