Schools teaching in sets are damaging low-ability pupils’ chances of success

Academics have said that schools are harming the chance of success for lower-ability pupils by teaching in ability sets.

As reported by Tes, a new paper from the British Educational Research Association states that schools are continuing to teach pupils in groups based on their ability despite research indicating that this is not in the best interest of lower-ability pupils.

The research, which was carried out by academics including Becky Francis, director of the UCL Institute of Education and Louise Archer, professor of sociology of education at King’s College London, found 120 secondary schools which taught lessons in ability sets.

However, they found it difficult to find 20 schools which taught mixed-ability classes. They found 17 schools.

Survey results also show that most schools are less inclined to adopt mixed-ability teaching.

Some staff members said it would be viewed as “unconventional” by parents, who would avoid the school as a result.

Becky Taylor, of the UCL Institute of Education, the lead author of the paper, said: “Mixed-attainment grouping is widely seen as difficult and unconventional, and therefore risky. It is student attainment outcomes which suffer as a result of this fear.”

In light of this, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) found that low-attaining pupils who were put into ability sets tended to fall behind by one or two months a year on average.

The EEF added that setting or steaming arrangements “undermine low attainers’ confidence, and discourage the belief that attainment can be improved through effort”.

However, the EEF found that ability sets had a positive effect on high-attaining pupils as they tended to make between one and two months additional progress when in the ability classes.

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