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Mixed ability teaching in all subjects until GCSE

(53 Posts)
Buggedoff Mon 07-Oct-13 19:52:59

I went to visit a school last week, a free school as it happens, although I don't know if this is relevant. I was shown in all the classrooms, and had the normal talk by the head. During this talk, there was a lot of references to their very talented teachers, the extended day, class sizes of 25 and how core subjects are a focus.

There was no discussion of setting, but I had heard a rumour that this school uses mixed ability classes. So on the way out, I asked the deputy head about setting, and she confirmed that all subjects were taught in mixed ability class groups. She said that talented teachers can differentiate to all abilities, and that mixed ability classes prevent top students from becoming complacent, and give lower ability students ambitious targets to achieve.

AIBU to question this, and wonder if it teaching to the middle is an inevitable consequence of this, particularly in a subject such as maths? AI also BU to think that the head should have discussed this policy during his speech, if it is integral to the ethos of the school? I really wanted to like this school, but it probably will not be going on my CAF.

Unless someone can persuade me that mixed ability teaching is great.

Buggedoff Mon 07-Oct-13 19:54:17

Apologies for slightly confused OP.

LondonMother Mon 07-Oct-13 19:56:42

Well, maybe an expert teacher can convince me otherwise, but I would absolutely have hated that and would certainly not have put it on my shortlist for my children, regardless of how good anything else about the school was.

AcrylicPlexiglass Mon 07-Oct-13 19:57:25

I think it can be great if behaviour is good and all children enthused and engaged. It's not fashionable at the moment. I was in mixed ability classes until GCSE and in top sets for everything from year 10 (then 4th year) The good teachers were ace with mixed ability teaching and the poor teachers were no better just because they had a top set, ime.

olivo Mon 07-Oct-13 20:09:32

We have mixed ability groups for a number of GCSE options simply because of numbers taking them. The Core subjects, however, are set. If it was my DCs, I would want them set for as many subjects as possible.

Cynderella Mon 07-Oct-13 20:16:26

Years ago, I went for an interview at a school where all classes were mixed ability. It was the most successful school in the area and when I asked about it, I was told that it worked because teachers adapted their teaching. I am open minded but have always taught sets so would have to change the way I teach. That said, most sets are mixed ability in my school.

My top 11s are A*-B with a few Cs, my bottom 10s are D-G but I hope two or three may get Cs. My sixth form groups are A-C. I think I teach to the top rather than the middle because they are often the most responsive pupils. I try to adapt and support the less able but it isn't easy with big groups. One advantage of mixed ability is that the teaching assistants are spread out.

Buggedoff Mon 07-Oct-13 20:24:47

The school I went to went in for streaming in a big way up until GCSE's. For GCSE, some of my options were mixed ability because of timetabling - including history and biology, and I got A's in these subjects. So I know it can work...

funnyossity Mon 07-Oct-13 20:49:45

My son's school has a similar-sounding system.

I think it works well from a discipline point of view. The school seems relatively harmonious.

It has worked well for him in his weaker subjects where he was improving over time. It didn't help at all in his totally awful subjects (MFL!) and where he has strengths in the humanities he has felt frustrated at the lack of interest of his classmates.(I don't think it's affected his performance though.)

I wouldn't dismiss the school out of hand.

funnyossity Mon 07-Oct-13 21:32:56

They do set for maths though.

cricketballs Mon 07-Oct-13 22:38:06

my subject is normally mixed ability in schools that don't stream and I am used to having to differentiate for a wide spread of targets (think P8 - L6 in the same room) so its not unusual for non-core subjects.

Leeds2 Tue 08-Oct-13 08:15:48

I would find it odd not to set for maths.

Blu Tue 08-Oct-13 09:12:43

I guess it depends on how they handle it. There was a teacher on another threasd who says that she thinks mixed ability teaching is better and that teachers who knoiw how to do it can make it work v well.

wordfactory Tue 08-Oct-13 09:29:34

I'm afraid it would be a big no-no for me OP.

Mixed ability classes are always unfair on someone!

Stravy Tue 08-Oct-13 09:32:27

My school had mixed ability for MFL, which I am shit at so I basically sat there in bemusement while the middle and top kids learned stuff. Mixed ability for humanities was OK (for me) because I was average at them. I was in a class of 20 and can't say anything more than hello and thank you in another language

mindgone Tue 08-Oct-13 20:20:22

My DSs are at a school where they only set for maths up to GCSE. Well, one has just left after A levels. They have both just done fabulously in their GCSEs and A levels. Good luck.

ChippyMinton Tue 08-Oct-13 21:31:17

DC1 has just started at a school where they only set for maths. GCSE results are consistently high (above 80% A*-C including Maths & English), so I have no concerns. It's a non-selective school.

Picturesinthefirelight Tue 08-Oct-13 21:34:21

I'll let you know in 5 years. Dd has just started at a school with between 18-25 in a year group so it's mixed ability for all academic subjects.

LynetteScavo Tue 08-Oct-13 21:41:16

DS1 doesn't set in Y7, and then only sets for English and Maths.

Judging by their GCSE results it works very well.

It was one of the reasons we chose the school, as DS1 (who is academically able) needed the security of staying with the same 25 children for every lesson in Y7 while he adjusted to high school.

PatTheHammer Tue 08-Oct-13 21:46:39

The 2 most successful schools that are non-selective in my area have mixed ability in all subjects up to GCSE.
I must admit I was slightly sceptical having taught a core subject in sets for over 10 years. Last year I did a days observation in each as part of a teaching and learning strategy. I was Seriously impressed.
Firstly I noticed that it allows all your classes to be a moderate size (no top-loading of 32 pupils in a top set to get small bottom sets). The behaviour was exemplary and the way in which the students supported each other was just brilliant. There was not one moment when I thought it was detrimental to any of the students learning (TAs were obviously deployed appropriately).

As a result I outlined a plan to my department where we would stop setting so rigidly and have instead broad ability 'streams'. This seemed a happy medium as we knew many parents would be against complete mixed ability, also we teach 3 different KS4 qualifications in my subject so it worked quite well for us. The head was on board so we started in September and I have to say it has made a real difference. In year 11 in particular we have no 'sink' group who all can't stand the sight of each other as they are with each other all day every day (what happened last year).
Yes, it is more work for differentiation but it becomes second nature. You don't really 'teach to the middle' at all. Bear in mind most options subjects will be in groups like this anyway.
Maths are not convinced, English do something similar to us already.

I think every parent thinks setting is a great idea, if your child is in the top set.

PatTheHammer Tue 08-Oct-13 21:50:04

I ought to add that we are a non-selective school in a selective area with over 85% A*-C pass rate. We have also a high number on the SEN register so we have a very broad ability range.

Mirage Tue 08-Oct-13 22:04:13

It'd put me right off.I was taught in mixed ability classes and it was awful.You'd have some students who could barely read,whilst some had finished reading the same book by the end of the first lesson.It was disruptive and did no one any favours.I'd never subject my DDs to the same thing.

HidingUnderMyDuvet Tue 08-Oct-13 22:06:05

I think that mixed ability teaching done well is definitely the way forward in our current system.

All schools I've heard about teaching like this have had excellent results. I teach maths at a school with sets, and I often see the negative effects of setting. You land up with a lot if behavioural issues in lower sets, impacting the learning of those who truly need the support. Students are "pigeon holed" and teachers can even lower their expectations of lower sets, thus limiting their progress.

If anybody is interested I can highly recommend a book called "the elephant in the classroom" by Jo Boaler. It focuses on Maths but talks a lot about mixed ability teaching. Not only are the students able to exceed expectations, they are also taught tolerance and acceptance.

If only I could convince my SLT to go mixed ability!

BanoffeeSplitz Tue 08-Oct-13 22:18:43

From a pupil's perspective: the large comprehensive I went to had mixed ability classes in every subject - including English & Maths - up until the O-Level years (I'm pre GCSE), except, for some reason, Modern Languages which were roughly setted based on some kind of language aptitude test.

In English & Maths we sat in pairs & I happened to sit next to a girl who was much lower ability. Sometimes we worked separately, sometimes together & I do remember being encouraged by the teacher to do a fair amount of explaining - but I don't remember ever feeling bored or held back as such.

OTOH I did then really enjoy being setted for English & Maths for O-level. The pace picked up pretty rapidly & the top sets took both exams early & then spent the last year focusing on English Literature & Additional Maths, so I don't think the previous years of mixed ability teaching had done us any harm.

As well as pre-dating GCSE, we also pre-dated the instigation of the National Curriculum (I only remember this as we once spent a whole English lesson debating it grin), and I wonder if this gave teachers more leeway to pitch classes to suit all abilities? & I have no idea why we were setted for languages, maybe it was just up to individual departments?

PatTheHammer Tue 08-Oct-13 22:27:11

Mirage, your post for instance highlights mixed ability teaching done badly. If the objective of a lesson was to 'read a book' then obviously the Lowe ability pupils should have had extra scaffolding and support. At the top end there should have been extension. It's not rocket science. thousands of primary teachers, teachers of non-core subjects and many others do plan successful lessons for all abilities every day.

I think when I was at school I had a poor experience of mixed ability English classes which did somewhat colour my view of what it is like now. The reality was that I had a succession of poor teachers. I then had a truly great one for GCSE, still mixed. I went on to study A level English because of her.

PatTheHammer Tue 08-Oct-13 22:28:40

Although you would never have thought I had A level English based on the punctuation of my postssmile

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