Education Eye: The debate over setting, streaming and selection

Catherine Stoker
Catherine Stoker

There is much debate about the pros and cons of setting, streaming or mixed ability teaching.

Setting is where children are grouped according to ability in some individual subjects, streaming is where they are grouped as a whole class for all subjects according to ability and mixed ability teaching speaks for itself.

Research seems to indicate that setting or streaming mostly benefits high achievers.

One could argue that the results of our excellent grammar schools prove this theory. At the other end of the scale, however, streaming can it seems be detrimental to the speed of progress for the mid and lower range pupils, due to the risk of moving too slowly and not challenging them enough.

In other words giving the message that lower attainment is acceptable and the role models to aspire to be better have been removed.

Should we not be demanding all children achieve above expectation? How, for example, does the ‘average’ child become better?

Streaming can be an issue if your child is brilliant at English but struggles with maths and hence is placed in a mid-ability class for all subjects.

They may get additional support with maths, but will they be stretched enough in English, a subject in which they have potential to excel?

Mixed ability grouping, on the other hand, is more likely to improve attainment for the mid to lower ability children, inspiring and motivating them to achieve more, just as their peers have done.

It also offers mentoring opportunities for the more able, extending their life skills by supporting others.

However children are grouped at school there is no doubt the best teachers are those who have a strong understanding and in-depth knowledge of their subject coupled with the ability to teach in a way that engages children of all abilities equally and appropriately as individuals, with expectations set to challenge them according to their own aptitude and potential.