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.

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