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mixed ability classes at secondary school can someone explain please?

(42 Posts)
lovebeingamum01 Mon 04-Jan-16 19:57:30

Hi there, I'm new to mums net and wondered if someone with any knowledge or experience of mixed ability classes at secondary school can help me please?

My daughter has just started in year 7. She has shown an aptitude for languages and as well as doing Spanish she has been offered French too. In her recent tests she scored 90%.

She has not had any tests in Year 7 yet for English or Religious studies. However she did get a 5a in her English SATS.

I have been advised today that they have made a top class (set 1), then three mixed ability sets (set 2,3,4) and then a lower set (set 5). My daughter has been placed into set 3 for Languages, English and Religion.

When Ive challenged the school and asked them to explain how a child who in their own words has a natural aptitude for languages and is scoring 90% in tests is in set 3. Ive also asked how when she scored a 5a in SATS (well above national average) she is in set 3 for English?

The response....we link English, Languages and Religious Studies together and depending where you sit within one depends on your placement for the other two also? Is it just me that thinks that this is moronic? They are completely different subjects. My daughter may not be as strong in Religious studies, I wouldn't know as there have never been any tests to determine her skill level. A child may be better at languages than English for example, should this mean that they are held back in one subject at the expense of another?

Has anyone else experienced anything similar? I would be so grateful for advice as Im intending to go into school soon to sort this out.

PS) My 12year old's own words following her first day in the new mixed ability Spanish class, "why do I have to go over the same information that I already know and find easy, just because the person sitting next to me doesn't understand it"?.

Sorry for the rant guys

DameBarbara Mon 04-Jan-16 20:21:43

First off: I can understand your frustration -however, if you would like a positive outcome I would suggest that you moderate your tone and desist from using the term 'moronic'. Furthermore, if you are in the state system you may not be able to just pop into school and 'sort this out'.

Regarding your question 'has anyone else experienced anything similar?' The answer is yes. In streamed, setted and mixed ability state secondaries often several subjects are linked for time tabling reasons.

My DD attends a state comp which sets and streams. The sciences and maths are linked as are the humanities (English, RS, History and Geography).
The setting and streaming is determined by results of CAT tests, classroom assignments, the school is aware that it's feeder schools get great SATS results and tends to discount them, favouring their own assessments.

GuybrushThreepwoodMightyPirate Mon 04-Jan-16 20:28:18

I imagine that the sets are determined based on their ability in English, as that is the core subject and therefore the most important to be in the right set for. It is unclear from your post whether sets 2/3/4 are all equal, with a mix of children in each, or whether they are 2 (highest), 3 (middle), 4 (lowest). If they are all equal then it doesn't sound like a problem that your DD is in set 3.

I dont believe for a moment that they have not done any assessed work in English so far. There may not have been a bells and whistles 'test' but they will have done at least one or two pieces of work which will have been levelled. If not, you have significant cause for concern.

JellyTotCat Mon 04-Jan-16 20:32:06

Is it possible the top set got higher grades in English Sats than your dd? The school will know the mark the children got as well as the sub level, so top set could be level 6s and 5as but 5as with a higher score than your dd? Did she get 5a for SPAG, Reading and writing?

lovebeingamum01 Mon 04-Jan-16 20:37:37

Thank you for your feedback, as I understand it, the discussion page is for parents to share experiences, seek advice from each other, and generally share frustrations. It goes without saying that the same terminology would not be used within an important meeting.

I understand what you mean regarding the setting/streaming of certain subjects but my concern with this is that children who are stronger in one subject are being held back due to difficulties within another subject.

My daughter has not had any assessments yet for English therefore the only assessment information they have is her SATS result.

I know that due to austerity measures there have been a number of staff cuts at her school which logically places a strain on the remaining teaching staff to manage the time tabling, but surely it is completely wrong for schools to delay learning opportunities for some children for logistical reasons alone.

doitanyways Mon 04-Jan-16 20:38:21

She isn't really in set 3 though is she?

myotherusernameisbetter Mon 04-Jan-16 20:39:29

My children go to school in Scotland - we have no tests, no streaming, no sets etc. remarkably the majority of pupils seem to do well academically and go on to Uni/college. Does it really matter? I don't think any child without more or less individual tailored tutoring by well qualified and skilled teachers ever reaches their potential but as the majority are in the same boat and are competing for uni places/jobs etc in the same market, then that's just the way it is.

If you want that type of individual education for your child then I think you will have to pay for it and not expect it in a school of 100-1000s of other pupils.

Saxons Mon 04-Jan-16 20:40:38

It takes a while for children to show their ability and for schools to figure out how able a child is. Secondary schools rarely rely on primary school sats as they vary a lot from school to school anyway. A 5a in one school can be a 5b in another.

However the top set will most likely be children that scored level 6 in year 6 sats. So essentially all the extremely high flyers will be together (crammed in), the low ability set will be taught in a very small group and the middle set will be mixed. English really suits being taught in mixed ability. It's not like maths.

lovebeingamum01 Mon 04-Jan-16 20:57:26

Guybrushthreepwoodmightypirate (great name!)
they are all mixed ability classes, so Im not sure how that will affect her studies?

Ive checked her Year 6 SATS result report as thats all Ive got to go off at the moment, she got 5b for reading, and 5a for writing and grammar/punctuation?

Its all new to me so apologies if Im asking obvious questions but my son never had mixed abilities and he went to the same school (left four years ago). Im not sure how a mixed ability class that may contain some children who find the subject difficult can also help children who find the subject easier to study?

Any advice gratefully received.
PS) This school had an outstanding Ousted report 2 years ago and last year went to 'requires improvement' status which is concerning.

senua Mon 04-Jan-16 20:57:48

The system is the system, whether you like it or not. It would be more productive to ask the teachers "what can DD do to get moved up a set?" DD may be 90% or whatever but if she's not ticking the right boxes in the right assessments then the teacher has no evidence to support a move. Work with them.

lovebeingamum01 Mon 04-Jan-16 20:58:54

Thank you for explaining this, its really helpful.

triceratops1066 Mon 04-Jan-16 21:05:51

It can actually be helpful to have mixed ability as the stronger pupils have to think through ideas to help the weaker pupils.

There have definitely been some surprises in our school's setting for English- but it might partly be because in primary school some children were overlooked

GuybrushThreepwoodMightyPirate Mon 04-Jan-16 21:21:06

So it sounds like sets 2/3/4 are all equal to each other. So they are mixed ability but without the very top or very bottom. This kind of class should be absolutely fine. There's no need for a class to have identical ability; at a rough guess they'll probably all be working within a level 5 and given the range of topics and skills covered in secondary English they will all find some things easier/harder and the mix will most likely work well.

Your DD's 5b may well have kept her out of the top set. In a 5 form entry school I'd expect top set to be made of L6 and a few very high L5a really (depends on cohort of course).

pieceofpurplesky Mon 04-Jan-16 21:32:11

Set 1 will be level 6 pupils - gifted and talented.
Set 2,3 and 4 are all equal. Levels 4 and 5.
Set 5 will be those who struggle.

And she will have done an assessment. With ought a doubt.

lovebeingamum01 Mon 04-Jan-16 21:32:38

Many thanks Guybrush, that makes me feel a bit better and less worried about her English. Do you think mixed abilities for languages then would also be ok? They've only started studying Languages in Y7 so no previous assessment scores to work from but her aptitude test scored the 90%, I can't help feeling that she's going to be held back in languages as she's been placed in set 3 for the other linked subjects.

gandalf456 Mon 04-Jan-16 21:35:15

Well, I agree with her. They might as well not set them at all if this is the way they do it. It will be demoralising for her and she'll probably get less out of it than a M/A class. I'd make your feelings known.

lovebeingamum01 Mon 04-Jan-16 21:38:53

Thank you Gandalf456

Roseformeplease Mon 04-Jan-16 21:46:21

I teach English and, because of the size of the school, classes are all mixed ability for the first 3 years. As a teacher, you learn to cope with different abilities - setting different books, tasks and targets. Two pupils could both be writing about something (Should there be a curfew on under 12s, for example). One might write 1200 words with a target to link paragraphs, improve use of semi colons and use footnotes. Another might be at the opposite end of the scale and be given an essay frame where they filled in some of the blanks.

As far as English is concerned, read. Then read some more. And then read another book.

Language aptitude is different but pupils at my school are also in mixed ability in French and the results at all levels are superb. My children have come through this system very well and are both on target for excellent universities (one wants to read languages, if that helps).

So, don't worry but do ask if the work is being differentiated and how she can be stretched to ensure she is challenged and remains motivated.

lovebeingamum01 Mon 04-Jan-16 22:18:40

thank you Roseformeplease that is very helpful. I agree with you about the importance of reading, reading and more reading. May I ask in your experience is it normal for Y7 kids to only get one literacy lesson per fortnight?

Roseformeplease Mon 04-Jan-16 23:08:59

I am not sure what you mean about a separate Literacy lesson. We have English (6x 35 or 40 minutes a week) and then Literacy is part of every lesson - after all, they are always reading, writing and talking. But, I am in Scotland so can't really advise. A separate lesson sounds odd to me - what sort of things do they do?

IguanaTail Mon 04-Jan-16 23:15:15

Unless you have all the test scores of the whole cohort in front of you, you can't make a judgment about whether or not she is in the correct set. She might be very able, but if there are 30 more able than her then she will be in the middle set.

They effectively have 3 ability groupings, and your daughter is in the middle.

Subjects are "blocked" together on the timetable. In some schools, students are in the same class all day, no matter what the subject.

cece Mon 04-Jan-16 23:19:48

In my experience if your DD is in the wrong set then it will be spotted and she will be moved. Of course they can be moved up or down!

I agree you need to approach the school and ask what she needs to do to be moved up. Have you actually asked the school directly about their setting and your DD's class?

TBH whilst level 5 is a good result it does sound like the top set will be level 6 and she is in the correct set.

myotherusernameisbetter Mon 04-Jan-16 23:22:10

Rosefor My DS2 (3rd year) seems to have one (double) period a week with a different teacher where they read whatever book they've brought in (and take it in turns to bring in biscuits!) he says they have always had a separate reading class since he's been in High School. DS1 tells me nothing so I have no idea if that is normal or not.

ravenAK Mon 04-Jan-16 23:25:14

Realistically - it'll be a) timetabling - they probably need to block Eng/RE/MFL together - year 7 do tend to be timetabled last, after setted GCSE classes have been tweaked & b) year 6 SATs aren't much of an indicator of future attainment, because they are heavily coached by some schools & not others, & also the marking is quite unreliable.

So the school has probably put the obvious high flyers (level 6/top level 5 kids - your dd's 5b for reading wouldn't be quite top set for lots of schools) in a top set, & the rest will be set for year 8 according to attainment over year 7.

It's not ideal, I agree.

Although for what it's worth - I've taught in two schools where top set year 7 were routinely given to less experienced staff or non subject specialists, on the basis that they would be an easy group to manage & wouldn't come to much harm from a year with someone who was muddling along a bit...I certainly wouldn't automatically assume a dc would get the 'best' teaching in set 1.

clary Mon 04-Jan-16 23:26:19

I teach MFL and we have always taught yr 7 in mixed ability classes. This year we have set, but like at your DD's school, the sets are blocked across subjects, so for sure there are some anomalies (eg someone v good at French but maybe weaker in English/humanities so in a lower set).

Teachers are skilled at setting work to challenge different abilities. In fact your DD is in a set - the most able and then the weakest are in different sets.

If she is finding the work too easy, she should raise it with the teacher, ask for an extension, or think of her own way to extend the task.

I am sure by the way she must have had some tests or assessments in English. Maybe not reported as formal tests?

What do you mean by one literacy lesson? Surely she has several English lessons a week?

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