Poll for today: Should schools be forced to separate pupils into ability groups?

According to The Guardian, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan wants to make it compulsory for schools to place their pupils into ‘sets’ dictated by their academic ability.

The move may be controversial as it may be argued that it helps those with higher ability and leaves the rest behind.

However, as someone who was educated in a school that ran a ‘setting’ system, Yr Obdt Srvt can see advantages as well. It would minimise disruption caused by pupils of lesser ability who may be confused by more difficult lessons – and disruption by pupils of greater ability who may be bored by simpler lessons. It would also be helpful to separate pupils with high academic ability from this with vocational ability, making it possible to teach each pupil according to their strengths.

Other arguments – for both sides – are also available. But what do you think? Here’s the poll:

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11 thoughts on “Poll for today: Should schools be forced to separate pupils into ability groups?

  1. Steve Kind

    The key to this poll question is the word “forced” – and I am shocked that so many VP readers are voting “yes”. It can *sometimes* be helpful to separate pupils into ability groups – and sometimes it can be helpful for tasks to be worked on in mixed ability groups – and I mean helpful to BOTH the higher ability and lower ability pupils. It is the job of teachers to make these decisions – not politically motivated ministers.

    My son went to the local multi-cultural and mixed ability primary school and on to a high school with a very similar demographic. Today he has a good degree in physics and a teaching qualification. He now lives in the USA and works for a firm of attorneys who specialise in intellectual property law (patents etc.) and they have just sent him to Law School to qualify as an attorney.

    The point of this is not for me to brag about my boy (though any opportunity is welcome 😉 ) but to point out that he has achieved all this not *despite* but *because of* (in part at least) his school experience. He often told us that he had helped other pupils in class who were having difficulty, and that this had helped *him* to understand and retain concepts. Even more to the point, he is still in touch with some of those less academic friends who say how much he helped them at school.

    Give schools the resources they need, and teachers will judge the need for, and be able to deliver, both mixed ability teaching to help all pupils and special help where it is needed for both the academically gifted AND the less able.

  2. leonc1963

    I voted NO as not every pupil can reach the same attainment and although our brains look the same they are not as it is made by the genes of our parents so some will do well some will not and those that do nt so well can learn from their friends in class who do better besides learning from there teacher and lets not forget it can be easier learning from and taking in input from a child of the same age.

    Finally separating into sets is the beginning of them and us

  3. leonc1963

    Just to add what about those children with a learning disability or disabled so cannot learn as fast should they be pushed to the back? of course not they deserve equal chance.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      But are they going to get an equal chance in a class with other pupils who are spectacularly good? Would they not be better-off in a class of their own where they can learn at their own pace?
      What about pupils with dyslexia? Schools in my area are pulling back their support for youngsters with this condition. Are they really expected to do as well as other pupils in a mixed ability class with no attempt made to accommodate them?
      For the record: I’m just posing these questions. I don’t have any particular choice of correct answer. Is there one?

      1. treborc

        What about schools that cannot place children with disabilities into classes, I use to help out at a school which was old and had four floors all upstairs no lifts, so the disabled children were literally dumped into the lowest floor and left.

        Most schools have exams and they will then use those exams to separate those that are the brightest to those that are not so bright so you do not get this issue.

        I’m Dyslexic in both word and numbers, it took the army to determine the reason, when the RSM shouted right turn I messed up, he sent me to the education officer who gave me a test which proved I was in fact dyslectic, yet in school due to my love of history, and PT, football, and rugby, and geography, these alone pushed me up into the upper forms.

        The issue at my school if your disabled no matter how bright you are your all dumped into the same class room, because with no lifts you cannot go upstairs and that’s why I feel sorry for kids who are left again in a school which cannot understand why mainstream education means children being treated the same,

        I watched as the disabled children all fit into two class rooms down stairs while other kids without disabilities can go to class rooms up stairs , we noticed if your classed as disabled and could go up stairs you still ended up down stairs .

        The school is to be closed next year with a new school being built still does not help all those that had to sit down stairs though for all those year.

  4. Les

    Personally I don’t like segregation based on a snapshot of a child’s ability. I also went to a school where children were filtered based on tests made once at one moment in time. For my sins I was placed in the top set for nearly all subjects and never once saw any fellow pupil move from one of the lower sets upward to attend any of my classes; sets were not porous and only very seldom did any child move to a higher set from a lower set; money was lavished on the bright and denied the more ordinary. The result was reminiscent of the Indian caste system with very little intermingling of pupils, academic children only having friends amongst and associations with their peers, hardly ever playing with or forming bonds with other pupils; the pecking order created by setting propagated out of the classroom and maintained outside of school giving rise to an “us” and “them” mentality from primary school through to adult life.

    All of which I now think stank to high heaven.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      My experience is different. There was movement between the sets for pupils at my old school, although admittedly not often, and there was quite a lot of intermingling as well.

  5. Maria

    The thing is though that when you had sets like we did I would often have high abilities in some subjects and they were really low in others so I got a very odd education which was deficient in education in some subjects that I needed for my higher subjects and didn’t get the full education. When you have set they are all taught at a level that you are expected to pass but that means that you don’t get the chance to improve and get better and achieve a higher grade, so you lose out. At times some children’s ability is not recognised so goes in a lower set and doesn’t get the life opportunities in the future, destroying them knowing they are not in the right job. And some children’s ability is overestimated so they don’t get the help they need and then fail to pass exams their parents expected to whizz through. Also you have classes and they are roughly about the same size if you can’t fit all the children at the top then some children will be put into a lower set and then, won’t reach their potential that way. I think that everyone should have a chance to get better retested and be able to change sets and if it were to happen it shouldn’t be so rigid as it was in my time.

  6. jaynel62

    ‘Streaming’ as it used to be called failed where so many schools used the alleged ‘inability’ as an excuse to dump the education of the supposed ‘less able’ on the less talented teachers, This then stigmatised the ‘thicko’ group, often in my experience adding to, or causing, serious self esteem/confidence issues for the young people.

    It was abandoned as a practice that does not work so…

  7. Jane Hartley Jacques

    I think it can be useful to stream pupils, as this may help all learn at their own pace and ability. However this should not be forced.Some schools and families may not want that. Think there should always be mobility between sets and children must be sure movement down is not a punishment. It is unfair on more able children if the teaching is held back for them because there is no streaming. Remember how it was in my school with disruptive pupils before we got streamed for exams.

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