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Selection, streaming and banding......


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#16 Guest_andy_walker_*

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Posted 05 June 2003 - 09:11 PM

This isn't a two Ronnies 'I know my place' sketch - this is practical reality in school.  I am fundamentally opposed to anything which prevents students from succeeding to their potential.  That should be the focus here.

Perhaps what is also important here is an understanding of the factors which make us make judgements about what the potential actually is of the students in front of us. Moreover the structures we put in place as a consequence of those judgements may be deeply damaging and flawed. (John Simkin's experience is highly informative here).

I know I am on dangerous ground here because questions I raise and observations I make could very easily be taken as a personal affront by some. Please rest assured I don't dare question the conscious motives of any teacher least of all those in this forum.

However I would maintain that our systems "succeses" be they grammar school kids or top set kids in "comprehensive" schools do seem in general terms to share common features in terms of socio economic group and ethnicity. Selection, setting, streaming and banding in my opinion are important causal factors in this undesirable outcome. As is a teacher's ideological baggage and the ways in which this informs the interaction with students

The comprehensive ideal aimed to challenge this...... where has it gone? :sad:

#17 Andrew Field

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Posted 05 June 2003 - 09:34 PM

top set kids in "comprehensive" schools do seem in general terms to share common features in terms of socio economic group and ethnicity. Selection, setting, streaming and banding in my opinion are important causal factors in this undesirable outcome. As is a teacher's ideological baggage and the ways in which this informs the interaction with students

I think Dan was very astute to separate selection from setting. They are different things as he identifies.

Your comments about potential are interesting but surely it is the perspective from which you identify 'potential'. I'm not trying to be arrogant and make the judgement from my point of view, surely were are attempting to make the judgement from the student's point of view, backed up by the information available to us. If a student leaves school confident and keen to make progress in their chosen career, then they are well onto the way to achieving their potential.

I agree that many structures in place have the potential to damage students. I'm not sure I would be willing to lump 'slection, setting, streaming and banding' all together and say they are causal factors in this undesirable outcome. They are certainly contributory factors for many. Perhaps it is too idealistic to envisage, but surely it doesn't help to join everything together and say that setting, in general terms, helps preserve the status quo in the country. Setting has just as much potential to damage any socio-economic group and just as much potential to assist any member of a particular socio-economic group.

This is different to the way in which those who go to public school have had a significant educational advantage to those who went to state school. It doesn't matter who they are as a person, it matters how much money they've got.

This is all very closely linked to your previous discussion on teachers' ideological baggage.


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#18 neil mcdonald

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Posted 06 June 2003 - 06:10 PM

i can safely say is that MA teaching requires more from the teacher, and that is why a number of teachers i know do not like it.

I agree to an extent with the statement Richard said - mixed ability teaching is very hard work due to the differences in the classes abilty and the affect that can have on planning the lesson. Like Andrew I want to teach to the students potential but to due that in a mixed abilty class lends tiself to really creating a middle way.

In the previous school I taught at there was banding which worked and yet at the same time didn't - the bottom bands knew it - they saw themselves as that which was a shame. I was lucky, I had a Year 7 lower band that were quite ok but another History Teacher had the Year 8 version - by that time their attitude was one of distain for any literacy based subject. However over time they settled but only because we created a course that suited their needs - short tasks that made greater emphasis on their needs.

The worrying trend - the current school I teach at, has introduced a pathway system for options that places students dependednt upon their skills in certain pathways - the lower aaility students don't really have the option to do History - only the higher ability ones. Is this a band too far?
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#19 AlisonPople

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 01:16 PM

I really have tried very hard, in a career that is considerably longer than I wish to own up to, and which has ranged from a boys' secondary modern via many other varied schools to the girls' comprehensive where I currently work, to make mixed ability teaching work, most recently in GCSE groups. I have, as an example, produced materials at three different levels for the same lesson. When I have done this it has invariably had one of two outcomes. Either I have decided which child should have which materials in which case there has been a dissatisfied outcry from the lower end of the ability range because they have a different task from the person next to them, or I have allowed them a free choice and they have tended to choose the sheets for the lower ability range, because they are easier, which means that some of the pupils at the higher end of the ability range have been coasting.
I really don't think that I could work any harder, there being a maximum of 24 hours in a day, and feel that this tends to be the prescription for any difficulties in teaching. Thus my views have come to closely resemble those of Helen Evans, who is a colleague of mine.
Like her, I detest the idea of selection at eleven and the separation of children into different schools. I am a parent in Birmingham as well as a teacher. Both my bright daughters declined, with full parental support, to sit the 11+ and went to the local comp, so I have been prepared to put my daughters where my mouth is. One is completing an MA and the other is in the second year of a degree at Bristol Uni. But different sets are entirely different from different schools.
I can think of many pupils I have taught, of varied ethnicity and socio-economic class, who have risen through the setting system and totally transcended the expectations people had for them at age 11. This would have been impossible or at least very difficult,, if such a development had involved a change of school.

#20 Guest_andy_walker_*

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Posted 09 June 2003 - 11:52 AM

This has been a very interesting debate thus far and it is gratifying to see a consensus against the Tripartite system. Please all write to the gloriously named Mr Badman who heads Kent education!!
As I said in my starter post to this seminar it is clear that working as I do in Kent (where the Tripartite system still prevails) has largely coloured my views on all types of selection and streaming.

I am willing to accept that broad banding in wide ability comprehensive schools would be less damaging to pupil self esteem than the system we see in Kent, but would argue that it is damaging none the less. I also believe that the ethos on which the desire to band or select is based is essentially the same as that which underpins a belief in the Tripartite system.

Comprehensive schools were imposed as a "structure" with some rather grand and positive social aims. Unfortunately as far as I am aware there was never a coordinated attempt to train or create "comprehensive teachers". Many of the structures we still use - banding, setting, specialisation, "pathways" do not sit easily with the comprehensive ideal and have in my opinion more in common with its predecessor.

#21 John Simkin

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Posted 10 June 2003 - 07:37 AM

A consensus appears to be emerging from this debate. (1) That teaching mixed ability classes is more difficult than teaching non-mixed ability groups. (2) That organizing students into different ability groups creates problems of “student self-esteem” and this hampers their ability to reach their full potential.

If this is true, there is bound to be a lot of teachers out there feeling a deep sense of guilty about what they are doing.

This is reflected in the comments of Helen Evans: “I accept all the arguments on the effects of setting on self-esteem and somewhat feel guilty that as a good 'leftie' I support setting.” Helen goes on to argue “At the end of the day it would be great if we could all teach in mixed ability classes, but it is simply not practical - we all work our fingers to the bone as it is and could not work any harder for our pupils - those who suggest that teachers who can not perform to their best in mixed ability classrooms are not doing their jobs probably are living in a dream world.”

The assumption here is that mixed ability teaching is more difficult for the teacher than other forms of organization. This has not been my experience. I have always found it easier to teach mixed ability groups than non-mixed ability groups. This is probably because of the training I received. I did my PGCE at Sussex University in 1976-77. I was attracted by the course because the tutors believed in mixed ability teaching. They knew they were involved in training a new group of teachers to fill the comprehensive schools that were emerging all over the country.

The PGCE team included Colin Lacey, the author of Hightown Grammar (a searing indictment of the 11+ system) and Stephen Ball, who at the time was writing Beachside Comprehensive, an account of Boundstone, a school in West Sussex that was fully committed to mixed-ability teaching. As a result of my own views on education I was sent to Boundstone to do my teaching practice. Here I observed and learnt from a marvellous collection of teachers fully committed to the ideals of comprehensive education.

My experiences at Boundstone influenced my decisions about the schools that I was willing to work in. I have taught in three schools since Boundstone. In my first school all my teaching (11-18) was in mixed ability groups. In my other two schools they were mainly mixed ability groups but in both cases they placed them in three bands in Y9. These Y9 groups were more difficult to teach than any other groups I have encountered. This is not only because the C bands suffered from low-self esteem. I found the B band students disillusioned and apathetic. Nor did I particularly enjoy teaching the A band that tended to be more arrogant than those I taught in mixed ability groups.

In my first two schools where all the history groups were mixed ability, they had a policy of providing extra support for those suffering basic literacy problems. This has always been a key aspect of mixed ability teaching.

As I said in my earlier posting, all teaching groups contain a range of different abilities. To quote myself: “I have always found that the higher you go the wider the gap becomes between the abilities of the individuals within the group. Universities is where mixed ability teaching really reaches its zenith.” I then went on to talk about the problems of providing INSET to mixed ability groups of teachers. We do need to ask ourselves while we are willing to put children but not adults into ability teaching groups. I suspect that the reasons have very little to do with educational philosophy.

#22 Stephen Drew

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Posted 13 June 2003 - 09:44 PM

I have read this thread fully for the first time this evening, and now feel ready to contribute.

I personally am not ever overly bothered by all the debates about socio-economics, race and gender issues in the classroom. I will teach every child who is front of me in the way that best suits them according to my understanding of them as an individual. I do not come at this topic from the perspective of wanting to use the education system to challenge the presently existing society, so therefore my perespective is very different to many others who have contributed.

I have always taught in mixed ability classes, even where there has been opportunity to create sets on whatever basis of ability or intelligence etc. So even though I have no desire to be an agent of social equalisation for revolutionary purposes, I still stick to the mixed ability ethos. This is because I believe that the way that I teach my classes equips me to allow the development of a full range of abilities amongst my students. I make sure that the full range of abilities in the classroom get the chance to contribute and therefore recieve praises and status in the eyes of their peers. This works to raise social esteem and self belief for my students. I am sure this is not always true, and that sometimes I fail to do this and leave lower ability students feeling excluded from my lessons, especially when the lesson goes off on a tangent into some form of philosophical debate or in depth analysis of a specific and complex point of evidence or interpretation.

However, having said all of this and put myself firmly in the mixed ability camp for some very different reasons to other (and some the same), I am still constantly niggled at by some deeply worrying thoughts:

What would I feel if I was a low ability student in a mixed ability class that was taught in way that was dominated by discussion and debate, and I was not equipped with the ability to contribute on an equal basis with the more able members of the class?

Would I not feel excluded and to some extent humiliated by their skills and understanding?
Would I not feel happier in a class where I could be in the middle of a more clumped together (excuse the clumsy language) group of students, and therefore be able to contribute much more fully to the lesson without fear of being left behind by the higher ability students?

And,

What if I am one of the most able students in the class and my learning is being held up by the fact that the things I understood the first time the teacher told them to the class are still having to be explained for the fifth time to lower ability pupils?

Would I, as a high attaining student, not feel that I was being held back from my full personal development and achievement becuase the teacher's time and focus was not available to me due to the fact that others had much greater immediate need for it?

Why should I as a high ability student have my potential achievement lowered so that a low ability student can be given all the support they need, leaving limited time for the teacher to support and develop me?

At this stage of my teaching career I remain convinced that my department and my classroom in particular is best serving its pupils by being completely mixed ability. The teaching styles of the teachers I have worked with in the last five years have all suited this approach, and we have all felt able to meet the needs of our pupils most of the time.

Overall I am taken by the fact that this seminar is showing up the difference between educational ideologies. The extent to which you support the ethos of the comprehensive system and societal equalisation / change influences your opinions on setting / streaming / banding. If you are primarily focussed on education as a tool of social change then you are likely to believe that the use of any form of segregation by ability goes against this ruling ethos. However if societal change is not at the forefront of your personal educational ethos, then you look at setting / banding / streaming as a tool to deliver the maximum possible attainment for all groups of students.
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#23 Guest_andy_walker_*

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Posted 13 June 2003 - 10:35 PM

I personally am not ever overly bothered by all the debates about socio-economics, race and gender issues in the classroom


I really think you should be .... unless of course you are convinced that none of these are issues affecting the children you teach.

It is going over old ground between you and I Stephen but your apparent assertion that the school arena in which you work is neutral and that you encounter children without your own ideological baggage sending clear messages and opportunity limiting judgments that are internalised by children bringing a whole gamut of sometimes conflicting cultures and value systems to the encounter, is flawed.

You are right to suggest that educational ideology is important in this debate. But would I be correct in thinking that yours would be that schooling should prepare students for a capitalist meritocracy? - if this is the case then your model becomes one of preserving the status quo rather than one of maximising opportunities for all your students.

Edited by andy_walker, 15 June 2003 - 04:10 PM.


#24 Elle

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Posted 16 June 2003 - 07:06 AM

I was "lucky" it would interesting to hear from anybody who has experience of dealjng with the lower streams at a selective school. 

Bottom set maths in a grammar school in lincolnshire, I remember my heart sank when I realised that I hadn't even made middle set, I knew I was bad at maths, but I hadn't realised I was that bad. From that moment maths was a closed book to me. Bearing in mind this was a girls grammar school, we played up something chronic for the two maths teachers we had and generally learned nothing. Thankfully, my parents, realising the situation, paid for me to have private maths tution out of school (although I wasn't grateful at the time) and I managed to get a C. had it been left to my school I think my chances of getting even a D would have been limited.

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#25 John Simkin

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Posted 16 June 2003 - 08:34 AM

There is considerable research to suggest that pupils in top bands in secondary modern schools did better than pupils in bottom bands in grammar schools. This was again a result of the labelling process and was another argument against the 11+. The impact of labelling did not only influence the attitude of the pupil. It’s most important influence was on the teacher. They tend to believe in the value of their selection procedures and act accordingly. Some of the most important research into this area during the 1960s involved teachers being given false information about the pupils. Researchers discovered the best way to improve the performance of pupils was to tell the teacher (falsely) that certain pupils had scored high in intelligence tests. I have always used this in my own teaching by giving higher grades (and the appropriate comments) to pupils who lacked self-confidence. Try it. It works.

Edited by John Simkin, 16 June 2003 - 08:35 AM.


#26 Guest_andy_walker_*

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Posted 16 June 2003 - 09:00 AM

Researchers discovered the best way to improve the performance of pupils was to tell the teacher (falsely) that certain pupils had scored high in intelligence tests. I have always used this in my own teaching by giving higher grades (and the appropriate comments) to pupils who lacked self-confidence. Try it. It works.

Perhaps the most famous example of this is Rosenthal and Jacobson (1963) who posed as educational psychologists, went to a school and tested a class of pupils. They then told the teacher that 20% were potentially brighter than the others. Despite this 20% actually being selected quite randomly. When the children were re-tested a year later - these pupils had become the 'brightest'.

#27 mikel

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Posted 11 August 2003 - 10:58 AM

My main argument is that the self fulfilling prophecy and the resultant lack of equal opportunities leads to a perpetuation of the existing unequal power structure in society. As an educator and progressive I find this utterly unacceptable no matter how difficult effective mixed ability teaching may be.


I suppose this is what the argument is all about. There's a group of participants in this seminar who are looking at what works with kids -- are they able to challenge the higher ability ranges and give necessary support to the lower ability ranges. Meanwhile, the other group really isn't interested in such practical considerations. As the quote above states, they would find setting "unacceptable no matter how difficult effective mixed ability teaching may be".

Given such widely separated starting points, I'm not sure there´s really any chance of finding common ground. Basically, even if it were definitively demonstrated -- which it obviously hasn´t been -- that ability grouping for history teaching was the most effective method, it would still be opposed as being anti-egalitarian and undemocratic as well as, seeingly, racist...
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Posted 11 August 2003 - 05:53 PM

I don't actually think mixed ability teaching is that difficult if its given thought, preparation and intelligence. Those who do (think its too difficult that is) tend to be those who favour setting and streaming as a "quick fix" for differentiation. In my opinion this is no fix at all and leads to undesirable social results.

Who is this "other group" who don't care for kids Mike ... I wish to give them a piece of my mind!!!

#29 Richard Drew

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Posted 11 August 2003 - 06:58 PM

I don't actually think mixed ability teaching is that difficult if its given thought, preparation and intelligence. Those who do (think its too difficult that is) tend to be those who favour setting and streaming as a "quick fix" for differentiation. In my opinion this is no fix at all and leads to undesirable social results.

Who is this "other group" who don't care for kids Mike ... I wish to give them a piece of my mind!!!

4 groups i think:

i) those who want sets because they believe it benefits the kids
ii) those who want set becasue it gives them an easier life
iii) those who want MA because they believe it benefits the kids
iv) those who want MA purely out of ideological objections to setting

the great thing is that despite disagreements and debate everyone who has posted falls into categories i) and iii) - we all have the pupils' best interest at heart. now that has to be a totally postive outcome
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Posted 11 August 2003 - 09:47 PM

i) those who want sets because they believe it benefits the kids
ii) those who want set becasue it gives them an easier life
iii) those who want MA because they believe it benefits the kids
iv) those who want MA purely out of ideological objections to setting

the great thing is that despite disagreements and debate everyone who has posted falls into categories i) and iii) - we all have the pupils' best interest at heart. now that has to be a totally postive outcome

This would be perfectly lovely if it were the case but I do believe your previous poster was expressing a different view - one which she or he should be encouraged to explain.




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