Mixed Ability Classes are they a Help or a Hindrance?

1 in 6 pupils within the UK are divided according to their academic abilities by the age of seven according to London University.

The University’s Institute of Education found that children are often locked into lower educational environments before they can reach their potential, with teachers having the lowest expectations of children in lower sets.

Does your child attend a school that offers mixed ability classes? Here we look at how many children are currently in mixed ability classes overall and whether or not such systems are a help or a hindrance for pupils.

Commonplace in the 1940s and 1950s, dividing pupils into ability groups all but disappeared by the 1990s as studies found it had no overall effect on educational attainment. However, it is slowly being reintroduced into UK schools.

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), a French think-tank, analysed 39 of the world’s most developed nations, their educational systems and analysed their successes and failures.
It discovered that countries that divide pupils into ability groups at an early age tend to have higher numbers of low level achievements and more school drop-outs.

The OECD has calculated that around 99% of UK and US schools divide pupils according to ability. The study also confirmed that the UK has a higher number of children with poorer reading skills than other countries. In fact, 18% of 15-year-olds do not have basic reading skills.

What’s more, almost a fifth of 25 to 34-year-olds failed to complete the final years of secondary education.

On the flip side, countries renowned for their high performing educational systems were found to have a lower proportion of mixed ability classes. In Finland, just 58% of schools teach in mixed ability groupings for example.

In 2009 a report from Teach First, a company which recruits top graduates as trainee teachers in tough inner-city schools, said that all children should be taught in mixed ability classes to boost student standards, self-esteem and confidence.

Teach First’s recommendations were condemned by Rod Mackinnon, Head of fee paying school, Bristol Grammar School, who told The Telegraph that the suggestions were ”profoundly wrong.” He added,“It is a levelling down of standards and leads to mediocrity of performance. Setting works as long as students can move between sets and you are providing a different educational experience in the top and more academically-challenged groups.”

Some teachers believe that class setting helps them deliver a more tailored approach, making it easier for every member of the class to be involved in the learning experience.

When creating a set ability group there are many factors that are taken into consideration such as test results, teacher’s observations and homework standards.

In the end, it comes down to whether or not parents feel as though their child is in the right class and receiving an appropriate education.

Where schools have the final judgement on academic ability, parents have the right to make sure their thoughts and feelings are taken into consideration too.

For any parent who questions if their child should be in a particular class, listen to the reasoning behind a child’s placement. It could be because it may improve their confidence by placing them at the top of the group. Alternatively, it’s also possible a lower ability group could be beneficial to the child in the long run.


Education pegged as key to Britain’s economic success

According to a new report commissioned by the OECD, the UK economy could enjoy trillions of pounds worth of growth if all school children obtained basic educational skills. Furthermore, equal levels of academic achievement from boys and girls could also help to boost Britain’s economy.

The report uncovered the fact that in England, Scotland and Wales, 20% of pupils lack basic skills in areas such as literacy and numeracy. Across the board boys and girls also achieve uneven results which creates gender gaps. Researchers maintain that if the UK government invests the time and effort into closing these gaps, the economy will reap the benefits over the next 15 years.

Eric Hanushek of Stanford’s Hoover Institution and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich are the pair of economists behind the report. Together the duo analysed the international Pisa test rankings of 15 year old students located in 76 different countries. After comparing the UK to other nations the report concluded that leveling minimum levels of academic achievement would boost Britain’s national output by over £2 trillion by 2095. While the costs of doing this would be significant, they would quickly be covered by economic growth.

“The economic output that is lost because of poor education policies and practices leaves many countries in what amounts to a permanent state of economic recession – and one that can be larger and deeper than the one that resulted from the financial crisis,” reads the report. It goes on to argue that if every 15-year achieved basic skills by 2030, “the benefits for economic growth and sustainable development would be enormous.”

When it came to global performance the UK was ranked 20th according to the percentage of the national workforce lacking basic academic and problem solving skills. Asian countries appeared to be the highest performers, with Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea awarded top rankings. In comparison, two thirds of Ghanaian, Honduran, South African, Moroccan and Indonesian students failed to demonstrate basic skills.

Across the globe, the long term economic gains of an educated workforce are tangible. If the UK wants to tap into the fiscal benefits the government needs to invest the time and financial resources into providing the population with access to high quality schooling. It also needs to take steps to close social and gender gaps within the workforce. Make sure you send your children to the right school which will equip them with essential life skills and ignite their passions.


Is your child enjoying school?

During every child’s life there comes a time when the joy of school wears off and it becomes a struggle to keep them enthused about the learning trajectory. However, how can you tell whether or not your child is enjoying their school experience?

By considering these key points you should find it easier to notice if your child’s time at school is just part of growing up or whether there may be something amiss.


It is vital to pay attention to who your child hangs around with in and out of school. Not only does this show that you take an interest in their lives, it also gives you the opportunity to pinpoint any changes within your child’s circle of friends.

Some children naturally have a wider group of friends than others but, it is worth noting that many children tend to hang around with the same people.
If you notice that your child is spending more time with new friends, this may be an indication of peer pressure.


Any major behavioural issues tend to be one of the biggest indications that something is on your child’s mind. Any significant shift in attitude or behaviour – anything that goes against what is normal for your child – can suggest that there may be something happening at school that you were unaware of.
Schools are one area in which parents have little input compared to the rest of their child’s life so this is where behaviours can change, especially if there are major issues such as bullying.


What are your child’s grades like? Have they stayed consistent or have they declined over a certain amount of time? If the answer is the latter then it is possible that your child is experiencing some kind of difficulty at school.

From struggling to get to grips with work to bullying, there are many factors which could contribute to a dip in your child’s grades – which makes it important to ensure that these issues are dealt with swiftly and effectively before they get worse.

If your child’s grades have changed significantly, be sure to speak to their teacher. Sometimes children can underachieve if they have any school issues affecting them or if they do not find the work challenging enough.

It is crucial that parents pay close attention to the school lives of their children, not only will comparing your child to the one that teachers know highlight if there are any issues – it will also help make you and your child closer, which can only be beneficial in the long run!

If you think the issue lies with the school rather than your child, then why not take a look at the top 100 schools and consider moving them – but only if they would be happy to do so and leave behind friends.


Higher education – is it the only route to success?

When the coalition government raised tuition fees in 2012-13, many thought that university figures would drop, leaving only the richest with access to higher education. However, this was not the case. According to UCAS in 2014 512,400 students gained university admission with 10% of candidates being from poorer families.

With university courses now costing up to £9000 per year, it begs the question; is university the only route to success?

Every day we are being told that there are fewer jobs available so more needs to be done to ensure that candidates stand out from the crowd of those applying for coveted roles.

Students are taking degrees in the hopes of professional development and increased chances of job success, but, there are some individuals that have become successful in their own rights – without a university education.

Apple’s founder, the late Steve Jobs dropped out of college yet was still worth over an estimated $30 billion.

Virgin Media’s founder, Richard Branson – one of the richest men in the world – suffers from dyslexia and left school early. However, that did not stop him following his dreams and now the business tycoon sits on a global empire which embraces planes, trains, mobile phones and even space flights.

Probably one of the most well-known individuals who did not attend university is The Apprentice’s Lord Alan Sugar. Working his way out of poverty in East London, Alan Sugar got to where he is today through hard work selling boiled beetroots and photographic films to friends. Having left school at 16 years old, the 68 year old sold aerials and electric goods out of his van before he went on to build his £770m telecommunications empire.

If that was not a testament to succeeding without higher education then the former Home Secretary, Health Secretary and Education Secretary, Labour’s Alan Johnson, left his Chelsea school at 15 years old with no qualifications and worked for many companies including Tesco. Yet he still managed to work his way into positions in both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s government.

Are you are wondering whether or not university is the right route for your child? There is only one answer: it depends on your child. But don’t forget that having a degree is not always a fast track to success –in fact with an alarming rate of graduates unemployed, other routes look more appealing to some youngsters.

If your child expresses that the university route is one which they would like to pursue then the best thing that any parent can do is be supportive. However, it is worth noting that some children feel that education may not be for them and may try and pursue other avenues.

This may be through hard work like Lord Sugar or through one of the three million apprenticeships being funded by the government – but, the best thing to remember is that your child is an individual and the best way to ensure they succeed in whatever they do is to support them and allow them to make their own informed decisions with your guidance.


Are exams putting too much stress on children too early?

From the second a child enters the education system it seems that they are tested non stop until they leave. From regular in-class exams to SAT’s, GCSE’s, A-levels and everything in between – the pressure is on for children to succeed now more than ever.

This is something that has been highlighted by The Guardian in May 2015 – according to the NSPCC there has been a 200% (34,000) increase in 2013/14 compared to 2012/13 in students seeking counselling for stress in the run up to exams.

In many cases students feel that the pressure is on for them to succeed despite them attending regular revision classes and doing other extra-curricular work.

The Department of Education says that all schools should have in place a support network for students during the exam period to help try and elevate any stress or pressures. However, it is not just schools that need to be able to offer support to those sitting exams.

Parents need to not only help their children during this stressful period, they need to be able to tell their child when to rest too – as sometimes children can feel that their parents can add to exam pressures. Rest is as important as studying, otherwise a child runs the risk of burning out or not achieving their full potential.

The Department of Education told The Guardian;

“Tests are a key part of ensuring young people master the key skills and knowledge that will prepare them for life in modern Britain. However, we have taken real steps to ensure pupils are not on a constant treadmill of revision and testing, including scrapping January modules, decoupling AS-levels and removing resits from league tables.”

There are many ways that you can help your child in the run up to their exams:

  • Help them develop a revision timetable for each subject
  • Ensure that your child takes regular breaks
  • Buy new stationary to make revision more interesting
  • Look over the work your child has done to see whether or not they are on the right lines.

Not only this but, parents can also help ease their child’s exam worries by simply making sure that they eat healthy. Revision periods are times when children tend to eat a lot of sugary junk food to fuel their sessions which sometimes can be counter-productive.

You can read more de-stressing tips in our Tips for De-stressing Students During Exam Time blog.


Tips for De-stressing Students During Exam Time

Stress and anxiety aren’t just issues faced by the adult population. In fact, the latest statistics released by the Office of National Statistics have revealed that one in ten children now suffer from mental health problems. Issues such as stress, anxiety and depression can pop up at any time, however they’re particular prevalent during exam periods when students feel pressure to perform. So what can you do to help your kids make it through exam time without being crushed by stress? Read on for some tried and tested stress-busting tips.

Help them draw up study schedules
When studying for a handful of different exams it can be difficult to know where to start. Helping your child draw up an exam study timetable will make the task seem much easier and more manageable.

Eat healthy
Fuelling kids with healthy, nutritious food plays an integral role in helping them de-stress and perform at their best. They may crave sweet, processed junk but the reality is that sugar highs are seriously counterproductive when it comes to concentration. Nourishing your little ones with fresh fruit and vegetables, protein rich meats and healthy carbs will fill them with energy and keep their minds active and alert. Breakfast is also a must to kick-start the day!

Be supportive
Simply letting your child know that you’re there for them is one of the easiest and most effective ways of helping them deal with pre-exam stress. Sometimes a cup of tea, a heart to heart and a good laugh is all it takes to help them unwind and get back on track. You can also encourage them to write down their concerns, then actively address each issue on by one.

Encourage them to take up a hobby
It’s important to commit to study however it shouldn’t be all consuming. Encouraging children to enjoy other activities during exam periods is an important part of helping them maintain a healthy school/life balance. Exercise and sports are particularly helpful as they let kids burn off steam and also release feel good endorphins.

Teach and practice relaxation techniques
If your child is really feeling the pressure it’s often a good idea to teach them relaxation techniques, or enrol them in a class. Practices include deep breathing, visualisation and other mental tasks that will help calm the mind.

By adopting these stress-busting tips you’ll be able to help your kids tackle exam time, head on.


How To Support Your Child Through Exam Season

The end of the academic year approaches, and for many children, the stress of final examinations are looming large. Success in examinations can mean the difference between getting onto a coveted college course, or achieving a place in a certain school – so the stakes are naturally high. But putting pressure on children to do well can have an adverse effect. How can you support your children and ensure they have a positive examination season?

Be involved

Try to be as involved as possible in your child’s preparation for their exams – without appearing pushy. Help them to work out a revision timetable, and make sure they have all the essential materials they’ll need to study. If you want to make revision a little more interesting for them, buy them some new stationery or a fun new workbook.

Don’t resort to bribery

Telling your child that you’ll take them on holiday or give them a certain amount of money if they do well in their exams can add a lot of extra stress to a child. Not only are they concerned about their results, now they’re also worried about missing out on a holiday if they fail. Instead of bribing children, make sure they know you’ll be proud of them no matter how they fare in the exams. By all means, encourage your child with small treats, but don’t base the level of their treat on their success in their tests.

Encourage a healthy lifestyle

Stock up the fridge with healthy snacks and brain-boosting food to help enhance your child’s concentration. Encourage them to go for a walk, even if it’s just to the shops or to a friend’s house, rather than having their nose in a book all day. Regular exercise, a healthy diet and plenty of sleep will help to ensure your child is in prime shape to face whatever their exams throw at them.

Remember: a little stress is normal

If your child seems to be a little stressed or worried about the examinations, you can take it as a sign that they’re eager to achieve. It shows that they understand the importance of the exams with regard to their future prospects, which is a great sign. A little bit of stress is normal when it comes to examinations. But if your child is showing signs of extreme stress (weight loss, inability to sleep, trouble concentrating), you may need to step in and make some changes. Remind them that you’ll be proud of them, whatever their grade, and assert that they can only do their best – nothing more.


Should You Send Siblings To The Same School?

For any youngster starting at a new school, the experience can be incredibly daunting – even more so when all the teachers are casting knowing glances in their direction because of their older sibling’s reputation!

Many siblings can’t even settle on what music to listen to on the school run, so naturally many parents worry about them co-existing in a school environment. Will they get on? Will the younger sibling feel they are being constantly compared to their older brother or sister? Will it have a positive or negative effect on my child’s wellbeing?

There are a multitude of pros and cons when it comes to sending your children to the same schools – here we go through them all and help make the decision a little easier for worried parents.

Let’s starts with the cons:

  • When a younger sibling starts at the same school as their brother or sister, they can easily become ‘overshadowed’ by their predecessor’s reputation. For instance – some teachers can assume that, just because the older sibling is great at music and art, the younger sibling will be the same. This can put pressure on the younger sibling to live up to expectations set by their elder.
  • With an older sibling to run to everything things get hard, younger children can be reluctant to form their own independence. Whether it’s finding their way to a certain classroom or joining after-school clubs, it’s important that younger siblings have the freedom and space to figure things out on their own.
  • Many parents make the choice to send their older children to a certain school because of its compatibility with their strengths. They may have chosen a local academy that specialises in science, because their eldest has shown a particular talent for all things biology. But it’s important to remember that the younger children might not have this particular interest – their strengths might lie in arts or the humanities. It’s important to consider what’s best for each individual child rather than conforming to the path set by older siblings every time.

Now let’s take a look at the pros:

  • Sending your children to the same school means only one school run! It’s practical and simple – you drop them off together and pick them up together at the same place every day. For busy parents, this is a crucial consideration.
  • With both children in the same establishment without their parents, a stronger sibling bond can be formed. Older children can become very protective of their younger siblings, while the ones who have just started at the school will naturally look to their older brother or sister for guidance. As long as their independent development isn’t affected, this can be a real boost for both siblings, and could even help improve their relationship at home.
  • Don’t discount the possibility of… well, discounts! If you’re sending your children to a private school, there’s a small likelihood that the school might consider doing a deal on the fees that you pay, to thank you for your loyalty.

Our conclusion is that this is a very individual decision that can only be made by the parent of the two children in question. There are lots of things to consider – the needs of each child, the practicality of two different schools and the cost… but we hope by putting together this blog, we have made the process a little simpler.


Choosing an SEN School for Your Child

If your child has special educational needs (SEN), as a parent, your main concern will be choosing a school that caters to these specific needs. As well as finding a school that ticks all the regular boxes, such as high academic standards and pastoral care, parents will need to find a school where they feel their child will receive the right levels of support and the appropriate facilities for a child with SEN or learning disabilities.

So how can you go about choosing a SEN school for your child? We’ve put together a number of tips to help make the process easier.

Understand your options

First of all, it’s important to understand that there are a range of options for children with SEN, from attending mainstream schools with special units to dual placements where time is split between a mainstream school and a specialist unit. Children can attend residential schools which can help with elements like regular routine, or they can be schooled virtually, utilising new technology to help children who do not flourish in a regular school environment. There are a multitude of options for parents to choose from – so do not be disillusioned if your first choice does not come off.

Look at school reports and reviews

At School Reviewer, we provide comprehensive data for thousands of institutions all over the country – from nurseries all the way up to higher education. Our database is invaluable for parents who are looking at local schools and trying to decide which one would be the best choice for their child. Using our tool, parents can set a geographical boundary, they can choose whether they want a day school or a boarding school, and they can measure the differences between state and independent schools in order to arm themselves with the data they need to make an informed choice about their child’s education.

Speak to other parents

Reach out to parents in a similar situation – there are a multitude of forums online, or you could simply head to the school gates one day and strike up a conversation with other parents. Parents who have been through the process of choosing a school will have their own anecdotes and advice to offer, which is ideal for parents who are going through the process for the first time.

Arrange a visit

Once you’ve whittled down the options to a shortlist, try to arrange visits to the school for yourself and your child. Take a good look around, and use the opportunity to ask as many questions as you can. You’ll be able to find out more about things like transport to and from the school, how other children with SEN are supported, and how many extra-curricular activities are provided to stimulate pupils. Gauge your child’s reaction – do they appear comfortable in this environment? How do teachers and pupils react to them? You’ll also be able to meet the SENCO (SEN Co-Ordinator) of the school, and put more specific questions to them about your child’s individual needs.

Choosing a school for your children is an important decision for all parents – but especially so for parents of children with SEN, who have extra considerations to make before they decide. By arming yourself with as much information as possible, and by getting pro-active about visiting the school and talking to other parents about their experiences, all parents will be able to feel more confident about their choice.