ability grouping in primary schools

(29 Posts)
DES80 Mon 04-Mar-19 11:48:56

many studies have showed ability grouping in primary schools can be harmful and children cannot reach their full potential. It also created a stigma inside classrooms and affects children's mental health and self-esteem. A friend of mine has started a petition to abolish ability grouping in primary schools across the UK. Would you support this petition?

OP’s posts: |
Helix1244 Mon 04-Mar-19 12:36:17

I dont know. However they need to rename it. It is largely age rather than 'ability'. What even is ability at 4-8? As they are all learning. Some will have been pushed and had a lot more support at home.
Also picking up reading easily doesnt mean they can understand or do comprehension or creative writing.
Just as arithmetic is not secondary maths. There may be a correlation though.
I think the issue with 'ability groups' is they obviously disadvantage the youngest. The ones with short attention spans.
And if say you do help a lot at home school may not notice and they are still stuck in the lower group.
However my one dc is very good at reading and it would have been harsh waiting for the rest of the year group to catch up to being able to read chaper books sometime in yr 2.

And not great at maths so might have helped confidence not seeing some people get the answer much quicker. Although knowing you are in bottom group, possibly with kids who are really struggling cant help either.

Imo being more flexible with year groups would probably help so kids do not seem years behind when they are really not far off for their age. And the eldest dont seem as bright because they may only be 6m ahead of their age (whereas the youngest if top are 12m ahead).

RedSkyLastNight Mon 04-Mar-19 12:41:05

My DC went to a junior school that didn't use ability groupings (although they did take certain children out for additional support). It seemed a much more flexible system (and worked particularly well for DS who was "patchy" so would have likely been in the wrong ability group wherever he was! It certainly removed the stigma of "bottom of the class" - there genuinely wasn't a bottom and everyone was appreciated for what they achieved.

DES80 Mon 04-Mar-19 13:05:25

what I see as missing from most studies on how they measure the impact of ability grouping is how children are coping with this policy, their mental health. Most of what I am reading to backup the policy on ability grouping is based on opinion from headteachers, teachers and education think tanks. How about conducting a study to assess how children feel when their peers are seated in groups that define their performance. My DS is very clever and now has very low self-esteem as he is placed in the lowest group for spelling.

OP’s posts: |
SilviaSalmon Mon 04-Mar-19 13:10:54

No I would not. I think, properly administered, it helps children.

bellinisurge Mon 04-Mar-19 13:11:50

It is difficult to get the balance right but forcing academically able children to go at the pace of less academically able children has a negative effect on the academically able too.

DippyAvocado Mon 04-Mar-19 13:13:21

Ability grouping is already considered outdated by most primary schools. In the last two schools I have worked and in my DC's school, flexible grouping is used.


Helix1244 Mon 04-Mar-19 13:18:59

Op yes i hear 'im rubbish at maths' then she refuses to do any. Making it worse.
Tbh i think the issue is that with so many in a class and with obviously no selection or common sense on moving those that need it up/down year groups you will have issue where many cant keep up and others are bored.

I think research showed ability griups only helped the top groups

MadameGazelleIsMyHomegirl Mon 04-Mar-19 13:23:48

My child is bright and able. They do not have ability groupings but my child does spend a lot of time doing ‘partner work’ with less able children.

I can see that this benefits both parties to a certain extent but I think it is overused, and I also think the less able child derives the greatest benefit. Often my child says they spend a lot of time trying to get their partner to stay focused and not drift off or muck around.

Personally I’d rather my child was working with ability grouped peers.

bellinisurge Mon 04-Mar-19 13:28:21

I spent a lot of time partnered with academically less able classmates (I'm in my 50s). I know now it was to be a teaching assistant and didn't benefit me very much. Except give me an over inflated sense of how good I was at everything and how easy it all came to me . So that when I actually had to deal with academically difficult stuff later in my school life I wasn't really prepared for the challenge.

PCohle Mon 04-Mar-19 13:29:05

No I think ability grouping has been more beneficial for my kids.

It allows teachers to focus work at the appropriate level and the kids spend less time bored and acting up because they are finished/ the work is way above their level.

In my experience kids in mixed sets still have a brutally accurate view of each other's abilities. Sitting next to a kid who is storming ahead of you is just as discouraging as being a lower set.

Lovelydovey Mon 04-Mar-19 13:31:39

My kids are streamed for literacy - across the 4 year group classes. I think it’s really beneficial for them. They get teacher input (which they don’t in other classes as the teacher is focusing on the lower ability children) and their peers push and encourage them.

TeenTimesTwo Mon 04-Mar-19 13:32:50

I'm in 2 minds.

If there are fixed rigid tables, then yes I am against.

But if there is movement for topics, some things done mixed and some attainment based etc, then I think it can help.

Unless you are going to force everyone to do the same work, which benefits neither the top end nor the lower end, you have to differentiate work. Having people doing similar work together means they can help each other, without know-it-all Bob looking over and saying oh your work is so easy (experience with DD2).

otoh, attainment based tables can self-perpetuate differences caused by age, especially I would think in infants, if the top tables are given more work / pushed further.

(My DD has blossomed quite a bit in secondary as now she is set and things go at her pace without the brighter ones to keep pushing her self confidence down).

DippyAvocado Mon 04-Mar-19 13:44:17

It allows teachers to focus work at the appropriate level

This still happens without ability grouping.

PCohle Mon 04-Mar-19 13:48:47

Yes of course, but in my view far less successfully.

Hollowvictory Mon 04-Mar-19 13:53:27

No I would not. I wish there was more ability groups

leftear Mon 04-Mar-19 13:53:48

At both my DC's schools they use the mastery approach. This means that the whole class are taught the same material, then they choose from three different challenges/worksheets. The most able are steered towards challenge 3, the least able do challenge 1.

Children like my Ds1 who has SEN are given extra lessons and more support to help them. They are not put into ability groups as such. However, my DS knows full well that he is one of the children who needs extra help.

QuietlyQuaffing Mon 04-Mar-19 15:13:08

There is a big sweep against grouping by ability in state schools these days. I assume it goes hand in glove with the growth mindset thing, I don't know.

I think we should trust teachers to use their professional expertise, combined with recent research, to choose what is right for the children they teach. Parents can vote with their feet - we're not exactly short of schools that teach in a mixed ability set up these days. There is absolutely no justification to legislate about this. Teachers know their job, and the children they teach, and state school teachers are expert at differentiating.

I also think it can be a bit smoke and mirrors. Our school did away with setting, but some children then got a green traffic light at the end of their work every time, while others got a red one every time. That maybe more growth mindset but it's not exactly self-esteem-boosting.

modgepodge Mon 04-Mar-19 21:36:29

I would not support any petition calling for a ban on anything in education. Schools and teachers should be free to do what’s best for their pupils. In some cases that might be ability grouping.

It is boring for very able learners to do work they can already do, just so some other people don’t feel bad. It is pointless for children who are behind to try to do work they have no hope of accessing when they could have work at a more appropriately level and make progress. Ability groups can be useful sometimes.

DippyAvocado Mon 04-Mar-19 22:52:51

I think there is a lot of misperception on this thread about what is happening in schools re. ability grouping. It is not that different levels of learning have been removed, just that there is a move away from fixed ability grouping towards flexible grouping - ie you no longer have "circle group" that always sits on a particular table and does an easier piece of work than everyone else, or "hexagon group" that sits on a separate table every day and does harder work. Grouping is decided on a more or less daily basis, or sometimes changed within a lesson, depending on how pupils are demonstrating their understanding of that particular piece of learning.

Different levels of work still exist, it's just in a less rigid way. For example, if pupils are unable to add 3 digit numbers, some pupils may always use physical manipulatives to support them, or work with adult support or do all of the above with smaller numbers. For a reading activity, children may read a text in mixed pairs, but then some children will move to work with an adult, some may be given a more challenging set of questions etc. It is not often successful to pair a very able child with a very low-ability child, but mixed pairings of say a slightly more able child with a child that is working a little below average can work well.

Challenge activities are always provided but are available to any child to attempt. They are not solely given to "hexagon group" to complete.

Teachers decide who requires support during the lesson. It may be that a child you would have thought needed support performs well so you send them to work independently, but you notice 2 children that could do similar work the day before are struggling so you bring them to work with you, whereas back in the day you had 5 groups all doing a slightly different activity and the teacher remained with one "focus group" each lesson. When you mark books, you decide if there is a group of children that needs further review in the lesson the next day while you start everybody else of on the new piece of learning.

Children with SEND are always provided with work at their particular level of need. It may be that they can cope with an adapted level of what the rest of the class is doing, or they may need to be focussing on something completely different or it may be a mix of the two.
It is absolutely not appropriate to teach every member of class exactly the same thing and have some children who always achieve easily and some children who never understand.

Having taught both ways, I can see a lot of positives from the move away from ability tables. It prevents pupils from being pigeon-holed. There are still times when ability groups may be appropriate, for example in guided reading where it is best to group together children that can access a similar level of text, but on the whole flexible grouping provides a lot more freedom and, IMO, better suits individual children's needs.

DippyAvocado Mon 04-Mar-19 22:54:39

start everybody else off, excuse typos

LetItGoToRuin Tue 05-Mar-19 08:43:07

I agree with the majority view that flexible grouping works best. My DD sits with different groups for writing, maths, science etc that are not ability groups, but the coloured sticker on their books indicate which level they’re working at for that subject.

OP, it sounds as though your DS has had a particularly poor experience with ability grouping. Either that, or someone at school or home has been making a big thing of it. You say:

“My DS is very clever and now has very low self-esteem as he is placed in the lowest group for spelling.”

Does he think he is clever? Has anyone told him that? If someone has told him he’s clever and then expressed surprise at him being in the ‘lowest’ group for spelling, I’m sure that might have affected his self-esteem – but it could have been handled much more sensitively than that!

DES80 Tue 05-Mar-19 10:06:36

@LetItGoToRuin many thanks for taking part in the chat. MY DS has all the support at home, we provide a very caring and creative environment. No one at home is making a big thing. His spelling is perfect. I truly believe the UK is keeping up with innovative education practices adopted my top performing governments such as Finland. Our education system is still lagging and our teachers need a lot of training on new tools and innovation thinking. The current curriculum place a lot of focus on rigid KPIs in reading and math and yet UK is still not in top tables globally. Studies by UCL, OECD and other academics have proven evidence that ability grouping is harmful to children mental health due to poor practice inside classrooms where the least able children are locked into a stigma for year after year.
I went to Oxford and I have mild dyslexia which was the reason I was thinking differently and hence later in life did better than former classmates who were treated by teachers as best performers at school.

OP’s posts: |
my2bundles Tue 05-Mar-19 15:49:15

I wouldent support it. My son now year 6 struggled with English so bring taught in ability groups gave him the support he needed at the level he was at. Maths has always been his strong subject so being in an ability group enabled him to stretch himself without being held back.

Hiddeninplainsight Wed 06-Mar-19 08:32:40

Maths mastery has been a disaster for my DD. She is highly able and has spent from Y2 exceptionally bored. The school hadn't factored in what to do if a child had mastered a topic before they even started, so she had to spend years sitting through whole class teaching and completing easy worksheets. I once asked her if she ever understood what the teacher was explaining before it was explained and her response was I don't know mummy. My mind is floating somewhere else. This approach taught her that unless she had the answer in maths instantly or in a matter of seconds, which is what the very easy work had taught her to expect, she couldn't do it. We ended up getting a tutor to extend her in order for her to learn to really think and problem solve. The problem is that all of our kids needs are different and primary schools cannot cope. It is unfair to expect them to potentially have to prepare work for kids in one class who might have something like. A 5 year range of abilities (if you look at the spread at both ends). Maths mastery isn't the same as no ability tables - it is the most damaging extreme in my view. It is going to be great for some kids, but it is terrible for others.

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