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mixed ability for English - just why?

(167 Posts)
BrendaBlackhead Wed 08-Oct-14 09:30:09

Dd has just started year 7. English is mixed ability.

She was set for English at primary school and also a small group had extra lessons with the Head.

She now says English is really disappointing and it's her worst lesson by far. The teacher concentrates on the least able pupils and asks the class to do things such as describing the person next to them, or what's in their pencil case. No hint of grammar or studying any books or plays.

I have had this with ds and came up against a brick wall when I spoke to the school. The school's line is that having the most able pupils in the class brings on the weaker ones, and the exam results are not affected. But it isn't all about the grade at the end of year 11!

Today it was English first thing and dd was moaning about how dreadful it was going to be.

How can it be that it's deemed "not on" to give pupils appropriate teaching?

mummytime Wed 08-Oct-14 09:58:41

To be honest if your DD can't do something with "describing the person next to you" or "whats in your pencil case" then she doesn't have much self-motivation. If she was G and T she should be able to do a lot with such an open task. Those tasks are open and a gifted pupil should be able to get a lot out of them, and its the kind of thing that call allow a student to shine.

My DD is also in year 7, in a mixed ability class (they don't set yet in English). She is learning a lot.
What book is your DD studying? Is she really doing no Grammar? My DD is doing regular Grammar homework - which is a bit dull - because of the new emphasis on SPAG.

However you sound very unhappy with the school, were there no others you could have chosen?

OddBoots Wed 08-Oct-14 10:12:09

It sounds like a good way of doing things, it is allowing the children a fresh start in terms of showing their abilities and aptitudes. It's more unfair when Y7 are are set based on primary school decisions without giving the later bloomers chance to show their progress.

Your dd with all the benefit of extra lessons with the head teacher should be in a good position to be able to show her current ability when given an open ended task.

ReallyTired Wed 08-Oct-14 10:19:12

My son's school has mixed ablity classes for English, but they do take out the really low attainers (Ie. less than level 3 and literally can't read) or EAL children who can't speak a word of English to work with the SENCO.

Gifted children can read instructions and can learn through appriopate tasks. My son's English teacher had children in ablity groups just like a mixed ablity primary class. Mixed ablity English class can and do work provided that there is differentiation.

Secondary school English is very different to what was taught in primary. There is more of emphasis on writing. Its unfair to set on SATs results as children get different levels of hothousing help with SATs.

ErrolTheDragon Wed 08-Oct-14 10:23:15

It sounds like not necessarily a problem with mixed ability per se, but about it being poorly implemented.

PolterGoose Wed 08-Oct-14 10:24:13

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ErrolTheDragon Wed 08-Oct-14 10:24:22

Do they set them (for at least maths and english) further up the school?

PolterGoose Wed 08-Oct-14 10:26:42

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

GooseyLoosey Wed 08-Oct-14 10:31:41

Ds in Yr 7 has a similar problem with maths. They don't set until after Christmas. In the meantime, it has gone from being his favourite subject to being the one he struggles to engage with the most. He has twice had to do colouring in (not for bar charts etc which would be fine). He complains he is learning nothing. I worry that by the time they set them, ds may have given up on maths altogether.

BrendaBlackhead Wed 08-Oct-14 10:37:56

mummytime- of course dd can describe the person next to her - but that's one task, and according to dd it occupied two lessons, going round the class hearing everyone. The homework if you wanted to do it was drawing the person from memory.

I hear the point about giving everyone a fresh start - but English is never set so it's not about pre-judging children's abilities.

I just wondered if there was any point again saying something to the school.

NancyJones Wed 08-Oct-14 10:40:03

It is a sad but true fact that in some cases, very able children who have been identified and stretched very far in Y6 end up doing very basic stuff in y7 and <shudder> following the y7 curriculum. It's not good but it happens too frequently. There is no real structure in place in a lot, not all but a lot, of secondaries to massively differentiate in y7 especially in the autumn term. I say this as a teacher who has taught in both primary and secondary. I have listened to a maths teacher tell a parent that their child was following the y7 curriculum as that was her year group and that it didn't matter she was working at level 6 in y6.
Not all teachers and not all schools but it's bad practice in some cases and a complete lack of resources in others.

GooseyLoosey Wed 08-Oct-14 10:43:06

Nancy - that sounds like ds. He could do simultaneous equations and algebra at 7 and now he is colouring in. That would be OK were it not for the fact that I can see ds totally disengaging from the subject all together as he gets nothing out of it.

OddBoots Wed 08-Oct-14 10:47:58

Colouring in during Maths? I'm not sure many 11yo would learn from that, even if they were a level 3. That's not a mixed ability thing, that's a poor teaching thing.

GooseyLoosey Wed 08-Oct-14 10:51:22

Odd - I tend to agree. They were drawing and colouring in factor trees on one occassion (making them look like trees). I have an e-mail written to the school about it, but have so far held fire. Maths teacher is also ds's form teacher so it could create ripples.

Parents' evening with form teacher next week and I am wondering how to bring it up there. Problem is that ds is supposed to be there and I do not want to end up criticising her teaching in front of him.

caringdad66 Wed 08-Oct-14 11:01:05

I hear your problem,and worry for my son also.
However,I have come to the opinion that no school is perfect,and that if you are happy with, say90%,of what goes on at your school,then you should probably accept it.
I could find fault everyday in my son's school,and if I complained about everything,I would lose all credibility with the teaching staff.
I try to raise one serious issue per term,and think a pragmatic approach will get the best outcomes.
Finally I have to keep reminding myself that the best way to judge a school is by how happy my son seems to be.And I would place his current happiness at 95%,so that will do for me!

ErrolTheDragon Wed 08-Oct-14 11:11:38

(polter - no, to the op, xposted with yours)

Spindarella Wed 08-Oct-14 11:12:45

This brings back memories of GCSE French when I was paired with someone who wasn't very able at all, purely for the reason that I could help him. It was awful, I hated going to the lessons - I got nothing at all back from my partner. I strongly suspect the teacher was inept (long story involving him entering me for the wrong combination of papers meaning the maximum grade I could get was a C when the indivudual mark breakdowns showed I had actually achieved the marks for an A but having only sat 7 out of 8 papers meant I was limited to a C).

There's nothing wrong with the concept of mixed ability but it must be set up so that all children are working at the levels approriate for them. Completely agree that it isn't all about final grades, it is about engaging students. Turning them off a subject at age 11 is just wrong.

BrendaBlackhead Wed 08-Oct-14 11:12:50

yes, caringdad, dd is happy with most things. Maths is set, and I think Science and French are set soon.

I am pleasantly surprised that actually her favourite subject at the moment is Tech - I'm not entirely sure what that is but she tells me very enthusiastically about how she is making a circuit board and using a soldering iron.

It's just English. I know people say to read in own time etc, but that's a given - why can't there be some decent work in the six or so hours one spends on it at school?

ErrolTheDragon Wed 08-Oct-14 11:36:27

If the school policy is set on stone on this, perhaps the best thing you can do is vent here but don't do anything to reinforce your DD's (understandable) negativity. Try to think how to encourage her to get as much out of the lessons as she can - either directly (along the lines mummytime suggested) or by encouraging her to really engage with helping her classmates. My DD isn't in particularly mixed ability classes but there's always something of a mix or someone having a mental block, and she says she finds helping her friends can improve her own understanding. (she's yr11 so maybe it requires a bit of maturity to realise this).

BrendaBlackhead Wed 08-Oct-14 12:00:00

Good point. I don't want to get into a situation of criticising the school to dd.

Ds's best year was when he was paired with the boy who had an LSA. The boy still did nothing but ds and the LSA enjoyed working together...

MillyMollyMama Wed 08-Oct-14 12:13:19

If they set for Maths, Science and French, why not English? Sounds an odd policy to me because English is key to so many other subjects so why not accelerate those who can do the work? I also object to young children being used to aid the teaching of other children when there is such a wide range of ability. Working in groups of similar ability is different.

Do you know, Brenda, how well students do in a English at GCSE and A level at this school? Do the school's statistics show excellent progress in this subject? You can find out this information and then judge if not setting is no barrier to excellent results. I would not just accept what the school says.

Bramshott Wed 08-Oct-14 12:18:07

I would wait until after half term to say something perhaps? The impression I get in our school (DD1 has just started Y7) is that the new Y7s have had so much new stuff to take on board to adjust to, they are keeping homework and class discussions fairly easy and 'fun' for now. DD1's "worst subject" seems to change from week to week at the moment, and I am just adopting a breezy "well, it's early days" attitude to any complaints!

BustiKate Wed 08-Oct-14 12:18:25

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

choccyp1g Wed 08-Oct-14 12:23:27

Sounds like they are concentrating on 'Speaking and listening' for the first half term. They did this at D's school; I couldn't understand why his grades jumped from mid 5s in y6 to 6a at Xmas in Y7. Soon dropped back when he had to actually write something!
Speaking coherently and listening actively are relevant English skills.

MustChooseASecondary Wed 08-Oct-14 12:36:23

Good point BustiKate.

I think you should say something to the school, but perhaps wait till parents' evening and think carefully about how you say it.

Ultimately, I think many state schools fall down on differentiating for high ability kids. It's what helps to keep grammar schools and privates in business.

I assume neither of those was an option for you, so you have to make the best of your situation as it is. I know some families with high ability kids at the local comp who are supplementing with tutoring not to "catch kids up," or "give them an edge," but just to keep them engaged and stimulated.

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