Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Ability groups harm children's education, say Sussex researchers

Education researchers at the University of Sussex have found major flaws in the Prime Minister's education policy, which aims to have ability groupings as the norm in key subjects.

Two new separate studies show that sorting school children into sets is neither an accurate way of assessing ability, nor is it beneficial to their learning.

Research by Jo Boaler, Marie Curie Professor of Education at Sussex, revealed that children in mixed ability mathematics classes outperformed those grouped by ability. She reviewed a new way of grouping children that also resulted in unusually good behaviour and high levels of respect and responsibility among the young people .

Another new study by Sussex researchers shows that children are being placed in ability groups according to social class, with pupils from middle-class backgrounds more likely to be assigned to higher sets, irrespective of their prior attainment.

The results of Professor Boaler's study, which followed 700 teenagers in the US over four years, were all the more remarkable because the mixed ability group came from disadvantaged backgrounds and were initially less able at maths.

Professor Boaler, who has been invited to present her findings to Gordon Brown's advisors, said: "In England we use more ability grouping than possibly any other country in the world, and children are put into groups at a very young age. It is no coincidence that our society also has high levels of anti-social behaviour and indiscipline. Children who are put into low sets in school quickly learn to view themselves as unsuccessful and develop anti-school values that lead into general anti-social behaviour."

The study, which analysed the results of different methods of teaching maths in three American high schools, found that an approach that involved students not being divided into ability groups, but being given a shared responsibility for each other's learning, led to a significant improvement in the achievements of high and low achieving students. The approach had further benefits in that it taught students to take responsibility for each other and to regard that responsibility as an important part of life.

"Many parents support ability grouping because they think it is advantageous for high attaining children," points out Professor Boaler. "But my recent study of a new system of grouping in the US showed that the system benefited students at high and low levels and the high attaining students were the most advantaged by the mixed ability grouping, because they had opportunities to learn work in greater depth. If our government is concerned about the behaviour of young people then it is time to explore systems of student grouping that teach students respect and responsibility, rather than disillusionment and anti-school values."

Professor Boaler was also the author of an earlier study in England that found that mixed ability classes achieved at higher levels than those put into sets. Her earlier research is reported in her book, Experiencing School Mathematics. Her recent study, 'Promoting "relational equity" and high mathematics achievement through an innovative mixed ability approach', was presented at the British Educational Research Association's annual conference earlier this month and is to be published in the British Educational Research Journal in the coming months.

In a separate study Dr Mairead Dunne, lecturer in education at Sussex, led a project that analysed grouping practices in 168 primary and secondary schools and found that working-class pupils are more likely to be placed in lower sets than middle-class pupils who have the same test results, and that pupils from middle-class backgrounds more likely to be assigned to higher sets, irrespective of their prior attainment.

"Schools said that prior attainment and perceived ability were the main criteria on which setting decisions were based," said Dr Dunne. "However, over half the pupils with low prior attainment in English ended up in middle or high sets. Setting decisions were therefore clearly not made on this basis alone. Teacher judgments and pupil behaviour influenced setting decisions but social class was more important."

Dr Dunne and her colleagues, who presented their findings to the British Educational Research Association's annual conference, examined pupil-placement decisions in English and Maths in 44 secondary schools and 124 primaries. Their analysis included information on pupils' prior attainment, gender, ethnicity and home neighbourhood.

The researchers, including Sara Humphreys and Judy Sebba at the University of Sussex and Alan Dyson, Frances Gallannaugh and Daniel Muijs of the University of Manchester, also checked to see whether individual pupils were entitled to free school meals. Boys and girls were equally likely to be placed in low sets. However, some ethnic groups, such as Bangladeshis, were slightly less likely to be put in higher sets. 'Effective teaching and learning for pupils in low attaining groups', which was commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, will be published on 27 September, 2007.

Jacqui Bealing | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht New population data provide insight on aging, migration
31.08.2016 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht PRB projects world population rising 33 percent by 2050 to nearly 10 billion
25.08.2016 | Population Reference Bureau

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>