Could mixed ability classes boost educational outcomes?

2017-09-07

Academics have suggested that opting for mixed‐ability classes instead of teaching in sets determined by ability could enhance educational outcomes. 


The researchers found that improvements were particularly noticeable among pupils with lower 

ability, although many schools still use a set‐based system. 


Focused on the grouping of pupils, the research is being led by academics including Becky Francis,Director of the University College London Institute of Education, and Louise Archer, Professor of

Sociology of Education at King’s College London. 


They suggest that schools are not adopting mixed‐ability classes through fears that parents may not

respond positively to it amid fears it is viewed as ‘unconventional’. 


Instead, the vast majority of primary and secondary schools were found to group people into sets,

especially for maths and English teaching. 


This is highlighted by the fact they were able to find 120 secondary schools that teach in sets, but

only 17 that use mixed‐ability classes for the study. 


One teacher’s response to the study highlighted caution to new approaches, as they spoke of a need

to find a balance so as to keep both the more and less able fully‐engaged.


Becky Taylor, of UCL Institute of Education, and lead author of the paper, said mixed‐attainment

grouping is widely deemed as ‘risky’ given that it is unconventional and suggested that a fear of

trying it may be impacting on student attainment. 


The research paper was presented at the annual British Educational Research Association

conference, where they suggested changes to school set ups could benefit pupils. 


It is claimed that using setting can undermine the confidence of low‐attaining pupils, something that

can be avoided with the use of mixed‐ability teaching. The paper also found that while the highest‐attaining pupils benefit from setting, similar

improvements could be made through the use of targeted interventions instead. 


Given their prevalence, it seems unlikely that setting in primary and secondary schools will end

anytime soon, but as the research paper shows, there are alternative teaching methods that can get

results. 


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