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"The First Minister of the Scottish Parliament has recently recommended that schools teach pupils in sets - What does research tell us about the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach?"

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Introduction

"The First Minister of the Scottish Parliament has recently recommended that schools teach pupils in sets. What does research tell us about the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach?" Over the last century different techniques have been used to organise children within schools according to what the public and government asked for and needed. For example "after the Second World War the number and size of schools increased, the tripartite system of secondary education was introduced and there was increased competition for grammar school places" Sukhnandan and Lee (1998 pg.13). There was a drive for excellence and the 11 plus exam leant itself easily to the administration of streaming. However during the 1960's research was carried out that suggested streaming had negative social consequences for pupils, which could have been the catalyst for the shift of emphasis from excellence to equality. This resulted in a shift from streaming to mixed ability teaching that continued throughout the 1970's and 1980's. Ability grouping, in the form of setting and within class grouping, was sometimes used in higher year groups for linear subjects such as maths, science and modern languages but mixed ability was the main grouping method. The essay question implies that again there has been a shift, this time to setting. ...read more.

Middle

This causes a self fulfilling prophecy, if they are told that they're incapable of anything more they will begin to believe it, so they wont try to do anything more. Even if the children in the lower sets worked to be moved up into the higher sets they are unlikely to be successful. Teachers teach the children in specific sets to different tiers of an exam, so those in lower groups will not learn the same things as those in higher groups so movement between the sets would be difficult. The idea that children are taught to specific tiers is generally problematic because children are allocated to sets up to three years before they sit the exam and as mobility is rare this can have detrimental effects on their attainment if they were aware that they could only get a low grade. Boaler et al (1998) reported that only some children actually knew the implications of this. The teachers high expectations of those in higher sets and low expectations of those in lower sets causes a further social gap between the sets, those in the top sets will be called "boffins" and those in the lower sets will be seen as "stupid". This is further intensified by the allocation of better qualified and more experienced teachers to higher sets even though research suggests (Black and Wiliam, 1998, p42 cited in Boaler et al 1998) ...read more.

Conclusion

For this to occur they'd have to be a reduction in the emphasis placed on meeting targets, teachers need the flexibility to return to areas that children are finding difficult. When all said and done isn't education for the benefit child? The First Minister's recommendation needs to be accompanied by guidelines for teachers on how they can avoid the negative effects of homogeneous grouping. These guidelines should include careful planning, using well-defined targets and remaining aware of the negative effects of ability grouping (GB. Scottish Office. HMI, 1996. Cited in Sukhnandan and Lee, 1998.) There could also be a move away from emphasis on academic achievement to more recognition of non-academic achievements to restore the self-esteem of children in lower ability groups (Elton Report, 1989. Taylor, 1993. Cited in Sukhnandan and Lee, 1998.) His recommendation was probably the right one considering the drive to raise standards and make teachers lives easier. Because of the lack of conclusive evidence for what type of grouping is more beneficial academically for the child he was right to choose the method that could be most easily implemented and controlled. However this lack of conclusive evidence means that more research needs to be carried out to discover what the best form of grouping is. To do this researchers will have to establish what is ultimately best for the child, possibly new ways of grouping could be developed or the old ways upgraded. ...read more.

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