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Being in lower sets

(23 Posts)
TeenTimesTwo Sat 06-Jul-19 15:18:36

This has been sparked by a thread in staffroom where someone was commenting how they have been allocated mainly lower sets for next year. The responses implied to me that this was unfair and that lower sets were 'worse' to teach than higher ones.

Now obviously they are different to teach, but the impression I got was that behaviour was the main consideration.

Why should poor behaviour be tolerated/accepted in lower sets? Why should the hard working but less academic pupils have their learning disrupted?
What can be done to resolve things so that lower sets are met just as joyfully by teachers and pupils from a teaching/behaviour point of view?

OP’s posts: |
MsAwesomeDragon Sat 06-Jul-19 15:32:31

Well I've got 2 "bottom" sets next year and I'm delighted! The lowest sets in my school are fabulous, they work hard even though they find things difficult and there are fewer of them (deliberately kept smaller so they can have support) so I get to know them really, really well and can tailor my lessons to their strengths and weaknesses. I personally find the middle sets the most difficult to manage, as there's a lot of them (30ish) and they all struggle to understand what I'm teaching (because the scheme of work is designed to "challenge") and a lot of our "characters" (read challenging behaviour) seem to be concentrated somewhere in the middle.

But you do find in a lot of places that the lower groups do have behaviour issues. Not because bad behaviour is tolerated in lower sets but because bad behaviour stops the pupil involved learning, therefore they get worse test results, therefore they get moved down a set. So you find that most of the hard-working kids who start of in the lower sets make good progress and move up, and the badly behaved kids from middle sets make slower progress and move down, therefore concentrating the badly behaved kids in the lower sets.

It's nice to have a balance in your timetable, with some classes in each of the top, middle, bottom categories. I remember vividly the year I had no class above set 4 (out of 5) as there was just no let up, as the lower sets, even when they are well behaved, require more teacher input and require me to be more organised with my planning, purely due to the nature of struggling to understand or having a shorter concentration span so we have to switch activities more often.

TeenTimesTwo Sat 06-Jul-19 17:08:52

Thank you, it's nice to know that lower sets are thought well of somewhere smile.

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GivenchyDahhling Sat 06-Jul-19 17:15:14

I love having lower ability sets in Year 7 and 8, although they struggle I find you can really make an impact with them. 9, 10 and 11 is a challenge but I wouldn’t say I enjoy them less than higher ability - it just requires a different approach to teaching. My philosophy is the strongest teachers should be allocated to the lower ability KS4 sets (although plenty of HoDs take the ‘prime’ top sets for themselves as they then get the credit for the inevitably strong results)

noblegiraffe Sat 06-Jul-19 17:26:06

Why should poor behaviour be tolerated/accepted in lower sets?

It isn’t necessarily tolerated or accepted, it’s just more likely to be there, and need to be dealt with. This can be extremely tiring and time-consuming. Kids who are poorly behaved tend to accumulate in lower sets because their behaviour affects their attainment.

MsAwesomeDragon Sat 06-Jul-19 17:30:01

I agree givenchy. We do place the strongest teachers in the ks4 lower ability sets in my department. Other departments don't seem to do the same, in fact our head refuses to teach anything lower than top set (one reason why he's not got the same respect from staff as the old head who used to insist on bottom set year 7 every year so he knew every single one of our weakest pupils personally).

We would never give ks4 low sets to new teachers or a teacher new to the school, as they need the strongest teaching, and new teachers are an unknown quantity.

herculepoirot2 Sat 06-Jul-19 18:52:42

Some schools have moved to mixed ability for this reason. Guess what? Parents still complaining.

herculepoirot2 Sat 06-Jul-19 18:56:04

But the answer - as always - is that a range of things must be done. If sets are in place, they should be flexible; better performance means a move up. Lower sets need to be smaller, and taught by, if not the best teachers - not fair on them - randomly allocated teachers or SLT. Students in lower sets still need their work to be differentiated. There should be time built in for the lowest sets to create a yearly folder of their best work, so new teachers can see what they are capable of and do not pitch too high or low. There should be robust sanctions for low level disruption - no excuses. Subject specialists only, no unqualified teachers or TAs or PE teachers moonlighting at Maths.

TeenTimesTwo Sat 06-Jul-19 18:57:36

I just don't want to feel that my DD's teachers have a sinking feeling every time her set walks through the door. Hopefully not.

Neither do I want my DD's learning disrupted by poor behaviour.

OP’s posts: |
shellysheridan Sat 06-Jul-19 19:08:48

What noble said.

Absolutely right

GivenchyDahhling Sat 06-Jul-19 19:14:11

@TeenTimesTwo I understand completely. It's not regular practice in my school, but I tutor pupils from more challenging schools behaviour-wise and have several who are impeccably behaved and therefore placed in top sets for that reason (i.e. bottom sets are populated solely with the naughty ones) - on the one hand I understand, it's totally unfair that well-behaved and hard-working students have their learning disrupted by bad behaviour. But the result is these students aren't getting the right differentiation and are sinking - not to mention being taught the wrong tier most of the time.

Sadly, behaviour is a huge huge issue, and not all teacher possess strong enough behaviour management skills to overcome this.

noblegiraffe Sat 06-Jul-19 19:38:53

not all teacher possess strong enough behaviour management skills to overcome this.

If lower sets are routinely misbehaving then this is not a teacher issue, but a school issue. Schools need to step up and take more responsibility for behaviour management, because individual teachers battling on without systems in place to support them isn’t getting anyone anywhere.

Teen did you see the thread about the behaviour survey I posted?

If your DD is in a group that disrupts her learning then get onto the school about it and ask the HOD what they are doing to deal with it. And keep following up. Don’t blame the class teacher, blame the school systems.

TeenTimesTwo Sat 06-Jul-19 19:51:38

I'm pretty happy with DD's school, as I said the thread was mainly triggered by one in The Staffroom where being given too many lower sets seemed to be viewed negatively compared with higher sets. So it was the fact that teachers seemed to be just accepting of worse behaviour that got me thinking. I do agree it is school systems more often than anything else.

DD occasionally complains re behaviour, but it isn't frequent enough to be a bother at the moment. But I do worry as she struggles to concentrate with background noise. (And as you probably realise I tend to worry / over-think education stuff.)

OP’s posts: |
herculepoirot2 Sat 06-Jul-19 20:29:49

So it was the fact that teachers seemed to be just accepting of worse behaviour that got me thinking.

The fact that there is worse behaviour doesn’t make the teacher more accepting of it.

IgnoranceIsStrength Sat 06-Jul-19 20:35:24

Honestly I have seen some lovely female students completely having their education overshadowed by the majority of cheeky/back talking low level behaviour from disruptive boys in the lower sets. If your dd is finding the general disruption an issue I would bring it up at parents evening. There are strategies that can be used or extra work she can be given if behaviour is consuming teaching time

TeenTimesTwo Sat 06-Jul-19 20:41:38

I like the ideas on your second response upthread. Does that kind of thing ever happen?

It would be just so nice to think that some teachers go 'Oh yay, I've set 4/5 this year grin'. Rather than 'Oh no, I've got set 4/5 this year sad'

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TeenTimesTwo Sat 06-Jul-19 20:44:54

Ignorance On the whole not an issue, bit I'm just feeling a bit low at the moment (got end of year test results back). I'll see how banding/setting works out next year.

OP’s posts: |
IgnoranceIsStrength Sat 06-Jul-19 20:45:51

Our school was split into 3 groups with 4 sub sets. The names are incredibly outing. So top 4 sets were p1 p2 p3 p4. Middle sets s1 s2 s3 and then the low set was D1. Everyone loved D1 as they had TA's and were generally lovely kids. S3 though....always a nightmare group. Students with no specific needs (or EHCPs anyway but all poorly behaved) All the middle groups were variable though and very much varied from year to year.

herculepoirot2 Sat 06-Jul-19 20:46:08

Schools differ in their policies. I have worked under SLT who insist on rigid setting by prior attainment, but then it’s an argument about which attainment data you use. I have worked under SLT who insist on mixed ability, but then it’s disastrous because the school profile is so wide-ranging, it becomes impossible to challenge and support. I have worked with mixed ability where it worked. I have worked with small bottom sets where it sort of worked and small bottom sets that were a dumping ground for the worst behaved kids in the school.

I haven’t - yet - worked with sensible, forward-thinking SLT who had a fair vision for lower ability students in mind and the backbone to manage behaviour. I live in hope.

RedSkyLastNight Sat 06-Jul-19 22:00:39

DS's set 3 maths teacher in Y9 was awful. So awful that after a raft of complaints (she basically was failing to teach the set anything), she got moved to set 6. I thought this was the school being very cynical, but set 6 absolutely loved her, thought she was the best teacher ever and made loads of progress.

I guess some teachers are just better suited to different sets.

herculepoirot2 Sun 07-Jul-19 06:41:00

I guess some teachers are just better suited to different sets.

Well, maybe. Most teachers can adapt their approach to teaching different groups of learners, and if they can’t, need to learn to do so.

Sometimes it’s nothing to do with the member of staff.

noblegiraffe Sun 07-Jul-19 10:11:50

Sometimes a class can turn against a perfectly good teacher for entirely spurious reasons and wreck their lessons and there’s very little a teacher can do about it.

That teacher will then appear to be good again when moved to a different class. They were good all along, it was the class that was the problem.

herculepoirot2 Sun 07-Jul-19 11:17:19

Sometimes a class can turn against a perfectly good teacher for entirely spurious reasons and wreck their lessons and there’s very little a teacher can do about it.

I had this problem with my form groups. As core subject teachers we were given KS4 form groups, and mine couldn’t cope with the fact that I actually enforced uniform rules and the timetable of activities, rather than - as they insisted their old teachers did - allowed them to sit their on their phones doing sod all. I believed them, but wasn’t prepared to do the same and talk over them, or put up with constant rudeness. But obviously I was the problem. hmm

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